Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
A primary theme in Song of Solomon is the journey or quest for identity. Milkman is assisted by a number of guides as he seeks and discovers community, including Circe, who helps him in a symbolic return to the womb, and the men of the hunt, who serve as elders guiding a youth to manhood. In the course of his journey, Milkman is initiated into knowledge. One critic has written that he “journeys from spiritual death to rebirth . . . symbolized by his discovery of the secret power of flight.”
Morrison acknowledges that flight, her central metaphor, is everybody’s secret dream. Flight, symbolizing freedom or escape and found frequently in African American writing, is seen in the Flying African, Milkman’s great-grandfather, who embodies the many folktales of the escaped slave. The novel opens with the failed flight from the hospital roof of a man wearing blue silk wings and closes with the triumphant flight of Solomon and the redemptive flight of Milkman, who has finally learned to “ride” the air.
As a child, Milkman longs to fly; at age five, he feels uncomfortable riding while facing backward on a train because “it was like flying blind.” This comment also suggests that he does not want to look at the past. Later, as he and Guitar are planning to steal Pilate’s sack of gold, they notice a white peacock with a “tail full of jewelry,” apparently escaped from the zoo, and try to catch it. Milkman notes that the bird...
(The entire section is 500 words.)
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