Flight as a Literal and Metaphorical Symbol in Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

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In Song of Solomon, a novel by Toni Morrison, flight is used as a literal and metaphorical symbol of escape. Each individual character that chooses to fly in the novel is “flying” away from a hardship or a seemingly impossible situation. However, by choosing to escape, one is also deliberately choosing to abandon family and community members. The first reference to this idea is found in the novel’s epigraph: “The fathers may soar/ And the children may know their names,” which introduces the idea that while flight can be an escape, it can also be harmful to those left behind. However, while the male characters who achieve flight do so by abandoning their female partners and family, the female characters master flight without abandoning those they love. Throughout the novel, human flight is accepted as a natural occurrence, while those who doubt human flight, such as Milkman, are viewed as abnormal and are isolated from the community. It is only when Milkman begins to believe in flight as a natural occurrence that he is welcomed back into the community and sheds his feelings of isolation.
The novel begins with the account of Robert Smith, an insurance agent who had promised to “take off…and fly away on [his] own wings” (Morrison 3). Standing on the roof of Mercy Hospital wearing “blue silk wings,” Smith proclaims to a growing crowd that he will fly (Morrison 5). Unfortunately, he is ultimately unable to take flight and falls to his death among the crowd. This is the first image of attempted flight in the novel and the first glimpse of flight being viewed as both possible and natural. Those who had gathered to view Smith’s flight did not “cry out to [him]” or attempt to prevent his leap, but instead encouraged him, implying that t...

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...ers to and rides the air, and whether he reenacts the suicide of Robert Smith or delivers himself into “the killing arms of his brother,” Milkman escapes through flight (Morrison 337).
During the long period of time in which Milkman doubts human flight, he is essentially shunned from his community. However, by accepting human flight as both a natural and possible occurrence, Milkman achieves acceptance. In actuality, flight as a means of escape is conveyed as a selfish act, harming all those left behind. Furthermore, in reference to Robert Smith and Milkman, death, not flight, was what caused them to essentially escape. In Song of Solomon, flight comes across as an act of desperation, in which those involved would risk anything to escape their troubled lives. Only when you “surrendered [yourself] to the air” could you truly escape and find freedom (Morrison 337).

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