Study Guide

Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon Summary

This book begins with a man in blue wings. A man in blue wings jumps off of a white hospital, and is watched by a predominantly black audience below. Step into our handy dandy time machine (which you won’t be able to live without in this novel), and fast forward four years.

Bienvenue, Bienvenidos, Dobro Došli, Tervetuloa, Welcome to the world of the Deads. Before you go running and screaming, the Deads are the family that live in the big house on Not Doctor Street, and their world is kind of, well, dead. OK, not really, but the patriarch, Macon Dead, hates his wife, his children, and pretty much the world. No one in the dead house is allowed to do much of anything except make fake roses, take baths, pee on each other, and eat sunshine cake that sticks to the roof of your mouth. Oh, and breast feed.

In comes our protagonist, Macon Dead, Jr., right on cue. Though the ripe age of four years old, Macon Jr. is still breast-fed by his mother. That is, until the town crier catches them at it. Macon Jr. becomes forevermore known as Milkman. Hehe.

Fast-forward eight years, Milkman learns how to transform a limp into a brilliant strut. In addition to trying to get beers at the local pool hall and being lectured by the local barbershop owner, Milkman and his best friend, Guitar, decide to be the devious adolescent boys that they are. They visit the local bootlegger, not to get wine, but to meet Pilate Dead, Milkman’s mysterious aunt. While at Pilate’s the boys have an incredible time asking about her lack of belly button, learning how to make the most perfect soft boiled egg, pulling berries off of brambles, and falling in love with the behind of Pilate’s seventeen-year-old granddaughter, Hagar.

Put the time machine on cruise control now, and watch the scenery. See here that Hagar and Milkman start getting it on a few years later. Now zoom back to Pilate and Macon Dead, Sr.’s youth living in Danville, Pennsylvania. Notice the ghost, the cave, the gold, the happy farm, the midwife, and the scary mansion. Fast forward to Milkman’s early 20s and watch as Milkman hits his father after his father hits his mother over a nice Sunday dinner. Then watch Milkman’s horror as his father tells him his mom once sucked the fingers of her dead father.

Put the time machine into turbo gear, and stop at Milkman’s 31st year. Milkman breaks up with Hagar, who goes crazy and tries to kill him once a month for the next six months. Guitar stops drinking, smoking, and talking about girls, and Milkman is seriously concerned only to discover that Guitar is part of a secret society called the Seven Days which, whenever a black person is killed, reciprocates the murder by killing a white person in the exact same way. It’s a super secret society, and Guitar is totally into it.

Milkman is freaked out. Mostly because he’s realizing he doesn’t know what he wants in life or who he is. He works for his daddy, his best friend is a murderer, his mom sucked the fingers of her dead father, his sisters hate him, and his ex-girlfriend wants him dead.

Then, just as Milkman is about to peace out and leave his oddball family, Macon Sr. gets the hair-brained idea to steal the green bag swinging from Pilate’s ceiling, a green bag holding what he assumes to be real solid gold. Flashback time to the cave again, and discover that, in that cave, a little Macon, Sr. and a little Pilate killed a man and found lots and lots of gold. But not just any gold. Gold in a green bag that looks exactly like the one in Pilate’s house.

Macon, Sr. tells his son to go steal it so that they can split it and live happily ever after. Not wanting to leave his best friend out, Milkman tells Guitar about the scheme and Guitar is totally stoked (he needs money in order to fund a really tricky murder). The two men steal Pilate’s green bag only to find that it’s a pile of bones and not gold. Ruh-roh.

To make it worse, the police catch them and arrest them. Macon has to bail them out, and Pilate has to testify in order to explain why she has a pile of bones hanging from her ceiling. Guitar is seriously tripping out. He hates Pilate. He needs the money. Macon tells Milkman that if Pilate doesn’t have the money, it must still be in the cave. Aha!

Milkman heads out to find this cave everyone keeps talking about. He tells Guitar he’ll bring back the bacon, and (a plane ride and a Greyhound bus trip later) arrives in Danville, Pennsylvania with nary a plan in sight. He meets up with a reverend who used to know his dad and his aunt, then finds his way to the woman who birthed both Macon and Pilate. The old woman gives Milkman directions to the cave, which he follows, only to discover that he’s not really dressed for hiking through the Pennsylvanian wilderness, and, more importantly, thatthere is no gold. Milkman hitches a ride back to town, eats a mountain of cheeseburgers, helps a man lift a crate, and catches a bus to Virginia, because why not go to Virginia? When it doubt, go to Virginia.

