Song of Solomon
by Toni Morrison
Song of Solomon Part 1, Chapter 9 Summary
- We begin this chapter with a very juicy word: amanuensis. It is in fact the false definition of Corinthian’s job working for the state’s poet laureate, Michael-Mary Graham.
- Corinthian’s is in fact Michael-Mary Graham’s maid.
- You see, Corinthians is the only person in her family with a college degree. She went to one of the finest institutions in the county, Bryn Mawr . This excellent college "unfit her for eighty percent of the useful work of the world" (1.9.189). Wait, but we thought college was a good thing.
- For Corinthians, college opened her mind and exposed her to all different kinds of people. She even got to study abroad in France for a year. But, as a result, she is too educated, too refined. She is one of the few Americans of color with a college degree at this point.
- While Corinthians and Lena Dead waited around for Prince Charming to come and sweep them off of their feet (because they had been prepped and primped all of their lives for Prince Charming), they quickly realize that no man will sweep them off their feet. They are too sophisticated, too spoiled, too refined for the few suitors whom Macon and Ruth deem suitable.
- So Corinthians and Lena end up making velvet roses instead of living their lives.
- But Corinthians can’t stand the idea of making velvet roses for the rest of her life, so she gets a job as a maid, delights in earning her own salary, and tells her mom and dad that she’s the poet laureate’s apprentice.
- As Michael-Mary’s maid, she scrubs floors, cooks food, and cleans the house. Eventually Michael-Mary teaches her how to type in the hopes that she can transcribe things.
- Around this time, Corinthians meets a man on the bus ride home. Well, she doesn’t "meet" him. He just sits next to her every evening, smiling at her.
- She ignores him for a good while, because he’s unkempt, and Corinthians thinks she’s too cool for school. But he’s persistent, and keeps on smiling. One day, he hands her a greeting card.
- It’s a very cheesy card, so Corinthians throws it away at first, but then she digs it out of the garbage can. She hasn’t been flirted with in a really long time, and the attention feels good.
- So, Corinthians and this man, who we come to know as Henry Porter, start going steady. They go out to drive-in movies and coffee shops and giggle and flirt all over town.
- Sometimes Porter picks Corinthians up from work, but she has him drop her off a few blocks away from her home on Not Doctor Street for fear that her dad catches wind of this arrangement.
- Corinthians is almost 40 years-old, and she’s still worried about what her dad thinks.
- One night, Porter gets frustrated and accuses Corinthians of being ashamed of him.
- Corinthians goes haywire, making up excuses, asking him if he really thinks she would hang out with him in public if she were really ashamed of him. She tells him to go flirt with other women, women who are easy and less refined.
- Porter kicks her out of his car. Corinthians walks the blocks back to her house in a huff, but as she approaches, she starts to really freak out. She has a clear picture of making velvet roses for the rest of her life.
- Corinthians runs back to see if Porter’s car is still there. It is. She knocks on the window, but Porter doesn’t respond.
- She lies on top of the car’s hood and hangs on for dear life. Porter picks her up and puts her in the car.
- He takes her to his apartment, which is the same apartment he urinated out of when Macon came collecting rent money. Remember that? That’s an image we can’t forget.
- Corinthians and Porter undress, and what follows is an ambiguously aggressive sex scene. There’s a violence to this moment that we don’t quite know what to do with.
- When they wake up a few hours later, Corinthians notices that Porter’s walls are lined with calendars, all of which have certain days circled throughout.
- Porter takes Corinthians home. She feels like she’s on top of the world, and sneaks past the kitchen where Macon and Milkman are engaged in an early morning discussion.
- Macon and Milkman are discussing the burglary-gone-awry. Macon has just busted Milkman and Guitar out of jail. The two were pulled over by policemen after stealing the gold and were taken to jail.
- Once in jail, they discover that the "gold" is really a bunch of human bones.
- Macon comes to bail them out, and the police also bring in Pilate to testify. Pilate puts on an act, pretending to be a poor widow from the South whose husband had been lynched many years before, but whose body she was not allowed to bury. She tells the authorities she keeps the bones with her until she can afford a decent funeral.
- She pretends not to know Milkman, but tells the authorities that she recognizes Guitar.
- Macon drives everyone home and, during this car ride, Pilate tells Macon the story of what happened in the cave with the dead man.
- This is her story: Pilate left the cave after the first day. She didn’t even touch the gold, because she didn’t care one hoot about it. When her father’s ghost appeared to her three years later, telling her she can’t run off and leave a body, she went back to the cave to pick up the bones of the man that Macon killed. She kept those bones with her for the rest of her days.
- That ends Pilate’s story.
- As Pilate gets out of the car, Guitar glares at her with a look of such hatred that it still haunts Milkman as he’s taking a bath a few hours later. It’s a look that convinces Milkman that Guitar has killed and could kill if he wanted to.
- Milkman goes in search of Guitar. Just as he reaches Guitar’s place, he sees him doing a funny handshake with Railroad Tommy. Then Railroad Tommy gets in a car with five other men: Empire State, Hospital Tommy, Nero, Henry Porter, and another man he doesn’t know.
- He realizes that these men are the Seven Days, and he also recognizes the car they are driving. It’s the same car that he’s seen drop his sister off on certain nights.
- Milkman goes crazy when he connects the dots and realizes that Corinthians is dating a member of the Seven Days.
- Milkman deals with his complex emotions by getting drunk.
- What follows is perhaps the greatest booyah moment of all literature. We highly, highly (two highlys) recommend that you read this part of Chapter Nine on your own, because it’s a show-stopping, jaw-dropping work of genius. Lena Dead rocks the Kasbah.
- Milkman is good and drunk when he stumbles back home in the wee hours of the night, when his sister, Lena, tells him he’s peed on everything in the house.
- Milkman is confused. He tries to dismiss his sister, accuses her of being drunk herself.
- Lena forces Milkman to look out the window at a dying maple tree. The maple tree grew out of a twig that Lena collected the day that she took her little brother into the woods to pee all those years ago – the day Milkman peed on her, ruining her dress and the flowers she had picked.
- Milkman still doesn’t catch her drift, so Lena spells it out for him. Milkman has never had to lift a finger all his life. He was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and the entire family revolves around him and his every move. He has never had to make his bed, do his laundry, or clean his bathtub. His mom and his sisters have always done it for him and he, in return, has always peed on them. Not literally, but metaphorically.
- Lena tells Milkman that his latest peeing escapade has resulted in the destruction of their sister’s life.
- We learn here that Milkman told his father that Corinthians was dating Henry Porter. As a result, Macon forced Corinthians to quit her job and forbade her from ever seeing Porter again.
- Lena tells her brother, "as surely as my name is Magdalene, you are the line I will step across" (1.9.214). Did you just get goosebumps? Because we did.
- Then Lena tells her brother that the only thing he’s got going for himself is the "hogsgut" that hangs between his legs. For real. She deals the final blow when she tells him that he is exactly like Macon Dead.
- Then Lena kicks him out of her room.
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