As 2023 begins, it might be time to put the iconic phrase of “new year, new me” into practice. And what better way to do so than with a book? Not just any book though — Toni Morisson’s Song of Solomon. A brilliant coming-of-age novel, compelling yet spiritually rattling that earned a spot in Oprah’s official list of “The Books That Help Me Get Through”.
Song of Solomon (1977) is such a great novel that Morisson, the first African-American woman won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Morisson remarkably covers essential themes relating to late 20th-century society — the complexities of morality and human vulnerability, all of which still remain relevant to our current world. The novel follows the main protagonist Macon Dead who with the help of his aberrant aunt, Pilate, and best friend Guitar Bains, reconciles with his past and recognizes his self-worth.
Read on as we delve into the various themes and unpack how Song of Solomon is a book to help you approach the “new you” in the new year. There is also an existing wealth of articles and essays based on the Song of Solomon. Whether is it on gender, racism, or societal issues, these essays can help you better unpack this book. If you aren’t big on bildungsroman and romance speaks more to you, these Christian romance novels might be your cup of tea.
Faith and Freedom
An apparent and punctuating theme, faith is a cornerstone idea that we see throughout the novel in Macon’s life.
Song of Solomon opens up the book with a tragedy and a miracle all at once. It begins the day before Macon’s birth, as his mother, Ruth Foster Dead prepares to give birth to the first-ever Black child at Mercy hospital. At that exact moment, Robert Smith, an insurance agent in blue silk wings takes a literal leap of faith off the hospital’s roof. Intention? He wants to fly to the other side of Lake Michigan and believes in his abilities. But it ends tragically, and the man crashes. The first instance of faith doesn’t end well and we are left wondering where the story takes us.
But the theme thrives. As the plot progresses, faith, though beginning sort of magical realism, becomes a powerful driving force, as it errs toward individual freedom. The novel creates beautiful tango of faith and freedom — how taking leaps of faith are intertwined with acts meant to achieve freedom. Now that’s something to reflect on for the new year.
Hope in Disappointment
Another common theme that anyone who has taken literature before will know all too well is disappointment and hope, particularly in society and humanity in general. We see this resonating with our protagonist. Mascon grew up thinking humans could fly until he realized it was all untrue at age 4. He saw this as some sort of “human weakness” and lived in disappointment in disinterest ever since. Why the extent of such disappointment?
Indeed, Macon’s depth of disappointment is perplexing. But, my guess is that flying was not so much of a physical action or stunt for Macon. Rather, being able to fly was his symbolic way of understanding autonomy. But when he learned how his grandfather, Solomon flew to Africa to escape slavery Macon gained hope again.
This repeated use of flight throughout the book points to one thing: you can find hope in the very thing that you were once disappointed in. If you want to fly, then you have to leave behind the things weighing you down – people, a certain perspective, or an old habit.
Women (Responsibilities) Abandonment
In our current society predominated by feminist movements, women’s abandonment may not be as jarring as before. But in the 70s, it was as broad as day. And we applaud Morisson’s efforts in starting a conversation about gender equality with her novel. Morisson covers in detail the relationship between a man and a woman with the intention to highlight the consequences of men’s selfish actions.
In an almost cookie-cutter-like scenario in the novel, we see this in Solomon’s grandfather. He flew to Africa, leaving his wife Reena in Virginia to raise 21 children alone. Morrison points out that men are responsible only for themselves, acting as they see appropriate. Women, on the other hand, think through every move. They are responsible not only for themselves but also for their family.
But on a broader scope, here’s food for thought: are there responsibilities that we have also repeatedly abandoned in the quest for self-interest? Maybe we have abandoned certain friendships, and opportunities to spend time with loved ones. Or the time we chose to waste procrastinating.
Mercy and Forgiveness
Just as the Bible teaches us to forgive, Morrison also attempts to highlight the need for mercy and forgiveness in her book as well. Though the first couple of chapters highlight the ruthlessness of various characters (particularly Macon), there is a certain counterbalance at the end.
The novel ends with a cliffhanger – whether Macon avenges Pilatee’s death by killing Guitar, or exhibits mercy and forgives Guitar. This brilliant move of entrusting moral responsibility from herself to us, Morisson is really getting us to search our hearts. The ending of the story is to be imagined and written by the readers. Ultimately, mercy and forgiveness are personal choices that we all have to make.
Song of Solomon Is a Great Novel
Song of Solomon, albeit fictional, relays great a message to encourage a search within our inner selves. What is our faith hinged upon? Can we find hope in our disappointments? Have we been abandoning our responsibilities (in whatever form they may be)? Do we show mercy and forgiveness just as how God showed us? If anything, this book is a book of self-awareness and reconciliation. If you wish to find more of such books, here are 13 online Christian bookstores for you.