The motif of flying begins with Song’s epigraph which tells the story of fathers who abandon their children, and it ends with Milkman’s flight. Throughout the novel, we are continually presented with men who fly off, leaving women behind. Their flight produces mixed emotions, because, while it is incredibly victorious for the community, which tells and retells the story of the flight, it is also a cause of much heartache and loss.
The belief in flight is what makes this book so awesome and is also what makes us realize that it is not always grounded in reality as we know it, but deals in mythological and magical terms as well. When we enter the world of Song, we watch a man fly off of a hospital building, and his fall is ambiguous. We don’t actually get to see his flight, and we don’t actually see him crash to earth. We are told there is no blood on his body when people examine his corpse on the ground. In this way, we wonder if Robert Smith isn’t successful after all at flying across Lake Superior.
The motif of flight also resonates with the folklore which tells the tale of slaves who flew back to Africa, as Milkman’s great-grandfather did, leaving a wife and 21 children behind. At the end of the novel, we find that Pilate has always been able to outsmart the whole flying and abandoning conundrum. She’s always been able to fly and yet she never leaves anyone behind. In the last moment, Milkman surrenders to the air and rides it, learning how to fly.