A Motif

The main motif in Song of Solomon is flying: the novel begins with Robert Smith’s flight from the roof of Mercy Hospital and ends with Milkman’s flight from Solomon’s Leap. The motif of flight is a complicated one: it represents transcendence as well as loss. Milkman’s great-grandfather Solomon was able to transcend his circumstances by flying back to Africa, but in doing so he abandoned his wife and children. Milkman finds a better example of flight in Pilate, who can fly without leaving the ground.

B Narration

Though the main focus of Song of Solomon is Milkman’s story, the narrator repeatedly turns to other stories to show how they intersect with Milkman’s story. The narrative jumps back and forth in time to give the reader the necessary background for understanding the current situation being discussed. For example, in chapter nine the narrative shifts to the story of Corinthians and her affair with Henry Porter. When Milkman realizes that Porter is a member of the Seven Days, he tells his father about the affair, and Macon reacts punitively, forbidding Corinthians from leaving the house and evicting Porter and garnishing his wages. This provokes Lena to confront Milkman, which in turn spurs him to leave home.

Another aspect of the narration is the point of view of the narrator, which, as Catherine Rainwater noted in Texas Studies in Literature and Language, sometimes merges “with that of a character, but later undercuts or problematizes this point of view by presenting its alternatives.” Though the narrator of Song of Solomon seems omniscient, all-knowing, in fact the narrator does not present any absolute truths, only the narrow perspectives of the Characters. In this way, readers are forced to interpret the history and the meaning of the story’s events and the character’s lives for themselves, just as Milkman does when he hears the song of Solomon.

C Bildungsroman

The Bildungsroman is the classic Western coming-of-age novel. The Bildungsroman usually presents a young hero struggling to find his identity. In Milkman’s case, he is at thirty-two much older than the classic Bildungsroman hero, but Morrison shows how Milkman’s race, class, and natural inclination to passivity keep him trapped in his carefree boyhood until events in the story compel him to grow up. Cynthia A. Davis writes in Toni Morrison that “Milkman’s life follows the pattern of the classic hero, from miraculous birth … through quest journey to final reunion with his double” as Milkman comes of age. The Bildungsroman is sometimes called the “novel of education” or “apprenticeship novel.” In this case, Milkman’s education is not the formal education he learns in school, but an education in his family’s mythic past. He apprentices himself to his mythic great-grandfather and learns to fly as a result.