He arrives in Virginia buys a car, and goes to a town called Shalimar, where he thinks some of his family may have once lived. In Shalimar, Milkman acts like a big dork, because no one has ever taught him how to interact with strangers. He gets his butt kicked after insulting the locals, and is invited to go bobcat hunting in the Blue Ridge Mountains in the middle of the night, which he gladly does because, when in Rome, you go bobcat hunting. Again, he’s having trouble with the whole nature thing. Just when he vows to make a cardio workout part of his everyday lifestyle, Guitar shows up out of literally nowhere (well, the Blue Ridge wilderness that is) and tries to strangle him.

Just when he’s about to bite the dust, Milkman realizes he has a gun. He points it at Guitar and misses, but scares him. Guitar disappears, but Milkman knows he’s around watching him. After skinning and gutting a bobcat, the hunting party tells Milkman where he can find a good place to stay and also where he might be able to find out more about his roots.

Milkman meets up with Sweet, a lady of the night, who lives in a cute little cottage just down the road. They take baths and get busy. Milkman visits Ms. Byrd the next day, the lady who knows about his roots, but she doesn’t know too much, only that his grandmother may have been Native American. Mrs. Byrd is not very helpful, and her flirtatious schoolteacher friend is only interested in turning the gossip mill and in stealing Milkman’s watch.

On his way back to Sweet’s, Milkman runs into Guitar. Fancy that. Guitar saw Milkman helping with the crate in Danville, and suspected Milkman of hiding the gold instead of sharing it with him. Protest as he might, Milkman knows his friend is crazy and won’t believe any story his spins. The next day, Milkman gets ready to take off, but on his way he listens to a song the children are singing, which he realizes is about his family. Eureka!

Then we move back to the city by Lake Superior where Hagar is still going crazy over the breakup with Milkman. She gets the idea that Milkman hates her because she isn’t pretty enough, so she makes her mom sell her diamond ring, and uses the money to buy clothes, lingerie, and makeup. She’s so worked up that she gets caught in the rain and unknowingly keeps walking in it. When she returns home, she does a fashion show for her mom and grandmother, but flips out when she realizes all of her new things are ruined from the rain. She catches a fever and dies soon after, sending her grandmother into mourning.

Meanwhile, Milkman goes back to Ms. Byrd’s house. He finds her alone and willing to chat, and gets more concrete details out of her about his grandmother, Sing, and his grandfather, Jake, who ran away together on a wagon going North right after the Civil War. Ms. Byrd confirms that the song that he heard the little kids singing is indeed about his family.

The Milkman is THRILLED. Thrilled enough to go skinny dipping, which he does promptly thereafter. With the richness of this news, Milkman rushes home to the city by Lake Superior. He runs straight to Pilate’s house to tell her everything he’s learned about their family, only to have her break a bottle over his head and lock him in the cellar for being the cause of Hagar’s madness.

Eventually, Pilate is warmed by the news of the family tree, and Milkman drives her back to Shalimar. There they bury her daddy’s bones in the Blue Ridge Mountains, only to have Guitar shoot Pilate. Devastated, Milkman calls out to Guitar before jumping into oblivion, which, the last lines tell us, really means that he learns how to fly.

  • Part 1, Chapter 1

    [WARNING: While we don’t blame you for wanting to spend all of your time hanging out on Shmoop, we must say right off the bat that we have serious reservations about how to provide a good detailed plot summary for Song of Solomon. It’s a nearly impossible task. This book moves, changes, sings, and dips in and out of various characters’ brains, and it certainly does not believe in linearity. Song is more loaded than a stereogram, and more alive than Hogwarts. So, we give you the best advice when we say, Go read it right now. Because, try as we might, what follows is just an attempt at nailing down the plot of a book that refuses to be nailed down.]

