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Song of Solomon | Discussion Questions 41 - 50


In Chapter 13 of Song of Solomon why is Guitar sympathetic to Hagar?

Guitar is sympathetic to Hagar because this reinforces the complexity of his character. Because of Guitar's involvement with the Seven Days and his attempt on Milkman's life, the reader could easily vilify Guitar. However, Morrison wants to emphasize that Guitar is not an evil man. He is perceptive and in many ways more empathetic to others than Milkman. Guitar can understand the pain of Hagar's abandonment because he has been abandoned many times in his life. Guitar says, "Everything I ever loved in my life left me." However, the hatred that has taken root in Guitar's soul causes him to do evil things. Also Guitar's sympathy for Hagar reflects the sympathy African Americans feel for the biblical Hagar, who was abandoned by Abraham. Many blacks are sympathetic to the biblical Hagar's plight because she bore a son named Ishmael, whose descendants became the Arab people. The Arab Muhammad founded the religion of Islam, which many African Americans adopted. So Guitar's sympathy for Hagar could be seen as representing the empathetic connection of black people to the oppression of their ancestors.

In Chapter 13 of Song of Solomon which clues suggest that Hagar is mentally disturbed as she tries to improve her appearance?

When Hagar tries on a skirt in a fitting room, she attempts to force the skirt to fit her. This attempt is so fierce that the "nail of her forefinger split ... the balls of her thumbs ached as she struggled." A sane person would automatically realize that the skirt is too small and get another one. Later Hagar decides not to wait at the beauty parlor and instead takes a long walk carrying shopping bags. When a downpour starts, she continues to walk instead of taking shelter. Hagar has become so obsessed with her task that her judgment has become impaired. Finally Hagar puts on ruined makeup in a haphazard manner, making her look worse. Again Hagar's obsession skews her thinking.

In Song of Solomon at Hagar's funeral for what purpose does Pilate address individual members of the congregation?

After Pilate sings a lullaby for her deceased granddaughter, she addresses individuals by saying, "My baby girl." Morrison has Pilate do this to make her loss more personal. When Pilate addresses an individual, the person being addressed is confronted with her pain and thereby faces his or her own loss. For some people this pain is so intense that they can't look Pilate in the eyes. Also Pilate's entire life has been focused on relationships. When Macon found the gold in the cave, Pilate was focused on trying to relate to the spirit of her father, not the gold. Pilate relishes the relationships within her family, including her friendship with Milkman. So it is natural that Pilate would express her grief through relating to other people. Morrison mentions that Pilate spoke to the people at the funeral in a conversational way.

In Chapter 14 of Song of Solomon why does Solomon attempt to take Jake with him?

Solomon's attempt to take Jake shows an inner struggle within Solomon. If Solomon just flew off without taking any of his sons he would seem like a callous man who didn't care for his family. Attempting to take Jake shows Solomon as a man who desperately wants to escape his oppression but still has a strong tie to his family. Also by having Solomon take Jake, Morrison emphasizes Jake's importance in the family. Jake is the one chosen by his father to go with him. Perhaps some of Solomon's ambition to escape his problems rubbed off on Jake. After all, Jake (Macon Dead I) seems to be one of the few of Solomon's descendants to leave Shalimar. Also Jake has a strong ambition to better his life.

In Chapter 15 of Song of Solomon what enables Milkman to take responsibility regarding Hagar's death?

Milkman realizes that the desire to fly away and escape problems has a long history in his family. This desire can be traced back to his great-grandfather, Solomon. Milkman in his way has continued this pattern by abandoning Hagar. With this pattern of flight comes a pattern of consequences. Solomon's flight had a severe effect on his wife, Ryna, driving her insane. Milkman has a strong sense of Ryna's pain, hearing the sound of her scream at Ryna's Gulch. Milkman's "flight" has the same effect on Hagar. Milkman realizes Solomon had to take responsibility for what happened to Ryna and their 21 children. Likewise Milkman knows he has to take responsibility for Hagar's decline. The narrator states, "While [Milkman] dreamt of flying, Hagar was dying." So by identifying with Solomon, Milkman is able to take responsibility for his actions.

At the end of Chapter 15 of Song of Solomon how does Morrison relate the symbol of flight to death?

