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Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon

by Toni Morrison

Analysis: Tone

Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?

Dense, loaded, locked, stormy

Well, let’s just take the very first sentence of the novel. It seems neutral, placid, and without the emotion to tell us how we should feel about this particular life insurance agent. Sounds easy enough. Shall we move on?

Not so fast. The sentence begins with North Carolina and ends with Lake Superior, reflecting a movement from South to North reflective of the immigration of many black Americans from the South to Northern cities following the Civil War. The North Carolina Mutual Life Insurance company was and is a well-known insurance company serving the black community (and for a long time was the only insurance company serving communities of color in America), so we are given a historical and sociological placement and context.

We see the words "fly," "mercy," and "life" – all words and themes central to the understanding of Song. The verb "promised" is a verb of hope, dependent upon the future, and involves the engagement of two parties: both the promisor and those promised to (in this case the flying man and the audience below). This relationship is very relevant and interesting to the reader who has just picked up the novel and who is just now reading its very first sentence because, in many ways, the relationship between the author and the reader is one of promise as well. By the end of the first sentence, we have been given the ingredients to the book, and we know exactly where we are, when we are, and who we are watching. THAT IS JUST THE FIRST SENTENCE.

Can you see know how the tone of this novel is dense, loaded, locked, and stormy? You can wander down a sentence, and you may as well be Alice in Wonderland, forced to choose between wormholes, goat paths, and various doors. The stormy part simply comes from the emotion that rocks every detail of this novel. For example, even though this first line is distant in tone, it still tells the tale of a man about to jump off of a hospital building. You could spend years talking about one line.

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