    • We begin on top of Mercy hospital where an insurance agent named Robert Smith, who works for a black insurance company, is about to jump off of the roof of the hospital.
    • It’s the 13th of February, 1931 around 3pm. We don’t know exactly where we are – but we know we’re in a city near Lake Superior, because Mr. Smith promises to fly across the lake.
    • It's in the middle of the day during the work week, so all kinds of people (by all kinds we mean the unemployed, babies, or the school-skipping Bart Simpsons) are watching his blue-winged frame (he’s wearing blue silk wings, of course) from below on Not Doctor Street.
    • Yes, it’s called Not Doctor Street. We learn that it was once widely known as Doctor Street because it was home to the first black doctor in the city. Then city officials got mad because people were sending mail to "Doctor Street" instead of to the street’s official name, "Mains Street." They posted signs saying henceforth the street would be called "Mains Street and Not Doctor Street." The street then became commonly known as Not Doctor Street. Hehe. You still with us?
    • Included among this suicide-watching audience is the pregnant daughter of this first black doctor, as well as her two daughters, a singing woman dressed like a bag lady, a little boy named Guitar, and Guitar’s grandmother.
    • The hospital is a white hospital, meaning only white people are treated there. The audience watching this "show" is predominantly black.
    • When she sees Mr. Smith on the roof, the pregnant woman drops a basket full of red velvet flowers and they scatter on the snow – her daughters scramble to pick them up.
    • The nurses and doctors see the crowd forming outside and are worried a protest by a "racial-uplift" group is forming. They come outside to see what the ruckus is about. They see Mr. Smith and pandemonium ensues.
    • An uber-annoying nurse demands of an old lady that she tell her child to run and fetch the hospital guard. The old lady tells her that the child’s name is "Guitar." The nurse is confused. She commands Guitar to go get the hospital guard underneath a sign that spells Admissions, but she spells "Admissions" wrong, and Guitar notices.
    • Firemen are summoned.
    • Just as the singing woman tells the pregnant doctor’s daughter to expect her baby the following day, Mr. Smith loses his balance and jumps off the hospital roof, and we are led to believe that at that moment the pregnant daughter goes into labor. She becomes the first black person to be treated in Mercy Hospital, where her son is born the following day.
    • Fast-forward four years, and we are suddenly in a twelve-roomed house, which is actually the doctor’s old house, where his daughter, formerly known as Ruth Foster, and her husband, Macon Dead, live with their two daughters, First Corinthians Dead and Magdalene Dead, and their only son, Macon Dead, Jr. We are not making this up, people.
    • Ruth’s society friends are eating sticky sunshine cake in the dark house’s parlor and Macon, Jr. slips away. He sneaks past his eerie sisters who are still making red velvet flowers in their room.
    • Ruth says goodbye to the last of her friends and begins to get dinner ready. We learn this is no walk in the park because Macon Dead, Sr. is kind of an ogre. He loves to criticize as much as Simon Cowell and inspires fear in everybody; Ruth works herself up so horribly as a result that her meals always go awry.
    • We learn that Ruth has only two pleasures in her life: staring at the grey watermark on her dining room table and breastfeeding her son.
    • Wait, wait, wait. But this is four years after the birth of her son, and that, by our calculations, means that her son is four years old. Which means that Ruth is still breastfeeding a four-year-old?
