‘Song of Solomon’ is a coalescement of a variety of different literary styles; a pinch of magic realism with a dash of Faulkner, synthesised with African folklore and the Western narrative form, leaves us with a style which is both a synthesis of various influences and wholly original.
‘Song of Solomon’ follows the story of Milkman Dead, an insouciant and at times conceited young man, whose birth coincides with the suicidal attempt of flight by the lachrymose salesman, Mr. Smith, whose attempts to fly are captured in a wonderfully poetic vignette of images;
“When the dead doctor’s daughter saw Mr Smith emerge as promptly as he had promise from behind the cupola, his wide blue silk wings curved forward around his chest, she dropped her covered peck basket, spilling red velvet rose petals. The wind blew them up and down and into small mounds of snow”
The spectre of Mr. Smith’s suicide subconsciously follows Milkman around for the rest of his life-there is something weird and unconventional about him, something slightly unsettling, a feel which is exacerbated by the eccentricities of his family-from his authoritative and peremptory father Macon, whose sole concern is money and property and his long-suffering wife Ruth, for whom Macon harbours an insatiable malevolence due to the incestuous nature of her relationship with her father or Macon’s messianic sister Pilate and her bellicose grand-daughter Reba, whose love for and desire to possesses Milkman sends her into a murderous frenzy, the grandiose and Biblical undertones of the family story and dynamics underpins their difference to most of the other African-American characters who populate the novel.
Monied and well-educated, the interactions between the Dead family and other Black characters symbolises the growing divide between different sectors of African-American society as some groups were becoming closely assimilated within American society, other groups, who lacked their money and therefore status were being pushed further towards the fringes of society, dehumanised not only by the White population but by those from their own community who used their wealth and privilege to parrot the prejudices of the White population. Milkman’s journey to and around Pennsylvania is symbolic of this-he believes that the poor country-folk he meets are in awe of his wealth and status, reducing them to a collection of simplistic clichés and blind to the anger cause by his condescending and arrogant air. Morrison is exploring how the core values of American society-land, power and money, are at the core of the racial divide.
There is something Biblical about the story, from the characters, to the themes and prose style it’s mythical and magical undertones and is one of the seminal novel about the African-American experience in American literature.