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From Beginning to End
Toni Morrison begins her novel Song of Solomon in a very unconventional way. Instead of introducing a setting or characters, she retells an incident that without further reading is for the most part incomprehensible. As readers we notice later on in the story the references made throughout the book that relate back to the introductory pages. Some of the main themes such as oral traditions, naming, and especially flight are introduced in the first six pages and are further developed in a very similar format throughout the book.
One of the outstanding themes, oral tradition, is used to retell events throughout the book in a manner consistent with the beginning. On the first page we are introduced to an insurance agent by the name of Robert Smith. We shortly thereafter learn that he will "fly" form the top of Mercy Hospital. On the Wednesday of his flight a group of fifty people gather around the building to witness this event. While waiting for his "flight" or jump a woman in a contralto voice begins to sing the words "O Sugarman done fly away/ Sugarman done gone/ Sugarman cut across the sky/ Sugarman gone home…"(6) This lady simply describes Robert Smith's flight "home" which we later learn is really him committing suicide. Much later on in the book Milkman is listening to a group of children singing "O Solomon done fly away/ Solomon done gone/ Solomon cut across the sky/ Solomon gone home."(3) In this song Sugarman, or Robert Smith, is replaced by Solomon, or the Great Grandfather of Milkman. The song describes his "flight" from Shalimar, his home town, and the events that happened after his "flight." In general, oral traditions are used in this book to retell past events for both our understanding and for the characters. They take the form of song, story, and fairy tale and are very important to the meaning of the story because they are a major medium of narration.
Naming is utilized throughout the book for the purpose of creating identification and symbolism for the characters and places. On page four a brief description is given about the history of Mains Ave., or Not Doctor Street., as called by the Southside community. It is called Not Doctor Street. because a prominent black doctor had once lived there, and the people living there always referred to it as Doctor Street.
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Perhaps the most outstanding theme in the story is flight. It is used in both the introduction and the rest of the novel as a symbol for freedom. As described earlier, Robert Smith's jump, or flight however it is interpreted, is a result of his feelings towards a small group of men known as the "Seven Days." This group consists of seven men, one for each day of the week, who imitate crimes committed by white men towards black people. Crimes are replicated by the person belonging to the day the original was committed. Robert Smith was a member of the group for a while. Since no one knew this it was anyone's guess as to why he was committing suicide, but as it was revealed to the reader and it is understood that his purpose for suicide was to escape this group, because of the mental stress it had caused him. To free him himself from the agony he chose "flight" as a method of achieving freedom. A similar event occurs at the end of the book to the main character, Milkman. Milkman returns to Virginia with his aunt, where she is killed by his best friend at the top of a mountain. He jumps of the cliff towards his aunt's assailant, and although it is not clear whether he truly can fly or is just leaping to his death, either form would justify a meaning of freedom from his current life of hatred and misunderstanding in his family to a better one of detachment from it. Thus, we can again see how the beginning clearly relates to the rest of the novel, this time in a very similar format, in terms of the physical aspect - suicide or flight - and the mental aspect - reasons for committing the act -.
Clearly through these examples we can see how effectively Toni Morrison introduces complicated ideas into the beginning and later explains them instead of developing them from the start in a clearer manner. Oral tradition, naming, and flight are some of the main ideas that are carried through but other ideas like that of the supernatural are also important in explaining some of the events that occur throughout. Altogether this method is very effective to those who can survive the confusing beginning. Sometimes in life, we encounter problems and dilemmas that at first seem very confusing, but as we proceed in deciphering them we can make sense out of the confusion. A psychoanalyst deals with his or her patients in a very similar manner. They listen to the disorder in their patients minds and them must clarify what they are thinking and help them with their problems. This too occurs for me when doing my math homework. At first the problems don't make sense but after looking at them and trying to understand everything comes together and makes sense. Although we don't like to think in this way, it seems that we often find ourselves dealing under there circumstances more frequently than we think.