    • Yup. Ruth likes to breastfeed him in a quiet green room in the late afternoon, when her husband’s still at work. But when Freddie the janitor sees her one day through the window, Ruth drops her son on the ground out of shock and fear and, from then on, Ruth is left with only a watermark to make her happy. Macon, Jr. is left with his first and only nickname: Milkman.
    • Fortunately, Macon, Sr. never hears how Milkman gets this name. Nobody tells him because everyone’s scared of him. The only person who isn’t scared of him is his sister, who he hates more than he hates his wife and who he hasn’t seen since Milkman was born. So he assumes that the whole nickname thing is his wife’s fault.
    • Macon, Sr. doesn't like his wife at all. They haven’t slept together for a long time. Ever since he saw her sucking a dead man’s fingers. But that’s all we hear about right now.
    • Macon, Sr. is walking to his office, fondling his keys to his many houses, and thinking about the names in his family. His father, Macon Dead, got his name mistakenly from a drunken Yankee soldier, and the name had been passed down to the two generations of men that followed. The ladies in the family got their names through a ritual in which a pin is stuck into a Bible and the name that falls closest to the pin is granted to the namee.
    • We learn that Macon Sr.’s sister is named Pilate, as in the Pilate who allowed Jesus' execution. Her dad chose this name, kept the name, and wrote it on a tiny piece of paper even though he could not read or write. Pilate put the name in a little box which she hangs from her ear.
    • This book is so awesome. Go read it right now.
    • Macon, Sr. sure is walking down memory lane. He recalls having Pilate show up around the time of his son’s birth after not having seen her since he was sixteen years old. He remembers being embarrassed by her unkempt, bootlegging ways. One day, while she was watching baby Milkman sleep, Macon banished her from his house. Four years later, he still hasn’t seen her.
    • Macon arrives at his office after all that reminiscing. A woman named Mrs. Bains is waiting for him with two grandsons. She’s two months behind on paying Macon-the-landlord her 4-dollar-a-month rent. She tells Macon she’s fallen on hard times raising two boys without a husband.
    • Macon tells her she has until this coming Saturday to pay rent. If she can’t make it, he’ll put her on the street.
    • Macon starts thinking about his beloved keys again, when Freddie the gold-toothed town crier knocks on the window and tells him that one of his tenants, Henry Porter, is hanging out drunk in an attic window proclaiming to the world he has to kill somebody, namely himself.
    • Macon and Freddie go check it out. Indeed Porter is bellowing from the attic, giving the world an ultimatum: "Send me up somebody to fuck! […] Send me up somebody, I tell ya, or I’ma blow my brains out!" (1.1.25).
    • As luck would have it, there happen to be prostitutes nearby. They goad him as Macon calls up to Porter for his rent money. Porter urinates on Macon.
    • Porter continues to bellow about love and the weight of love for a few more hours until he passes out. Freddie goes to pick his pockets for rent money.
    • On his way home, Macon decides to take a shortcut. He passes by Pilate’s house, reminisces about her navel-less stomach, and then he hears Pilate, Reba (Pilate's daughter), and Hagar (Reba’s daughter) singing.
    • Like a sailor resisting the Sirens, he pushes onward past the beautiful voices. But then he thinks about the gloomy family that waits for him and he walks back to Pilate’s house.
    • He watches them from their window as they go about their domestic tasks. Even when they stop singing, he can’t stop watching them. They are peaceful.
  • Part 1, Chapter 2

