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Teaching Guide

Teaching Song of Solomon

Let's get biblical.

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Song of Solomon might not be an actual song, but you can consider our teaching guide your sheet music to guide you through this literary symphony.

In this guide you will find

  • an activity comparing one Song of Solomon with another: the Biblical one.
  • essay questions analyzing the meaning behind characters' names and physical appearances.
  • historical resources to ground the novel within the context of the Civil War.

And much more.

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Shmoop is a labor of love from folks who love to teach. Our teaching guides will help you supplement in-classroom learning with fun, engaging, and relatable learning materials that bring literature to life.

Inside each guide you'll find quizzes, activity ideas, discussion questions, and more—all written by experts and designed to save you time. Here are the deets on what you get with your teaching guide:

  • 13-18 Common Core-aligned activities to complete in class with your students, including detailed instructions for you and your students. 
  • Discussion and essay questions for all levels of students.
  • Reading quizzes for every chapter, act, or part of the text.
  • Resources to help make the book feel more relevant to your 21st-century students.
  • A note from Shmoop's teachers to you, telling you what to expect from teaching the text and how you can overcome the hurdles.

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Instructions for You

Objective: Song of Solomon is not an easy book. In part, it's challenging because Morrison resists the urge to answer all of our questions about what happens. She has said that she wants the reader to participate in creating the story, so there are some areas of significant ambiguity that are bound to drive your students a little nuts. The ending, naturally, is one such area. We're betting your students will read the last sentence, and then turn the page, hoping for another chapter or an epilogue...something to explain what just happened and what it means. But alas, there are no easy answers or convenient explanations to be found.

Morrison claims she wants the reader to have their say, so we're letting students do just that. In this lesson, students will write an epilogue for the novel. What do they think really happens at the end? If the novel went just one step further, what would we learn about where these characters end up?

Length of Lesson: One day, but students should have a few days to complete their assignment.

Materials Needed:

  • Copies of Song of Solomon

Step 1: Ask students to reread the last few pages of the novel, then open the floor for their responses to the end.

  • Did you like the end of the story? Hate it? Why?
  • Why does Guitar shoot Pilate?
  • Why doesn't he shoot Milkman?
  • Why does Milkman jump off of Solomon's Leap?
  • What does the last line mean? How does it relate to the theme and Milkman's family legacy of flight?
  • Was his leap a suicide or something else, something more supernatural?
  •  Is Milkman leaping into a fight for life with Guitar? If so, who will prevail?
  •  Is the leap an escape? If so, what is he escaping from/to?
  • What will happen to the characters now or in the future?

If they're having trouble, they can check out our What's Up With the Ending? for some inspiration.

Step 2: Discuss the purpose of an epilogue in a novel. Remind students that an epilogue is like a post script to the novel, rather than a continuation of the story. As such, the epilogue sometimes shifts point of view and often leaps ahead in time to describe the characters' fates after the novel's conflict has been resolved. You may want to discuss an example from a book your class has read together or from a book your students are likely to be familiar with, like the final book in the Harry Potter series.

Step 3: Give students a day or two to write their epilogues for Song of Solomon. Students should try to imitate Morrison's style and voice so their epilogue could fit naturally at the end of the novel. When students finish, they should write a short explanation of their choices including (you guessed it) text evidence to support those choices. Hey, we want them to be creative here, but Milkman can't turn out to be a flying alien at the end without some darn convincing text evidence to back that choice up. Their decisions about where the characters end up or how they explain what happened have to make sense with the rest of the novel. Students should aim to make their epilogues a satisfying conclusion for the reader, not a baffling head-scratcher that comes out of left field.

Step 4 (Optional): Epilogues are typically pretty short, so if time allows, we recommend you take a day to have an in-class reading of their work. You could even have students vote for whose epilogue is most creative, most Morrison-like, most satisfying, etc. The point is, let them show off their stuff and have a little fun with it. This is also a good time to talk about Morrison's ideas about the reader creating part of the story.

