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Free Study Guide for Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

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When Milkman gets back to Susan Byrdís house, he realizes itís seedier than he had noticed it being before. Susan has an entirely different story for him this time. She says she didnít want to tell the story in front of Grace Long because Grace is such a gossip. She tells Milkman that Sing married Jake. She says Jake was a found child. Heddy, Singís mother, found him and raised him because she didnít have any boy children at the time. Jake was the youngest of twenty one children, son of Solomon and Ryna. Jake was one of the Flying Africans, Susan says. Susan says itís only a folk tale. People say a group of Africans were brought to the region as slaves. Most of them flew away one day. Jake flew away but came back and tried to take his youngest son, Jake with him. As he was flying overhead, he accidentally dropped the baby near the big house where Hetty sometimes worked. Hetty found him and raised him. She never tried to give him back to his mother because Ryna went crazy with grief over Solomonís leaving.

As Milkman leaves, he asks Susan if he left his watch at her house. She says her friend Grace probably took it and he will never see it again.


Milkman finally hears the story of his grandparentsí origins. It is a story of a magic departure, Africans who refused to remain slaves, but flew back to Africa. The story is poignant for its connection to the history of many slaves and their descendants. So many times families were broken apart when slave holders sold members off to other plantations. Here, the family is broken apart, but the agent of this break isnít the white slave holder, but the African man himself who refused to stay in slavery.



Milkman got back to Sweetís house that day in high spirits. He told Sweet he wanted to swim. She took him to a gulch and he swam exuberantly singing the song of the flying Africans. Sweet asked him if he belonged to "that tribe of niggers." He said he did and that his great-grandfather had flown off like a black eagle. She asked him who did he leave behind.

Milkman got back home soon after that. He couldnít wait to tell everyone all that he had found out. He went first to Pilateís house. When he walked in the door and held his arms out to her, she knocked him out by smashing a bottle over his head. When he woke up, he was in the cellar. As he lay there thinking, he realized Hagar must be dead. He knew Pilate must have put him in the cellar with something of Hagarís. He began to call out to Pilate telling her she had been carrying her own fatherís bones around all those years and that her father had been calling his wifeís name, not telling Pilate to sing. She came into the cellar and he told her the whole story. She handed him a box full of Hagarís hair.

He went home and told his father all the stories he had heard. He greeted his mother and found out that Corinthians had moved out and was living with Porter in a small house. He and Pilate drove down to Shalimar soon afterwards. Pilate was happy. When they arrived, Pilate fit right into the community. On the second night, he and Pilate walked out to Solomonís leap and buried the bones. Pilate ripped the earring out of her ear and buried it on the grave. Just as Pilate stood up from the grave, she was shot in the back of the head. As she lay there dying, she asked Milkman to sing for her. He sings "Sugargirl donít leave me." Two birds circle overhead. One of them swoops down and picks up the earring out of the grave and flies away with it. When she dies, he stands up and calls to Guitar. He asks Guitar if he wants his life. Guitar smiles and puts his rifle down. Milkman leaps down to him calling "You need it? Here." He knows now "what Shalimar knew: if you surrendered to the air, you could ride it."


The final chapter brings all the elements of the theme together: Guitarís idea that everyone wants a Black manís life, Pilateís song turned around and made into a song for her, the burial of Pilate and Maconís father, Pilateís earring bearing her name being carried up into the sky by a bird like her grandfather flew into the sky when he left his family behind in order to return to Africa, the final struggle of a reconciliation between Guitar and Milkman, and with it, Milkmanís own final letting go of all possessions and all ties to the earth.

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