Song of Solomon
by Toni Morrison
Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
The dang soft-boiled egg comes up again and again throughout Song. First we watch as Pilate makes the perfect soft-boiled egg (right before the water turns into a rip-roaring boil, when the bubbles are the size of peas, take the eggs off of the stove and set them aside with a folded newspaper to cover them; then go do a little dance, the electric slide perhaps, and when you’re done, voila! The egg is ready). Once they’re cooked, Pilate peels the shells off of them. Then she splits them open, revealing their velvety insides. Only then, does she begin to tell Milkman and Guitar riveting stories of watching a man drop dead and seeing the ghost of her father. When she splits open the egg, we can’t help but feel like she’s opening up us up too, preparing us for the almost magical stories. We also get the feeling that her ability to slice open an egg is similar to her ability to get to the heart of a matter, to know a person. She is one perceptive lady, and also a lady we would never want to mess with.
Later, we hear Milkman and Guitar talk about tea and soft-boiled eggs, and Guitar tells Milkman he can never be and will never be an egg, because eggs are white and fragile. What begins as a playful conversation about eggs quickly turns into a charged, loaded conversation about race. While Pilate is all about the insides, the heart of the egg, Guitar is fixated on the shell and the cover of the egg. This distinction parallels the different ways each person understands humanity and the world in which he/she lives.
Finally, when the Shalimar hunting party is skinning the bobcat, they let Milkman do the honors and take out the heart. Milkman does so, and it "fell away from the chest as easily as yolk slips out of a shell" (2.11.282), and our symbol-hunting dogs go wild because, at this point, an egg image has surfaced more than three times. Here, the heart is likened to an egg yolk, recalling the yellowy goodness that Pilate cooks up, highlighting even further and more explicitly the egg as a symbol for humanity, and aligning Pilate yet again with the quest for this humanity. The fact that Milkman has the honor of taking the heart reflects the transformation he has undergone to become more like his auntie.