    • The Dead family is out for a nice little Sunday drive in their black Packard (an old car brand), rolling through town. Little do they know the onlookers refer to this fancy car as the Dead’s hearse, because Macon only takes it for a spin once a week and treats it like a baby unicorn.
    • The onlookers are kind of jealous, but kind of not, because it’s a boring car that doesn’t really have any fun.
    • Lena and Corinthians Dead are in the back seat with their stockings rolled down and their shoes off. The Deads are taking the family hearse to Honoré Island where Macon hopes to invest in a black community of summer homes.
    • Milkman has to pee. Macon pulls over eventually. Lena, like a good sister, agrees to accompany him into the bushes, but Milkman accidentally pees on her pretty dress. Bummer.
    • Fast forward until Milkman is twelve years old. He meets and becomes friends with Guitar at school. One day, the two of them have the brilliant idea to go see Pilate, because Pilate is spooky and has booze, namely wine.
    • Guitar is older and has frequented her business before.
    • The boys find her peeling an orange on her porch and engage in such mundane conversation as "Hi" and "Do you have a navel," etc. Milkman is speechless, except for "Hi," which Pilate says is the word used to herd pigs and sheep. Good to know.
    • She invites them in and proceeds to make a soft-boiled egg – and gives Milkman and Guitar a great recipe for the ultimate soft-boiled egg.
    • Pilate proceeds to reminisce about her childhood, namely when her dad was shot five feet into the air, and how, orphaned, she and Macon Sr. wandered around Montour County (we don’t know where exactly that is, except that it’s "farm country" and that it’s maybe near Virginia), seeing their dad’s ghost everywhere. She tells them how scared she was.
    • Hagar and Reba come back home dragging brambles. Milkman falls in love with Hagar’s behind and is formally introduced to her.
    • The five of them begin to gingerly pull the berries off the brambles. They sit around talking about how Guitar got his name (he wanted a guitar when he was little), how Reba wins everything (people come far and wide to have her buy lotto tickets and things), and about how Hagar is hungry (sexually).
    • The three women start singing a song. In fact it’s the same song that was sung when Mr. Smith flew off the hospital roof.
    • At this point, Milkman’s totally crushing on his older cousin (Hagar), and he is happier than he’s ever been before, making wine with the interesting women and his best friend.
    • The town crier (a.k.a. Freddie) let’s Macon know where his son has been. Macon rips into Milkman because he doesn’t want any family member hanging out with his odd sister, but Milkman starts relating Pilate’s story of her father’s ghost.
    • This conversation sends Macon down memory lane, and he tells Milkman about Lincoln’s Heaven, the beautiful, lush farm "just north of the Susquehanna" that his father created and owned for sixteen years until he was shot. We don’t find out why or how he was shot.
    • Macon says his father never could read or write. When the Civil War ended in 1865, "they all had to register […] Free and used-to-be-slaves." By "they" we assume Macon means all black people living in the South, but we’re not totally sure.
    • Macon retells the story of his father’s naming: the drunk Yankee asked him where he was born (he said "Macon, Georgia"), and asked him who his father was (he said "dead"), and then wrote his responses down in the wrong spaces. In this way, Macon’s father accidentally became Macon Dead. His wife liked the name because she felt a new name washed away an unhappy past, so he kept it.
    • Macon returns from his dreamy memory walk and forbids Milkman to visit Pilate’s ever again.
    • Milkman of course protests, and Macon tells him Pilate is like a poor, injured baby snake you take in, harbor, nurse back to health, until she bites you with her venom and kills you. His word is final – no more Pilate.
    • Then Macon offers Milkman a job and tells him the most important thing he’ll ever need to know: own things and let those things own other things. Hmm. Kind of like a pyramid scheme, eh?
  • Part 1, Chapter 3

