Song of Solomon | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Course Hero. "Song of Solomon Study Guide." Course Hero. 2 Dec. 2016. Web. 14 Dec. 2018. <>.

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Course Hero. (2016, December 2). Song of Solomon Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved December 14, 2018, from

In text

(Course Hero, 2016)



Course Hero. "Song of Solomon Study Guide." December 2, 2016. Accessed December 14, 2018.


Course Hero, "Song of Solomon Study Guide," December 2, 2016, accessed December 14, 2018,

Song of Solomon | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Part 1

In 1931 in a black neighborhood of a city in Michigan, a pregnant black woman named Ruth and her two daughters, Lena and Corinthians, witness a black man jump off the roof of a hospital in an attempt to fly. Shocked by this event, Ruth gives birth the next day to a son, named Macon after his father. At an early age the son becomes disillusioned when he learns he can't fly. Ruth's husband, Macon Dead, Jr. (also named after his father), sternly rules his family and hates his wife. The love-starved Ruth nurses her son until he is about four years old, when she is caught in the act. However, rumors spread about Ruth's nursing, and, as a result, the son gets the nickname Milkman. Milkman's father owns houses and collects rents from the tenants, which has made him wealthy but has distanced him from the black community.

At age 12 Milkman makes friends with a boy named Guitar. Milkman and Guitar visit Macon's sister, Pilate, with whom Milkman's father has cut ties. Milkman feels relaxed with his aunt Pilate and her rustic way of living. He meets Pilate's daughter Reba and granddaughter Hagar. When Macon finds out about the visit, he scolds his son, warning him Pilate will betray him.

When he gets older Milkman works for his father collecting rents, and at age 22 Milkman witnesses his father hit Ruth. In response Milkman stuns his father by hitting him. Afterward Macon explains to his son that he hates his wife because she was unnaturally close to her father. Milkman feels burdened by all this new information, and when he remembers his mother nursing him he realizes with shame how he got the name Milkman.

A bored and disillusioned 31-year-old Milkman narrowly escapes being killed by his ex-girlfriend, Hagar, and fears for his friend Guitar, who has joined the Seven Days, a group that kills white people in retaliation for other white people who go unpunished for killing black people.

Pilate reveals that her dead father told her to collect the bones of a man she and her brother killed. After 20 years of wandering, Pilate and her family settled near Macon, although the siblings remain estranged.

Macon explains the man's death to Milkman: the result of his and Pilate's living on the run after they witnessed their father's murder. Macon becomes convinced that Pilate has the dead man's gold and encourages Milkman to take it, which he and Guitar try to do. Pilate's inheritance, however, turns out to be a sack filled with bones and rocks.

Part 2

Milkman continues to search for the gold but instead finds the woman Circe, who hid Macon and Pilate after their father's death in the Butler mansion. The Butler family killed Milkman's grandfather to get his land. Milkman's search begins to reveal more about his ancestry than the location of the gold.

He travels to a town called Shalimar, thinking the gold might be in that area, and realizes that Guitar, thinking Milkman cheated him of his share of the gold, is following him. While on a hunting trip during which Guitar nearly kills him, Milkman's desire to find out more about his ancestors becomes more important than his desire for the gold.

He discovers more relatives but also comes to a dead end until he listens to children singing a rhyme and realizes the rhyme is about his ancestors from the area. He and Guitar reconcile, and Guitar returns home, rescuing Hagar along the way. Hagar falls into a depression and becomes obsessed with improving her appearance for Milkman. She then gets a fever and dies. At her funeral Pilate and Reba sing a heart-wrenching song.

Milkman revisits an older relative who tells him the truth about his ancestors Sing, Jake, and Solomon. According to legend Solomon took flight and went back to Africa, leaving his wife and 21 children. As Milkman heads home to Michigan, he remembers becoming ecstatic after learning about Jake, Sing, and Solomon. Solomon's flight restores Milkman's dream of being able to fly, which he lost as a boy. He didn't find any gold and doesn't care. Milkman found something more precious—his own true identity as a member of a family with a proud heritage.

At Pilate's house Pilate knocks Milkman unconscious, ties him up, and sticks him in the cellar. Milkman admits he's to blame for Hagar's death but redeems himself by revealing to Pilate the inheritance of her family history; the sack, it turns out, is filled with her father's (not the white man's) bones.

Milkman and Pilate drive to Shalimar, hike up to Solomon's Leap, and bury Jake's bones. Pilate is then shot and dies. Devastated, Milkman realizes that Guitar accidentally shot her while trying to kill him. In the darkening twilight Milkman calls Guitar, who is nearby. Milkman then leaps toward him, as if able to fly. As Milkman and Guitar wrestle, Milkman realizes, "if you surrendered to the air, you could ride it."

Song of Solomon Plot Diagram

123456789101112131415ClimaxResolutionIntroductionRising ActionFalling Action


1 The day after a man tries to fly, Milkman is born.

Rising Action

2 Milkman learns he can't fly.

3 Guitar, Pilate, and Milkman become friends.

4 Milkman hits father and learns about mother.

5 Developing ennui, Milkman wants to escape his family.

6 Milkman discovers Guitar's involvement with Seven Days.

7 Guitar and Milkman steal Pilate's sack but don't find gold.

8 Milkman talks to Cooper and Circe about his family.

9 Guitar attempts to kill Milkman, but he escapes.

10 Milkman bonds with the people in Shalimar.


11 Milkman learns his great-grandfather Solomon could fly.

Falling Action

12 Pilate learns Milkman has her father's bones.

13 Pilate buries her father's bones with Milkman's help.

14 Pilate is killed by Guitar.


15 Milkman flies toward Guitar.

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