  • What do you think about that idea?
  • What do you like or dislike about that approach?
  • What was the experience like of literally trying to create part of the story yourselves?

Instructions for Your Students

Okay, we'll admit it, Song of Solomon is not an easy book. We know, we know, you've been saying that all along. But sometimes what makes a book difficult is also what makes it cool. For example, one reason this book is challenging is that Morrison resists the urge to answer all of our questions about what happens. She has said that she wants the reader to participate in creating the story, so there are some areas of significant (and purposeful) ambiguity that are bound to drive you a little nuts, but also, it's sort of a cool idea, right?

The ending, naturally, is one such area. We're betting you read the last sentence, and then turned the page, hoping for another chapter or an epilogue...something to explain what just happened and what it means. But alas, there are no easy answers or convenient explanations to be found. Maddening, right? But it also means that you can interpret the ending however you want. Morrison is placing a lot of trust in you, the reader, to figure this out on your own rather than explain it for you.

Morrison claims she wants the reader to have their say, so we're letting you do just that. In this lesson, you will write an epilogue or a conclusion for the novel. What do you think really happens at the end? If the novel went just one step further, what would we learn about where these characters end up?

Step 1: First, reread the last few pages of the novel, then we'll open the floor to hear what you really think about the end.

  • Did you like the end of the story? Hate it? Why?
  • Why does Guitar shoot Pilate?
  • Why doesn't he shoot Milkman?
  • Why does Milkman jump off of Solomon's Leap?
  • What does the last line mean? How does it relate to the theme and Milkman's family legacy of flight?
  • Was his leap a suicide or something else, something more supernatural?
  • Is Milkman leaping into a fight for life with Guitar? If so, who will prevail?
  • Is the leap an escape? If so, what is he escaping from/to?
  • What will happen to the characters now or in the future?

If you're having trouble, you can check out our What's Up With the Ending? for some inspiration.

Step 2: You're going to be writing an epilogue for the novel, but it's important to remember that an epilogue is different than just another chapter of the book. An epilogue is like a post script to the novel, rather than a continuation of the story. It is not part of the storyline, and the narrator of an epilogue is speaking from a place where the central conflict has already been resolved and we are simply finding out how things end up in the future. As such, the epilogue sometimes shifts point of view and often leaps ahead in time to describe the characters' fates long after the novel's conflict has been resolved.

Think about books you may have read that include an epilogue. The final Harry Potter, for example, resolves the whole Voldemort conflict in the last chapter when the characters are all teenagers, then the epilogue jumps into the future to give a glimpse of how things shake out for them as adults. This extra bit of info is obviously not part of the original storyline, but it helps answer some lingering questions, like who gets married and what these characters end up doing with the rest of their lives.

Step 3: You'll have a couple of days to write your epilogues for Song of Solomon. You should try to imitate Morrison's style and voice so your epilogue could fit naturally at the end of the novel. When you finish, you will write a short (just a couple of paragraphs) explanation of your choices including (you knew this was coming) text evidence to support those choices. Hey, we want you to be creative here, but Milkman can't turn out to be a flying alien at the end without some darn convincing text evidence to back that choice up. Your decisions about where the characters end up or how you explain what happened have to make sense with the rest of the novel. You should aim to make your epilogues a satisfying conclusion for the reader, not a baffling head-scratcher that comes out of left field.

Step 4 (Optional): We can't wait to hear what you've come up with, so we'll have an in-class reading of your work. As everyone reads their version, we'll have a yearbook-style vote for Most Creative, Most Morrison-like, Most Satisfying, etc. The point is, we want you to show off your stuff and have a little fun with it. We'll also talk a bit more about Morrison's ideas about the reader creating part of the story.

  • What do you think about that idea?
  • What do you like or dislike about that approach?
  • What was the experience like of literally trying to create part of the story yourselves?

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Intro    Summary    Themes    Quotes    Characters    Analysis    Questions    Quizzes    Flashcards    Best of the Web    Write Essay    
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