Song of Solomon
by Toni Morrison
Analysis: What’s Up With the Title?
The "Song of Solomon" is both folkloric and Biblical in origin. Before we feast our eyes on Toni Morrison’s novel, we know that songs are going to feature largely, and that this novel may even be a song in and of itself. Oh, and a man named Solomon may or may not be significant. Once our Sherlockian brains come across the children playing with a soda can in Shalimar, Virginia, we realize that they are singing a song of Solomon. Eureka! Singing is more emotional than talking, and songs not only tell a story, but they tell it with emotion.
In this way, Song of Solomon is not just your standard novel. It does more than a novel. It sings. It stirs the emotional boef bourguignon of human experience. Solomon, we come to find out, is Milkman Dead’s great-grandfather, who used to live in Virginia, who was a slave, who had 21 children, and who flew off to Africa, leaving his wife, Ryna, behind and devastated. This myth titillates Milkman’s curiosity more than his three-piece suit or than a bobcat’s heart, and the investigation of it leads to a discovery of his "people" and a community. By following the Song of Solomon, Milkman finds himself.
But wait, there’s more. Song of Solomon is also the name of the last book in the Old Testament, and, boy, does it have the scholars stumped. It’s considered one of the trickiest books to interpret in the Bible, but it’s also one of the most popular books in the Bible. There’s a lot of love in it, and not only love, but sex. The Biblical Song of Solomon tells the story of romantic love between a man and a woman, and it celebrates sexual love, telling the story of courtship and consummation. The man is thought to be King Solomon, and the woman is thought to be a Shulamite, a country lass. This text has been interpreted in millions of ways: as an allegory for God’s relationship to Israel, as a way of understanding the church as a "bride" of Christ, and more. In its simplest form, it is a love poem.
A love poem in the Bible? Sex is not a shameful thing in the Bible. Sex is interpreted as an allegory for the union of God and his people; sex represents wholeness and union (both physical and spiritual). This love poem crowns Song of Solomon, reminding us of the ancientness and significance of romantic love.
Indeed, we think about this when Hagar goes crazy over the lips that aren’t being kissed, when Ruth sneaks out to talk to hang out with her dead father, when Corinthians falls in love with Henry Porter, when Milkman meets Sweet, and when Ryna’s gulch cries. Song's Biblical ties remind us that this is a novel that touches upon faith, belief, and the universal human experience. We also then understand Song of Solomon as timeless, part of the great spectrum of love that threads throughout literature, history, and across cultures.
We nearly leaped out of our skins when we read in the Song, "for love is as strong as death,/ jealousy is as cruel as the grave./ It’s flashes are flashes of fire,/a most vehement flame./ Many waters cannot quench love,/ neither can floods drown it." If you had told us those were Pilate’s words, we would have believed you. In Milkman’s world, love both kills and is un-killable.
And here’s something to consider: the name Solomon means "peace," and Solomon (from the Bible) was the product of an adulterous relationship between King David and Bathsheba. We highly recommend that you read the Song of Solomon in the Bible, because you will find objects, colors, and themes that live everywhere in Song of Solomon, particularly in Pilate’s house. Things like gold, pine, greenness, and brambles.