Morrison relates the symbol of flight to death through the death of Pilate. When Pilate is shot, Milkman speaks the Sugarman song to her, saying "Sugargirl don't leave me here." This song comes from Song of Solomon, which deals with his flying away. Also Pilate sings this song when she sees Mr. Smith's attempted flight. However, with Pilate's death, it's her soul that is flying away. The author conveys this with the symbol of the birds. Two birds scoop up Pilate's earring containing her name and fly away. Also after her death, Milkman realizes that Pilate could fly without ever leaving the earth.

In Song of Solomon why does Pilate wear an earring with her name in it?

Pilate wears an earring with her name in it to show her connection with her father. The name is written on a piece of paper. It is the only word her father ever wrote. So for Pilate, this name is a vital link with her father. Pilate's earring emphasizes her pride in her name. Even though he couldn't read, Jake (Macon Dead I) picked out this name with love. He did not let his illiteracy, caused by racism, defeat him. Also Pilate has a sense of incompleteness that even she is not fully aware of. She has been carrying around her father's bones in a sack and didn't even know it. Perhaps wearing the earring is a constant reminder to her that something concerning her father needs to be completed. So when she buries her father's bones, Pilate buries the earring containing her name with it.

In Song of Solomon how does the oral tradition both help and hinder Milkman's search for his true identity?

Milkman would not have succeeded in his search for his true identity without oral tradition. All the stories Milkman learns about his family, from his father's stories about the farm where he was raised to Susan's story about flying Solomon, come from oral tradition. In addition oral tradition enhances Milkman's search because he is forced to interact with people. Oral tradition is based on relationships. If the stories about his family were written down, Milkman could read a book and find the needed information. However, oral tradition is kept alive by people. Milkman has to immerse himself in relationships to discover this oral tradition. In the process he connects with his rural roots by talking to relatives in Shalimar. However, because oral tradition is not written down, it tends to be incomplete. Some people remember certain events, and other people remember other events. Milkman has to be on guard about people slanting stories to suit their own ends. Macon does this to a certain degree when he talks about his wife kissing her father's corpse. Also Susan at first gives Milkman a very incomplete story about his family because she doesn't want her friend Grace to overhear. In addition, over the years oral tradition tends to change names. For example, the name Singing Bird was changed to Sing Byrd. Pilate sings a song about Sugarman but the original name is Solomon. Sometimes Milkman has to infer what the real names are.

In Song of Solomon how and why does Morrison use flight as a framing device for the novel?

At the beginning of the novel the author depicts Robert Smith attempting to fly off the roof of No Mercy Hospital. At the end Milkman flies toward Guitar. Morrison uses this framing device to emphasize the story's development. At the beginning Mr. Smith's attempt at flight is a sign of desperation. He is a man who feels cut off from his community and burdened by problems. Apparently Mr. Smith was a member of the Seven Days, so perhaps he was dealing with guilt about his involvement with this group. In any event he dresses up in a ludicrous costume, jumps off the roof, and crashes to his death. The failed flight can be seen as representing a foolish, pathetic attempt at escape from problems. In contrast Milkman's flight at the end of the novel is not foolish or pathetic. Instead it shows Milkman's maturity as a black man and his empowerment. He has learned to surrender to the air and ride it. It also emphasizes that Milkman has formed a deep connection with his ancestors, including Solomon, who could fly. So Milkman's flight can be seen as representing a victory, not a defeat.

In Song of Solomon for what purpose does Morrison employ a nonchronological style of storytelling?

Morrison might use a nonchronological style of storytelling to show how stories are conveyed through oral history. Milkman learns information about his family from various people. Some of these people fill in or continue stories that have been told by other people. For example, Macon talks about growing up on his father's farm and the fight he had with Pilate. Pilate tells stories about her life after the fight with her brother. So as in real life, these stories do not come to Milkman in chronological order. Rather they come in a nonchronological fashion, making Milkman piece them together into a whole. By using a nonchronological style, Morrison can emphasize how all these stories relate to the main character, namely Milkman. If the novel were presented in a chronological fashion, Milkman would not appear until near the end. By breaking chronology, however, the author can insert various stories in certain spots to show how they relate to Milkman and what he is dealing with.

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