Song Of SolomonThe Icarus Myth in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon
Throughout literature it has been common for authors to use allusions to complement recurrent motifs in their work. In Toni Morrison’s Song Of Solomon, Milkman learns that his desire to fly has been passed down to him from his ancestor Solomon. As Milkman is figuring out the puzzle of his ancestry, he realizes that when Solomon tried to take his youngest son, Jake, flying with him, he dropped him and Jake never arrived with his father to their destination.
Sound familiar? Well, it seems quite probable that Morrison drew from the Daedalus/Icarus Greek myth. Daedalus was a well-known architect and engineer in Athens. King Mines invited Daedalus to Crete to build him a labyrinth, and when it was completed, Mines jailed him within it. In order to escape, Daedalus built two sets of wings – one pair for himself, and the other for his son, Icarus- using wax and feathers, which they used to fly off from Crete. On their journey to Athens, Icarus decided to try to challenge the sun, even though his father had warned him that if he got too near to the sea his wings would dampen and fall apart, or if he got too close to the sun, the wax in his wings would melt, and he would lose the ability to fly. Ignoring Daedalus’ warnings, Icarus flew too high and the sun melted the wax that held his wings together. Icarus fell into the Aegean Sea and died.
Solomon, a slave, had been a leader when he worked in the cotton fields in the South. One day he decided to fly back to Africa with his youngest son, Jake, leaving behind his wife Ryna and their twenty other children.
Black lady fell down on the ground
Come booba yalle, come booma tambee
Threw her body all around
Come konka yalle, come konka tambee…(303).
This verse of the popular children’s song which Milkman heard in Shalimar, Virginia, was referring to Ryna’s sobbing, an event which also led to the naming of Ryna’s Gulch where it is rumored that Ryna’s spirit moaned night and day alike for Solomon’s return. When Solomon is flying, however, he drops Jake- also the name of Milkman’s grandfather- and unlike Icarus in Greek mythology, Jake survives his fall.
Milkman’s desire to fly mirrors one of the foremost fantasies of any child or dreamer. The child’s desire to fly is expressed when Milkman (as a young child) loses all interest in himself when he realizes that he cannot fly. Morrison proves that the childish desire to fly never dies when Robert Smith tries to fly from No Mercy Hospital in Michigan. Milkman quickly regains his confidence when he unlocks the mystery of his grandfather and recognizes that a he was able to fly: And he began to whoop and dive and splash and turn. ‘He could fly! You hear me? My great-granddaddy could fly! Goddam!’ He whipped the water with his fists, then jumped straight up as though he too could take off(328).
In conclusion, one of the most important motifs in Song of Solomon is that of flying, or perhaps more importantly the craving and interminable interest in learning to fly. Morrison uses numerous methods to emphasize this aspect of her novel. In my opinion, the most interesting comparison is between Solomon to Daedalus, and Jake to Icarus. At the end of the novel, as Milkman soars from one plateau to the next, we realize that even if he can never fly away from his problems as Solomon and Daedalus could, his fantasy has already been fulfilled through the knowledge that he has learned to face his problems head on instead of simply mastering the art of escape- flying.