Song of Solomon Theme Essay

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Toni Morrison is an award winning American writer who is known for her examination of African American lives. Morrison grew up in the Midwest in a family that possessed an intense love of and appreciation for black culture (The Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica). African American stories, folktales and songs were a big part of her childhood. Morrison went to college at Howard University and Cornell University and later went on to teach at Princeton University. Her strong love for African American culture led her to write many novels such as The Bluest Eye, Sula, and her most notable work, Song of Solomon. Song of Solomon is a coming of age novel that focuses on the life of Milkman Dead.

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“Song of Solomon Theme Essay”

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The novel starts out in the 1930s in Michigan where the protagonist is born. Milkman is a na??ve kid who leaves his family behind because he thinks he is better than them and wants to be an upperclassman. Throughout the novel, many themes such as secrecy, abandonment, and identity are discussed. But the most prominent theme used in the novel is the theme of flight. Throughout the novel, Toni Morrison utilizes the theme of flight to illustrate the release from earth into the border less freedom of death. The novel starts off in February of 1931 where an insurance agent, Robert Smith, leaves a note saying that he plants to fly from Mercy Hospital to the other side of Lake Superior (Morrison 3). The insurance agent wants to fly from Mercy Hospital to Lake Superior because it represents the flight from the south to the north that many African Americans took during the time period the novel is set in. During the 1930s, African Americans migrated from the south to north because they were driven from their homes by unsatisfactory economic opportunities and harsh segregation laws (Great Migration). During this time in America, racism was declining in the north while the south was as racist as it had ever been. Robert Smith’s jump off the building symbolizes the idea of taking chances. Smith jumping off the building shows his attempt of trying to flee the grasps of racism and his only way of escape. Smith says he wants to take offand fly away on my own wings because he believes that taking flight will free him from reality and responsibilities. Although flight may have positive connotations, escape suggests leaving behind pain for those around you. Similar to Solomon, who left his whole family behind when he departed on his flight, Smith is leaving behind those who were around him. Robert Smith’s suicide also represents the freedom that death has to offer. Smith took flight and intended to go to freedom which he got because he died. He felt trapped on earth and wanted to be free, but in the restraints of society, the only way to be free was to let death liberate him.

Morrison also reinforces the theme of flight with Pilate Dead. Pilate is Milkman’s father’s sister which makes her his aunt. She also his teacher and spiritual guide. Pilate is able to both fly and still remain on earth. Pilate is the wise character in the novel who understands all aspects of flight. For example, she says to Milkman in part 1, You just can’t fly on off and leave a body (Morrison 203). Although she means this literally referring to her father’s body, she also means it metaphorically. Pilate means that when one dies, they have to take their soul with them too. She means that when someone takes flight, they do not actually solve their problems but just take them with themselves. Committing suicide in the means to free oneself does not lead to freedom but just takes their problems into the afterlife. Pilate has managed to create her own metaphorical wings and has enabled herself to fly while still being on the ground. Pilate serves as a prime example of what a person should be like. Unlike Milkman, she embraces her family and her past by sitting with One foot pointed east and one pointed west (Morison 128) which shows the east and west as African American. Pilate is a leader to Milkman and who he wants to be but does not know. She is an entrepreneur who took herself from not having a place to sleep to having her own house and family. From the day she was born, she created herself all by herself to become what she is. Unlike her brother Macon Dead, Pilate did not take any handouts from Ruth or anyone else, but built her wealth with hard work. Pilate is the pilot to Milkman’s flight because she shows him how a person should take flight without killing themselves. She shows him that to be a successful person in life one must learn his or her past and embrace their surroundings.

Lastly, there is the flight of Milkman. Throughout the novel, Milkman dreams of taking flight. Milkman always imagines himself taking flight and is in love with airplanes. However, during this time, only white people took actual flights as in flying in literal airplanes. This shows the disconnect between the two races and cultures and the inequality gap between the two. This gap illustrates the luxury that white people had during this time. It also shows the want of Milkman to be an upperclassman. By taking flight, Milkman believes he will be able to be a successful person. Another example of Milkman’s flight is when he and guitar encounter a peacock on top of a building. As the bird flies down, Milkman thinks that it is a he. Guitar corrects him by saying He. That’s a he. The male is the only one got that tail full of jewelry (Morrison 179). As the peacock flies down, it does not fly very smoothly to which Guitar says Too much tail. All that jewelry weights it down. Like vanity. Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down (Morrison 180). This peacock represents all the men in the novel. For example, Milkman wants to be flashy and show off his wealth. He buys a new car when his car breaks down. The peacock shows the readers and to Milkman that materialistic things do not enable one to take flight in life. Men believe that success comes with a fancy lifestyle, but in truth it actually comes by living a humble life that Pilate has perfectly exampled. The bird also shows that women are underappreciated throughout the novel. Guitar indicates that the male peacocks are the ones that have jewelry on themselves while females do not. Throughout the novel all the women have taken flight while no male has. This shows that men look down upon women and do not take them seriously.

In conclusion, Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon questions both the readers and the characters in the novel to ask themselves what is the truth. Although she does not answer this directly in the book, she suggests that flight is not necessarily a bad response to struggles in life. This is illustrated in Pilate because it shows how she has become a wise person and able to deal with her problems. It also shows in Robert Smith who leaves behind his dead body and nothing else. All in all, flight is successful when it leaves behind mourning people like Pilate left behind Macon Dead. It is unsuccessful when dead bodies are left behind.

Works Cited

  1. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclope Toni Morrison.
  2. Encyclop?dia Britannica, Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 14 Feb. 2018, www.britannica.com/biography/Toni-Morrison.
  3. com Staff, History.com. Great Migration.History.com, A&E Television Networks, 2010, www.history.com/topics/black-history/great-migration.
  4. Morrison, Toni.Song of Solomon. Vintage Books, 2004
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Song of Solomon Theme Essay. (2019, Dec 11). Retrieved February 6, 2023 , from
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