The story of Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison on its surface is a story of a man, Milkman, and his journey of discovery and growth. It shows him change from a hardheaded, stubborn, self-centered individual, and his growth and connection to his family history. But lying just beneath this narrative is a much more historical and powerful story. While the Black men in the story suffer from racism and other struggles, they abandon the women throughout the story. This leaves the women to suffer the abandonment, the punishment of racism, and are left responsible for their family, their race, and their community. It is through this struggle that Morrison tells her true story throughout the novel, the oppression of Black women at the hands of men’s freedom.
The novel starts off with a scene of Pilate Dead singing, and a man, Robert Smith, jumping from a roof, on the night that Milkman is born. This is the first time we see the selfish escape of men in the novel and the burden women must take up. Ruth, Milkman’s mother, is watching the scene as her sister begins to sing. Ruth, there with her two other children Lena and First Corinthians, goes into labor, and is admitted to a white’s only hotel; the first person of color to ever be admitted. It is never directly said that Ruth’s husband left her alone in the hospital for Milkman’s birth, it is the first time as a reader you get the feeling that Morrison wanted to show the difference between men’s freedoms and the women’s responsibility.
We see this again with Milkman and his relationship with Hagar. It is clear very quickly that Milkman is in the relationship for what he can get out of it. While he does harbor some feelings for her in the beginning, this quickly fades and he often hides from her at Guitars house. We see several times that he is only in the relationship for the sexual needs of himself and cares little for her needs. He even buys her a gift for Christmas, but is worried which gift will say, “Thank you very much for sleeping with me for fourteen years, but goodbye.” (Part 1 chapter 4) When Milkman does finally break things off with Hagar, Hagar finds herself with little identity. She poured herself into the relationship, while he simple partook in what she could give him. Even Guitar drives the point that women are viewed less than men when he reminds her that Milkman didn’t lose interest in her because she was of no value, she’s of no value because Milkman no longer loves her. After trying to make herself more valuable, and getting caught in the rain, she comes home, and being heart broken cries until she becomes sick. It is from this sickness that she dies questioning to the end why Milkman never loved her. For this act she is seen as frivolous.
Even in the bar, where Milkman starts a fight, we see the power and responsibility demanded of women. Milkman enters the bar and is dressed better than everyone else there. After several brags and comments, a fight begins. One of the men has a knife. Milkman makes a side comment that “I ain’t seen one of those since I was fourteen. Where I come from boys play with knives-if they scared they gonna lose, that is.” To which the other man replies, “That’s me, motherfucker. Scared to death I’m gonna lose.” Milkman fights the men off with a broken bottle for a while. He in turn has his hand, face, and suit cut. He was in over his head, thinking only of himself and that moment. He would have been killed for sure if the two women hadn’t entered the bar screaming. It is here we see the responsibility of the women to protect the people of their community.
Guitar also shows little regard towards women throughout the novel. When he hunts down Milkman, believing Milkman has run away with the gold from the cave, Guitar confronts Milkman. During this confrontation, Guitar accidently kills Circe. For this he feels no remorse.