The concept of flight is clearly addressed in the beginning of the novel with Mr. Smith's jump - his attempt to fly. Although flight may have positive attributes of the possibility of escape, it also contains negative connotations. Escape suggests leaving behind one's old world and thus pain for those left behind. Solomon, who flew back to Africa, leaves behind his wife Ryna and their twenty-one children. Solomon's departure, although happy in the face of his struggle with slavery, is disastrous for Ryna, who goes mad with grief. Milkman's escape from Not Doctor Street, a relief from his daily unhappiness, is devastating for Hagar, who eventually dies from heartbreak. The overall theme of flight, therefore, is associated with abandonment. Although it is an impossible feat, flight is regarded as natural in the novel. It is believed that Milkman's great-grandfather, Solomon, literally flew away by simply spinning around with his arms spread out until he elevated. The community's acceptance of flight as normal highlights Morrison's use of magical realism in her writing. Even the novel's epigraph, "The fathers may soar And the children may know their names," references the theme of flight.
Allusions in Characters' Names
Names hold a special significance in regards to each character. Pilate, a biblical reference to the Roman governor who allowed the execution of Jesus Christ, shares some similar traits with her namesake, such as strength and power. Although she is not cruel in her authority, Pilate is a male name suggesting that she bears the stereotypical characteristics of a man, at least as perceived by society at the time. Circe's name bears homage to the enchantress in Homer's Odyssey, who provides Odysseus with crucial information on how to end his voyage. In Song of Solomon, Circe supplies Milkman with segments of his family history, so that he may end his search for his family heritage. Hagar, a biblical name, is a direct explanation of her strained and desperate relationship with Milkman, who abandons her, as can be predicted through the Bible.
The family surname of Dead is a spiritual wordplay. Milkman's family accidentally received the name from white oppressors, thus suggesting that their real name died, and at that point, so did their family history. The importance of names relates to a sense of belonging, to being able to trace one's roots through the ages. Throughout the entire novel, there are continuous references to Milkman being Dead, both in terms of name and character. Upon Milkman's rebirth, he no longer can be called Dead, neither by name nor by personality.
The theme of singing and songs is a reference not only to the African oral tradition but also to the days of slavery. Slaves, as means of getting through their work on the plantation, sang spirituals. Such songs talked of faith and hope, and how to live with the spirit of God. Singing was a way in which slaves could express their personal feelings, and it was also a means of cheering one another up. Many songs also contained "secret messages," for instance making indirect references to the Underground Railroad.
The act of singing communicates the importance of the oral tradition, demonstrated through Pilate's "Oh Sugarman done fly away..." The song, originally a reference to Solomon, tells the tale of Milkman's great-grandfather. It is this song that transmits Milkman's family history, and steers him towards his spiritual rebirth. Overall, songs underline the rebuilding of a spiritual and emotional bond. In the novel, Pilate, Hagar and Reba all bond through the act of singing. And, after Hagar's death, Reba and Pilate comfort one another through a song.
Toni Morrison emphasizes the country's state of racial injustice. Chapter One mentions racial uplift groups and makes note of segregated hospitals to create a focus on race. Further emphasis is placed on white oppression in regards to race as Guitar remembers that his mother received four ten dollar bills for his father's body. The reasons for Guitar's anger towards whites ars reemphasized in his unfair treatment by a white nurse. His hatred grows to transform him into a revengeful fiend who loses his humanity. The Seven Days society, of which Guitar is a member of, takes justice into their own hands.
Abandonment of Women
Throughout the entire novel, women are abandoned by males to fend for themselves. Solomon abandons his wife, Ryna, and Milkman leaves behind Hagar. Whereas Solomon is regarded as a hero for escaping the evils of slavery, Ryna's suffering is regarded as punitive, almost illogical. Although it is she who is left behind with twenty-one children, the town emphasizes Solomon's victory over her misery. Morrison accents the women's hardships to show the double standard society places upon women.
The pursuit of money and property is a struggle for which Macon Dead II has sacrificed his humanity. The gold further accents his greed, and his desire for monetary objects consumes Milkman as well. Although Macon's longing to accumulate worldly goods is a sign of bereavement for his father, his manner of mourning soon turns against him. Milkman's search for the gold becomes a search foe his identity, his real inheritance.
The Color White
Throughout the novel, black and white colors are used to differentiate between good and evil. Stereotypically, society associates white with good and black with evil. Song of Solomon, on the other hand, presents the color white as a symbol of malevolence. All the white characters as well as white symbols represent wrongdoing and/or violence. Guitar's father's employer, who is white, gives his mother forty dollars for his father's dead body, a suggestion of how much a black man is thought to be worth. Corinthian's employer, white as well, also does not regard her employee as an equal, although she claims her views are liberal. Freddie's description of his mother's death involves a white bull. And the white peacock that Milkman and Guitar chase represents greed.
Song of Solomon Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Song of Solomon is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.