Song of Solomon is Toni Morrisons most widely acclaimed work. An African-American writer, Morrison utilizes beautiful language and wonderful though often strange visual images to make use of every major literary device over the course of the story. Morrison’s fiction is concerned with themes of race, class, and African-American history. Her writing often approximates a style known as magical realism, in which seemingly magical or impossible events occur side-by-side with a plausible, realistic story.
An important part of the magical realism in any novel has to do with the main characters proverbial journey through self, and his/her eventual epiphany. In Song of Solomon, the main character, dubbed Milkman, is introduced as a wealthy and socially prosperous young black man. The beginning of his journey started when he expressed to his father, Macon Dead, a desire to leave town for the year in hopes of discovering information on his familys history.
His father grants permission, but only on one condition: that Milkman steals the green bag of gold hanging from his aunt Pilates ceiling gold, Macon explains, that Pilate stole from the very camp to which Milkman would be traveling. After agreeing to his fathers term, and after conversing with his best friend Guitar about splitting the money between them, Milkman sets off for Pennsylvania. The symbolism begins to surface the moment Milkman arrives in Pittsburgh. His mode of transportation to Pennsylvania is flight.
When he disembarks into the airport, he looks around and finds that not only is his destination point of Danville 240 miles away, but is only accessible by a Greyhound bus. Reluctantly, unwilling to give up the elegance he had felt on the flight, he taxied from the airport to the bus station [pg 226] At the bus station in Danville, Milkman was forced to leave his abundant and expensive belongings with the ticket vendor. The following day, he asked to be shown to the house where Pilate and his father had lived.
Unfortunately for this high-bred young man, the only way to get there was to be driven by a thirteen-year-old boy in a rickety old truck down a stony road full of potholes. To his extreme dismay, Nephew as the child was called stops beside some shrubs along the road. Having no other choice, Milkman gets out of the truck and begins to walk through the shrubs and the mud. On his way to the house, which lay a mile away through the muck, he had his share of difficulties: His hat had been knocked off by the first branches of the old walnut trees, so he held it in his hand.
His cuffless pants were darkened by the mile-long walk over moist leaves. [pg 238] Milkmans journey has all too clearly begun to develop at this point. He has gone from luxurious travel with the most expensive wines and clothing available on the market, to trudging through the mud with only the filthy clothes on his back. Even at this point, hes but halfway to his epiphany. After seeing the house and meeting Circe, the ancient structures only occupant, he continues past the house and through the woods toward the hills, where he is told the cave and the gold lie in wait.
He continues to gather filth. When he reaches a stream, he sits down to remove is socks and shoes and to roll up his pants. While holding his shoes in one hand, he wades into the stream, but is entirely unsuspecting of the sudden drop in the riverbed that plunges him underwater. This submersion of the main character in water is a critical part of his journey into self. Complete or partial soaking of water has, in literature, always been considered a symbol of cleansing: out with the old, in with the new.
The dirt and grime that Milkman collected on his clothing and on his person during the walk to the cave represents the filthy weight of society. Once he falls into the water and is cleansed of the filth, he is, symbolically, free of societys chains. Milkmans journey is almost complete; however, there is still one missing element: the epiphany. This comes a bit later on, when he is invited on a nighttime hunting trip with a group of men in town. Before the hunting begins, Milkman is made to remove his cash and strip off all of his clothing before donning the new garments provided by the other men.
His transformation is now complete: hes been both symbolically and literally dirtied, bathed, and renewed. Just a few hours after the conclusion of his transformation, he is hit by an epiphany that takes him deep into his own mind and soul much deeper than he ever desired to go. He realizes the error of his ways, and at the same time forms a strong bond with the earth, which has, by now, taught and changed him so much. Morrison concludes Milkmans journey with a beautiful image of Milkman taking flight: Without wiping away the tears, taking a deep breath, or even bending his knees he leaped.
As fleet and bright as a lodestar he wheeled toward Guitar and it did not matter which one of them would give up his ghost in the killing arms of his brother. For now he knew what Shalimar knew: If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it. [pg 337] The journey into self and resulting epiphany is expected of any great piece of literature. Morrison simply took this one step further, and transformed Song of Solomon from a story into a truly priceless work of art.