Song of Solomon
How we cite our quotes:
It was the longest trek Milkman had ever made in his life. Miles, he thought; we must be covering miles. And hours; it must be two hours now since he whistled. On they walked, and Calvin never broke his stride for anything except and occasional shot and an occasional pause to listen to the sound that came back. (2.11.274)
Milkman is getting his butt kicked. He is in a situation so unlike anything he has ever experienced before and, as a result, we see him collapse under a tree, thinking about and finally understanding the people in his life: his father, his mother, his sisters, Hagar, Pilate, Guitar. The hunt teaches Milkman to see more clearly.
His watch and his two hundred dollars would be of no help out here, where all a man had was what he was born with, or had learned to use. And endurance. Eyes, ears, nose, taste, touch – and some other sense that he knew he did not have: an ability to separate out, of all the things there were to sense, the one that life itself might depend on. (2.11.277)
Material things like watches and money, vestiges of a capitalistic northern society, are unimportant and unnecessary here. Milkman learns instead how to rely upon his noggin and his own body, sharpening his senses along the way. He sees in those around him an awareness of the world, the likes of which he’s never seen.
What did Calvin see on that bark? On the ground? What was he saying? What did he hear that made him know something unexpected had happened some two miles – perhaps more – away, and that something was a different kind of prey, a bobcat? […] Little by little it fell into place. The dogs, the men – none was just hollering, just signaling location or pace. The men and the dogs were talking to each other. (2.11.277)
The Shalimar men are so in tune with their natural surroundings that they have developed their own language. It is that connectedness that really blows us away. Milkman has lived the life of a city boy individualist, pursuing his own gain, wants, and needs; the only sense of community he’s been exposed to has been that of the barbershop congregants. Yet, here he is presented with a whole other kind of community. And it’s a community that doesn’t rely on the structure of a society.