    • The money from his new job starts flowing into Milkman’s pockets, but it gets harder and harder to find Guitar, who always seems to be busy. But when Milkman does catch Guitar, there’s always an adventure to be had.
    • The boys ditch school one day and Guitar takes Milkman to Feather’s Pool Hall. He asks for a round of beers. Feather kicks them out (aw man), wary of serving alcohol to the son of his landlord, the dreaded Macon Dead.
    • Crestfallen, the boys wander over to a barbershop owned by Hospital Tommy and Railroad Tommy. Hospital Tommy speaks like a walking dictionary and inquires as to why the boys aren’t in school. Guitar relates the humiliating tale of being refused beers at Feather’s.
    • Railroad Tommy launches into an avalanche of a lecture with Shakespearean weight about all of the things Guitar and Milkman are never going to get in life – everything from a personal valet, to a thousand dollars in cold cash, to honors for serving the country in battle, to Baked Alaska.
    • Guitar asks Milkman what Baked Alaska is, but Guitar doesn’t know. He hates sweets. He hasn’t been able to eat sweets since he was little when his father was killed in a sawmill accident. As retribution, the white sawmill owner brought candy to the newly fatherless children and husbandless wife.
    • As he relates this story, Guitar gets queasy and throws up next to a beauty shop. The two boys go in search of some weed.
    • Fast-forward two years. Milkman is fourteen and knows how to compensate for a slightly shorter left leg by developing a strut. He feels a connection to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (who's legs were paralyzed from polio), and sees him as more of a father figure than his own father.
    • Macon, Sr. loves having his son work for him because it makes his business more legit. He doesn’t have to do the dirty work anymore, but can manage and deal with the dignified tasks of owning property.
    • The year is 1945, and business is booming for Macon, Sr. Everything is progressing, improving, thriving, except for his relationship with his wife, who he still loathes and who disappears every so often in the dead of the night to go someplace.
    • Fast-forward eight years. The Deads are at the dinner table. Ruth relates a story of attending a Catholic wedding and not knowing how to take Communion. It’s a simple story, but her husband is disgusted with her simpleness. He tells her the family probably doesn’t know her name, but only know her as their former doctor’s daughter. Ruth replies that she is indeed her father’s daughter.
    • Macon reaches across the dining table and punches her in the jaw.
    • Milkman throws his father against the radiator. He asks his mother if she is OK. She says she is.
    • Corinthians and Lena glare at Milkman, so he exits stage left and goes up to his room where he fumbles with the objects on his dresser and looks at himself in the mirror.
    • Macon comes into his room and tells him he has to know the whole truth. Story time:
    • Macon reminisces about Dr. Foster, Ruth’s father. This is his story. Dr. Foster was an ether-sniffer. He delivered Corinthians and Lena, and each time was only concerned about the color of their skin. Mercy Hospital wouldn’t treat black people at that time, and Ruth didn’t want anyone else to deliver her babies. This weirded Macon out. He always felt like Ruth and her father were ganging up on him, reminding him whose house he lived in, whose wealth he basked in. He had the lucrative idea to buy land and sell it to railroad magnates, but Dr. Foster wouldn’t lend him the money and Ruth wouldn’t help change his mind.
    • Dr. Foster sniffed too much ether and, one day, he got very sick. When he died, Macon came home from work to find his wife naked in bed with her dead father, kissing his fingers. Upon seeing this, Macon spun into a world of disgust and suspicion. He even wondered whether Lena and Corinthians were his own daughters and wondered constantly about the nature of Ruth and Dr. Foster’s relationship. This ends Macon’s story.
    • Well, Milkman is, how shall we put this … extremely freaked out and experiences a quarter-life crisis. He peaces out of his creepy house and wanders through the busy streets in search of Guitar. All the while his mind races with the information he has just received.
    • He slowly begins to remember being breastfed until he was too old to be breastfed. He becomes more and more weirded out.
    • He notices he is walking on a very busy sidewalk, but that everyone is walking, rushing in the opposite direction. The sidewalk across the street is completely empty.
    • Milkman finds Guitar at the barbershop but, instead of a captive ear, he finds everyone listening intently to the radio. The newscaster is relating a story of a young black man named Till who was visiting Sunflower County, Mississippi from the North and who had been stomped to death for whistling at a white woman. His murderers were boasting of their deed.
    • The barbershop erupts in conversation, some saying Till should have known better than to act like a Northerner in the South, others saying he has a right to act however he wants, and still others positing that no law will punish the murderers.
    • The men start to trade stories of the atrocities they had experienced themselves.
    • Guitar and Milkman leave in search of a bar. They end up at Mary’s, the most successful and popular bar in the Blood Bank neighborhood.
    • Milkman tells Guitar about how he hit his father and how his father hit his mother.
    • Guitar sympathizes and tells the story of accidentally killing a doe one time while hunting and how horribly he felt, but he knows this story isn’t helping things. He knows Milkman is holding something back. He tries to draw it out of his friend, but Milkman can’t bring himself to relay the news he’s just discovered about his mother.
    • Guitar tells Milkman to let whatever information he’s stewing over go, to stay strong, to not turn whatever it is into anger.
    • Guitar brings up Till again, but Milkman dismisses the conversation, saying, "I’m the one in trouble." This frustrates Guitar.
    • They talk about names, about Milkman’s nickname, and Guitar says people get their names "the best way they can." Milkman laments over why they can’t get names the right way. The best way is the right way, Guitar refutes.
    • They talk about the fact that Hagar doesn’t have a last name, and Milkman tells Guitar how his father got his name. Just another night at Mary’s.
  • Part 1, Chapter 4

    • It’s the eve of Christmas Eve in Milkman’s 31st year, and he’s at the drugstore picking up last minute Christmas presents.
    • He’s struggling over what to get Hagar, because, he’s not feeling the whole relationship thing anymore. He wants to get her a present that says, "Thank you very much for sleeping with me for fourteen years, but goodbye."
    • As he’s checking out the drugstore treasures, he recalls the first time he slept with Hagar.
    • This is his memory: he is seventeen, a frequent partier (thanks to Guitar), and the supplier of alcohol at many a shindig. He heads over to Pilate’s to procure two bottles of wine. When he arrives, