Song of Solomon is the first novel in which Morrison uses a male protagonist. She has said that she chose a man because “he had more to learn than a woman would have,” but she also has noted that she was “amazed at how little men taught one another in the book.” Most of Milkman’s teachers are women, especially Pilate and his mother, but he also learns from Hagar and his two sisters, Lena and Corinthians, who turn on him after enduring years of his indifference. Pilate tells him that “if you take a life, then you own it,” and Milkman eventually accepts his responsibility for Hagar’s death.
Milkman’s moral imperfection is suggested by his shortened left leg, which creates a barely noticeable limp. After the communal hunt, in which he is initiated by the men of Shalimar into comradeship and respect for life and nature, he ceases to limp. The cold, self-centered Milkman matures into a sympathetic, caring man through the discovery of his own past, his ancestors’ suffering, and their struggles against poverty, racism, greed, and pride.
At the same time, Guitar, who is at first wiser and more aware than Milkman, becomes narrower and more fanatical as he immerses himself in the zeal of the Seven Days, a group organized to avenge the murders of blacks with the killing of whites. Guitar loses perspective, locked into a mathematical balance of life that must be maintained without any degree of mercy for either side. However,...
(The entire section is 591 words.)