Song of Solomon was a 1977 award-winning novel by Toni Morrison highly appreciated in the time it was published and nowadays. In this novel, Morrison, from her feminist viewpoint, depicts the successful quest for the personal and national identity of the main character Milkman, who finds the solution in African national values and the act of flying symbolizing freedom.
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Song of Solomon is the only one of Morrison’s novels in which the character successfully completes the search for personal identity and psychological autonomy. The nicknames are common to most of Morrison’s novels and essential for understanding the main influential factors affecting the personal identity of the characters. For example, Milkman is the nickname received by the main protagonist of the novel Macon Dead III, because he was breastfed by his mother in his childhood through his age was not appropriate for it. This nickname provides readers with valuable insights into some of the underlying causes of Macon’s aggression as well as his unloving relationships with his mother. Another important aspect undoubtedly affecting Milkman’s identity is his African-American ancestry. He was the first black child who was born in a local hospital.
The racial discrimination significantly affects the self-perception of the main character as well as his attitude to others. Therefore, the driving forces leading to the search for personal identity are obvious. Another important question is how Milkman manages to successfully complete this quest for identity and psychological autonomy. Going beyond the limitations of African-American discourse, Morrison uses traditional African values and community as the answer to the questions posed by the main protagonist in his quest for personal and national identity. In contrast to the two approaches of assimilation (promoted by the Dead family) or radical separatism (promoted by Milkman’s friend Guitar) as the solution to the problem of racial discrimination, Morrison emphasizes the importance of accepting his African ancestry. Milkman obtains psychological autonomy by revealing the legends of his folk and understanding the importance of cultural traditions and values.
One of the most important values depicted in the context of legends was freedom and hope. The act of flying is used by the author as a metaphor for the characters’ search for changes and hope for the better. The most frequent keywords in the story deserving serious consideration are “fly” and “mercy”. Notably, the narration starts from the failure and suicide when a man attempts to fly, but falls from the roof and dies. The black men suffering in captivity had a superstition that if they murder themselves, their souls will fly to Africa. Therefore, the metaphor of flight is an integral element of African culture and contributes to the national coloring of the narration. Since the opening paragraphs in which the insurance agent Robert Smith jumps from the roof, Morrison poses an important culture-bound question, whether the self-murderers fly to Africa on their wings or die.
The dream of flying was a crucial aspect which accompanied the main protagonist Solomon Dead throughout his entire life. “When the little boy discovered […] the same thing Mr. Smith had learned earlier – that only birds and airplanes could fly – he lost all interest in himself. To have to live without that single gift saddened him” (Morrison 9). Even the events from his routine daily life make the main protagonist think of flying. This dream plays a subliminal role in his life, even though in the first part of the novel, he does not fully understand the meaning of this wish. However, in the second part of the novel, after Milkman gains a sense of personal self, the main character associates the act of flying with his destiny. The open ending in which Milkman leaps into the air can be regarded as the celebration of his self-knowledge because he finally understands his wishes.
Another important motif detected in the novel is Morrison’s feministic views. Although some scholars did not accept this aspect in the narration pattern, some of the plotlines reveal the author’s attitudes and position. To obtain the sense of manhood was one of the important goals in Milkman’s quest for self-identity. However, this sense could not be shaped by traditional Western norms, based mainly on the needs of white American men. Morrison reconsiders the accustomed concept of manhood and links it with the problem of double discrimination of black women in the American community. Black women suffered from racial and gender discrimination although the social activists frequently remained blind to this problem. From her feministic viewpoint, Morrison sheds light upon the difficulties faced by black women (such as Pilate and other characters) in their lives and the coping strategies they use for adapting to the hostile environment.
The acceptance of own ancestry and self-knowledge are the main values promoted by Morrison in the novel Song of Solomon. Milkman as the main character of the novel successfully completes his quest for manhood and his place in American community, but leaps into the air, leaving the readers in ignorance about his future destiny.
Morrison, Toni. Song of Solomon. New York: Vintage International, 2004. Print.