Arts and Entertainment

Reading Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon as Sociological Text

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison tells the multigenerational story of the Dead family. While known for her work giving voice to Black women on the pages of Sula and Beloved, Song of Solomon introduces to us as a lineage of men, all named Macon Dead.

Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison tells the multigenerational story of the Dead family. While known for her work giving voice to Black women on the pages of Sula and Beloved, Song of Solomon introduces to us as a lineage of men, all named Macon Dead. I started reading the novel after listening to Marisa Parham reference Beloved during a recent keynote she did at the Society for Textual Scholarship. Though I already had the book, Parham’s discussion of the deeper implications of themes in Beloved helped me see the ways Toni Morrison’s novels function as sociological texts.

For me the significance of seeing a Black woman’s novels as sociological text relates to the process of defining an epistemology1 of each field within the academy. I knew from reading Sula , for instance, Toni Morrison had documented the lives of two Black girls turned women in Ohio during the Great Migration. Beloved doubles as a late slavery era ghost story and a retelling of the story of Margaret Garner. Thus, Morrison uses fiction to document real world events and explain their implications for Black life. Morrison’s novels thus function as entertainment, education, history and theory.

Rememory: The Perpetual Haunting of Black Life and Death

For instance, Marisa Parham used Morrison’s concept of rememory from Beloved to theorize the temporality of Black life in the digital sphere. Anya Wallace provides a definition of rememory in her piece “Pleasure (Re)Collected By Young Black Women And Girls In The Vibrator Project:

Rememory is a term created by Toni Morrison. It references a primal scene– an outlet and effective use for self-discovery through re-living a memory.The rememory is a psychological and narrative tool, because it helps narrative worlds make recreations of past memories that need to be reiterated for a bigger impact or significance for the story being told.

Rememory shows up within the pages of Song of Solomon. Macon Dead III frequently references the feeling of always looking backward and feels frustrated by the sense that he cannot escape his or his family’s past. Macon learns throughout the novel various truths about his parents, grandparents, and even close friends. Each of these moments make him reckon with his sense of self as he tries to reconcile the past with who he is now.

Naming: Black Agency as Postcolonial Inheritance

Macon Dead’s rememory occurs in tandem with naming, another central concept of Song of Solomon. According to Sima Farshid:

Naming plays a significant role in Song of Solomon whose major characters’ names are bizarre and whose epigraph reads: The fathers may soar/And the children may know their names…Consequently, the reader of the novel is incited from its outset to ponder on names, their signification, and also their resisting function in African-Americans’ life. An important reason for the significance of naming in the novel is Morrison’s conscious attempt to uphold her African heritage as the answer to her obsessing questions of identity in which naming plays a crucial role2

Through naming Toni Morrison informs us how Black people secured personal and group identity after decades of colonial domination. The characters of Song of Solomon get named through a series of misnamings, renamings, and unnamings. Black identity gets contested on multiple fronts and the this novel demonstrates the ways the past has implications for these naming processes.

Ultimately, Toni Morrison’s novels teach us to reflect on what we know about Black life and what influences it.


  1. From the Handbook of the Social Psychology of Inequality: “Epistemology is a theory about knowledge, about who can know what and under what circumstances knowledge is developed.” 
  2. Farshid 2015, page 331 

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