Summary and Analysis
Traditionally, an epigraph — an introductory citation that suggests the theme of a literary work — is a brief quotation from a renowned literary source. However, in Song of Solomon, Morrison defies tradition by creating her own epigraph, one that focuses on flight away from something or flight toward a goal, foreshadowing the family dynamics of the novel's four generations of a black family, in which each generation, the father figure is either physically or emotionally absent. Emphasizing the impact of personal choice and responsibility, the epigraph suggests that fathers are integral to the survival of black families and the black race and presents a provocative paradox: Fathers need to be physically and emotionally present in their children's lives, but, in contemporary American society, black fathers are often absent, which leaves the demanding job of raising children to the mothers.
Morrison's epigraph introduces the myth of flight that surrounds the men in the Dead family, beginning with Solomon, the Flying African, and explores some of the reasons why the "fathers may soar," or fly away: to escape death, to seek freedom, or to pursue a better, more liberating life for themselves and their families. Consequently, while stressing that children need a strong father figure in order to develop into mature, well-adjusted adults, Morrison acknowledges that black fathers are often forced to abandon this role due to societal pressures or their own untimely deaths. Thus, the epigraph alludes to the alarming statistics concerning the endangered status of the black male and the resulting threat to the survival of the black family. It also explains the myth of the black matriarch, the fiercely independent woman who raises her family without the love and support of a strong black man.
The epigraph's powerful image of men seeking to escape conventional boundaries and limitations, leaving behind their children and the women who love them, is the first of many instances of escape found in the novel. Ironically, instead of viewing this phenomenon as inherently tragic, Morrison describes it as "a part of black life, a positive, majestic thing." Consequently, she depicts these men not as traitors or deserters but as strong, adventurous spirits responding to a powerful urge to move on and be free even if their children must ultimately pay the price for the fathers' wandering ways. But absentee fathers can leave a strong legacy for their children: As long as children "know their names" — that is, know who their fathers, their ancestors, are — they can cope with the potentially crippling handicap of being raised without a father. As Morrison explains in a candid New York Times interview, "The fathers may soar, they may leave, but the children know who they are; they remember, half in glory and half in accusation. That is one of the points of Song: all the men have left someone, and it is the children who remember it, sing about it, mythologize it, make it a part of their family history."