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Quotes

Quote #1

Milkman stood before his mirror and glanced, in the low light of the wall lamp, at his reflection. He was, as usual, unimpressed with what he saw. He had a fine enough face. Eyes women complimented him on, a firm jaw line, splendid teeth. Taken apart it looked all right. Even better than all right. But it lacked coherence, a coming together of the features into a total self. It was all very tentative, the way he looked, like a man peeping around a corner of someplace he is not supposed to be, trying to make up his mind whether to go forward or to turn back. The decision he made would be extremely important, but the way in which he made the decision would be careless, haphazard, and uninformed. (1.3.69-70)

Can we say Milkman is afraid of commitment? He’s forever staring at behinds. When he’s riding in the family hearse as a four year-old, he’s looking at the view behind him. When he meets Hagar, he falls in love with her behind. When he walks down a street, he’s going in the opposite direction of everyone else there. Here we see him sizing himself up, and the pieces don’t jive; they don’t fit. He doesn’t know what he cares for, believes in, or values. He doesn’t seem to know how to want things.

Quote #2

As the stars made themselves visible, Milkman tried to figure what was true and what part of what was true had anything to do with him. (1.3.75)

Again, we see Milky lost at sea on his little boat, trying to gage latitude and longitude by triangulating with the stars. But to no avail. No one can help him out. His family dotes on him, spoils him, and swims in a sea of isolating, truculent affluence. His best friend knows him well, but is growing more and more distant, cultivating his own identity and making a place in the world. Milkman has to figure things out on his own.

Quote #3

"This definitely is not Montgomery, Alabama. Tell me. What would you do if it was? If this turned out to be another Montgomery?" "Buy a plane ticket." "Exactly. Now you know something about yourself you didn’t know before: who you are and what you are." (1.4.104)

Milkman and Guitar talk about Till, the young man who was murdered for whistling at a white woman. As a result, Guitar begins to hold a mirror up to Milkman, showing him that he could never make it in the South. By showing Milkman what he cannot tolerate, Guitar begins to teach his best friend how to know himself, how to find himself. At this moment, we also begin to see a rip in their friendship, because Milkman seems so far away from the black community, whereas Guitar is completely wired in.

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