Song of Solomon | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Song of Solomon | Part 2, Chapter 14 | Summary

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Summary

In Part 2, Chapter 14 Milkman returns to Susan Byrd's house to find out more information about Sing. Susan invites him in, and he repeats the information he learned previously about Sing not getting married. Susan, though, corrects him, saying that Sing married Jake, or at least went off with him on a wagon filled with ex-slaves. During Milkman's previous visit, Susan didn't want to mention Sing leaving with a black man because Grace would have spread this information throughout the county. Susan doesn't know Jake's last name but refers to him as one of Solomon's flying African children. Susan's grandmother, Heddy, a Native American woman, was Sing's mother. Also Heddy took care of Jake after his father left. As a result Sing and Jake grew up together. Apparently Sing wanted to stay with Jake and so left with him on the wagon.

Milkman wonders why Susan referred to Solomon as a flying African. Susan says that according to legend some African slaves were able to fly back to their homeland. Solomon had 21 children, all of them sons. Because of this many people in the region claim kinship to Solomon, and many places in the area are named after him. One day Solomon was in the fields with his wife, Ryna, and baby Jake. Suddenly Jake "spun around a couple of times, and was lifted up in the air." He then flew back to Africa. This event had a devastating effect on Ryna, who screamed for days. In fact Ryna's Gulch bears her name because of the strange sound it makes when the wind hits it a certain way. Not able to cope without her husband, Ryna went insane.

Susan talks more about various legends and speculations. Milkman interrupts, mentioning the rhyme about Solomon. The rhyme suggests that Solomon had one son. Susan figures the rhyme refers to the fact that Solomon apparently tried to take one of his sons with him, namely Jake. However, as Solomon flew away holding the baby, he hit the branches of a tree and Jake fell out of his arms and descended through the branches to the ground. Heddy found the boy and raised him because Ryna was out of her mind. Susan affirms that Jake, like all ex-slaves, registered at the Freedmen's Bureau. Milkman thanks Susan and asks if she has his watch. Susan laughs and says Grace took it and probably is showing it off as a gift given to her by this nice black man from up North. Susan offers to get it back, but Milkman tells her to "never mind."

Analysis

In Part 2, Chapter 14 Morrison continues Milkman's search for his identity by filling in many details about his ancestors. The author relates much of this information in a way that combines folk stories with reality. Susan admits that the story of Solomon flying away is probably a lie or legend. However, she matter-of-factly relates many of the details of the story as if it really happened, without qualification. Such a combination of legend and reality is important because this approach makes Solomon's flight much more real and powerful for Milkman.

Morrison emphasizes the blurring of legend and reality through Milkman's loss of his watch. As the reader has learned, Milkman has lost many of his belongings, including a suitcase full of clothes, emphasizing the process of Milkman shedding his old self. The final object he loses is his watch, which symbolically represents Milkman losing his normal sense of time. He has entered a world in Shalimar where life does not follow standard time. Susan states, "There's absolutely nothing in the world going on here. Not a thing." This loss of time adds to the sense of Shalimar being a mystical place where legend and reality can combine.

Through this combination of legend and reality, Morrison emphasizes the theme of the relationship between the living and the dead. When Milkman listens to Susan, the legend becomes reality and in the process the dead become real for Milkman. Indeed it's almost as if they are speaking to him directly as he pieces together their stories to form a complete picture of his family.

Also Milkman learns an important fact about his ancestral identity; namely that Sing did not, as suspected, try to pass as white. In fact she ends up marrying a person who was "black as coal." Therefore Milkman comes from a family who accepts their black heritage.

Morrison continues to explore the theme of abandoning women by describing the effect of Solomon's flight on Ryna. Like Hagar she becomes so bereft by her husband's abandonment that she loses her mind. So even in the world of legend, men taking flight to escape or transcend their problems has severe consequences on the people they leave behind.

In addition Morrison touches on the theme of racism by showing that the pattern of African American and Native American families not having a father has its roots in racism. Susan says, "neither one of them knew their ... father. Jake nor Sing ... my ... father didn't know his." Some of this pattern of absent fathers stems from slavery. Slave families were often broken up, thereby separating fathers from their wives and children. Also Native Americans were forced to move from place to place, which does not support family unity.

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