Study Help Essay Questions


1. Song of Solomon includes numerous references or allusions to historical events, institutions, people, and documents — for example, the role of blacks in the military, the Freedmen's Bureau, the Emancipation Proclamation, and the murder of Emmett Louis Till. Select one of these references or allusions and explore it further. Is it recorded in your history textbook? If so, how is it presented? If not, why do you think it was excluded? Why is it significant to United States history? To world history?

2. In Song of Solomon, Morrison alludes to many fairy tales, including "Rumpelstiltskin," "Sleeping Beauty," and "Hansel and Gretel." Read one of these fairy tales and then write an essay exploring how the fairy tale relates to the themes presented in Morrison's novel.

3. Morrison uses various types of language in Song of Solomon. Select one — for example, the language of domination, the language of humor, or black vernacular — and trace its use in the novel.

4. Throughout Song of Solomon, various characters experience dreams or visions that help them unravel the mysteries surrounding their lives. Select one of the following dreams or visions and analyze its meaning and impact on the character's life: Milkman's vision of his mother being smothered by her tulips; Freddie's vision of his mother being killed by a white bull; Pilate's vision of her father guiding her through the woods; or Lena and Corinthians' visions of themselves as princesses riding in a regal chariot.

5. The importance of names is a prevalent theme in the novel. Explore the significance of some of the people's and places' names. Which characters have more than one name? Why?

6. Explore Morrison's use of the cedar tree as a key symbol in the novel.

7. What roles do ghosts, magic, and voodoo play in Song of Solomon? Are the ghosts real or imagined? How do they impact the lives of the characters with whom they come in contact?

8. How does the disintegration of Milkman and Guitar's friendship reflect the disintegration of Macon and Pilate's relationship? Why is Guitar a threat to Milkman's personal growth? Why does Macon refer to Pilate as a "snake"? Why is Pilate a threat to Macon's way of life?

9. Explore Morrison's portrayal of romantic relationships in the novel by considering the relationships between Milkman and Hagar, Macon and Ruth, Milkman and Sweet, or Porter and Corinthians. What is Morrison's primary message concerning love and sex in terms of traditional versus non-traditional unions?

10. Consider the novel's ambiguous ending. Does Milkman die on his "flight" across Solomon's Leap, or does he "soar" as a result of his newfound faith? Cite instances in the novel that support your conclusion. Why does Morrison leave this issue unresolved?

11. What lessons does Milkman learn on his journey south? How do these lessons help him cope with life, deal with personal relationships, and appreciate his spiritual inheritance?

12. In Chapter 2, Guitar is described as "the boy who not only could liberate [Milkman], but could take him to the woman who had as much to do with his future as she had his past." Cite examples from the text that illustrate how Guitar "liberates" Milkman.

13. Select one of the following symbolic elements and explore its function in the novel: the watermark on Ruth's table, Lincoln's Heaven, Pilate's brass earring, Macon's ring of keys, Mr. Smith's "little yellow house," or the red velvet rose petals.

14. Read one of the following coming-of-age novels. What are some of the lessons the protagonist learns, and how do they compare with the lessons Milkman learns on his odyssey of awareness?

Rudolfo Anaya's Bless Me, Ultima

Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club

Gus Lee's China Boy

J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye

Langston Hughes' Not Without Laughter

Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn

Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God

15. Flight is a common theme in feminist literature. Write an essay in which you argue that although Song of Solomon features a male protagonist, it is a feminist ("womanist") novel that explores the powerful links between racism and sexism.

16. Read Morrison's Sula. Compare the relationship between Sula and Nel to that between Milkman and Guitar.

17. Read Zora Neale Hurston's short story "The Gilded Six-Bits." How does the symbolism of gold depicted in Hurston's story compare with that in Song of Solomon?

18. Read "The Creation" in James Weldon Johnson's God's Trombones. Compare Johnson's use of "sermonic language" with Morrison's in the passage describing Macon Dead's creation of Lincoln's Heaven (Chapter 10).

19. The search for roots/the journey home is one of the major themes in African-American literature. Read Alex Haley's Roots, Claude McKay's Home to Harlem, or Albert Murray's South to a Very Old Place, all of which explore this theme, and compare the author's treatment of this theme to Morrison's treatment in Song of Solomon.

20. Watch Julia Dash's 1992 film Daughters of the Dust, which focuses on the heritage of the Sea Islanders in Georgia and South Carolina. Compare the film's portrayal of early nineteenth-century black culture to Morrison's portrayal as depicted through Jake and his family.

21. According to James Baldwin, "The paradox of education is . . . that as one begins to become conscious, one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education . . . is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself [and] to make his own decisions." Consider the various ways that the characters in Song of Solomon are "educated" — for example, Milkman, Pilate, Guitar, Corinthians. How does their education affect their perspective on life?