English 11, Period 4
31 March 2011
The epigraph of Toni Morrison’s novel Song of Solomon introduces the most important and central theme of the novel; flight. It reads “the fathers may soar/And the children may know their names”. The novel is focused on flight and how it affects those left behind; the driving force behind the story is an old tale about Milkman’s great grandfather Solomon flying back to Africa and leaving his wife Ryna behind with 20 children to tend to. Morrison links this tale across space and time to Milkman’s life three generations later. Milkman “flies” away to find out about his past and leaves behind his lover and cousin, Hagar. Throughout the novel, Morrison uses literal and figurative flight as a motif that can be interpreted as a vehicle for human escape; however, it also serves as the catalyst for emotional distress and feelings of abandonment. This abandonment is displayed almost exclusively by the men of the story and the abandoned are almost always the women. One of these abandoned women is Ryna, Solomon’s wife. The story of Solomon’s flight is really the driving force behind the whole novel. Solomon escapes slavery by flying back to Africa. Solomon tried to take his only son Jake with him, but he accidentally dropped Jake early in the flight. Solomon himself made it back to Africa, but he left behind his wife and 20 children, all of whom she had to care for. Solomon’s flight causes Ryna to become insane, and it eventually leads to her death. When Milkman visits Shalimar he hears the children of the town singing a song about Solomon and Ryna. They are singing “O Solomon don’t leave me here/Cotton balls to choke me/O Solomon don’t leave me here/Buckra’s arms to yoke me” (303). This song describes Ryna’s descent into madness as Solomon prepares for his flight. In the town of Shalimar there is a place called Ryna’s Gulch, and it is said that one can still hear Ryna’s screams of insanity and grief...
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