Masculinity and Manhood: A Key Theme in Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison


The book, Song of Solomon has many themes threaded throughout the novel. One of the main themes is a reflection on the lives of African-American men and their experiences in the Jim Crow era all the way to the Civil Rights era. How have African-American men been stifled in America and how does this affect the family dynamic in the book and throughout history. As the matriarch of the family, Macon Dead is living a life of comfort financially but is bitter in his marriage, dissatisfied with his children, and is disconnected from his past. 


As a class, watch this clip of novelist Toni Morrison talking about Song of Solomon: What did you learn about the novel from this clip? Based on what Morrison said, what themes may be important in the novel? On a separate google doc, jot down your answers. 

As a class discuss the following questions and how they relate to the theme of masculinity and manhood:

1. On page 4, Morrison describes the place where her characters live: Not Doctor Street, on the South Side of Chicago. What is the significance of the name “Not Doctor Street”? What does it suggest to us about the power of language or naming?

2. Read aloud the description of Macon Dead’s father’s homestead on page 51. What is the significance of land ownership for his father, a former slave? How does the land define him as a man? How has the story of his father’s homestead and his father’s terrible fate shaped Macon Jr., as a property owner? [Note that the homestead was located in Pennsylvania, not the Deep South].

3. A literary foil is a character who contrasts strongly with another character. In what ways is Pilate Dead a foil to Macon? How are they opposites? [As a moonshine maker who lives in a “shack,” not “respectable” or concerned with middle-class bourgeoisie respectability; matriarchal household is full of energy, life, sensuality, generosity of spirit; she is a wise “seer” rather than blind like Macon and Milkman; a magical ancestral figure who teaches Milkman; associated with flight since her name sounds like “pilot”; a singer; being in her home makes Milkman “completely happy” (47); on the other hand, Morrison criticizes patriarchy, middle-class values, and the nuclear family structure through her portrayal of Macon Dead’s household ]



1. Watch the Eyes on the Prize documentary clip on the 1955 murder of Emmett Till: * Please note that at 5:27 there is an extremely graphic image of the mutilated face of Emmett Till 

On Google Docs explain why this is pertinent to our understanding of the Jim Crow South, and what this tells us about the plight of African-American men in our country.

2. Which literal objects, images, and events in the text convey figurative meaning and facilitate an interpretation of the text, and supports the deep trauma Macon Dead suffers from.

3. Within the theme of masculinity and manhood, what are the connotations, representations, and associations of specific words in the text?

4. What is the main theme of the poem? Explain the functions of specific words and phrases in the text. How does an allusion affect the reader's experience with the text? 

5. How does this poem contribute to our understanding of the plight of the African-American male in society both in the past and present? 

6. Complete the lesson on Language and Meaning:


“Ark of Bones” by Henry Dumas (purpose)


“I’m Nobody, who are you?” Dickinson (Tone and Speaker)


“We wear the mask” poetic reading by Maya Angelou


“I wear a Mask” Paul Laurence Dunbar (Tone and Audience)


Names and family history all play a significant role in defining a man’s masculinity. 


Language and Meaning

A continuing preoccupation in the novel is language and meaning, particularly with regard to names and naming. The Deads get their name because of the mistake of a drunk Yankee soldier, yet they claim it anyway. Milkman eventually discovers his family history through his interpretation of the words of a childhood game. Pilate’s name comes from the Bible, and she keeps it in a box that dangles from her ear. The Blacks of Southside try to claim the power of naming by calling Mains Avenue Doctor Street. When they are told that it is not Doctor Street, they call it Not Doctor Street, continuing to honor Doctor Foster while acknowledging their powerlessness to name the streets of the city. Language, then, is a double-edged sword: it is imposed on African Americans, but they must claim it, make it their own, and find meaning in it.


Study the language and meaning in the poem, “We wear the mask” and draw connections to SOAPSTone. 


What does it mean to be a “sell-out”? Does a successful person owe anything to the community they came from? As a landlord and property owner, is Macon Dead a “sell-out” or a “success” in terms of his relationship with the black community? Select and use relevant and sufficient evidence to both develop and support a line of reasoning.  


All parts of the Webquest must be completed to get full credit. 


Hostos (n.d.) Columbia Common Core Retrieved on June 22, 2020,

Poetry Foundation (n.d.) Retrieved on June 22, 2020,

Morrison, T. (2016) Song of Solomon. London: Vintage

National Humanities Center Resource Toolbox The Making of African American Identity: Vol. III, 1917-1968

“We wear the mask” poetic reading by Maya Angelou, February 6, 2007, Retrieved on June 24th, 2020 (n.d.) Retrieved on June 24th, 2020, “I’m Nobody, who are you?” Dickinson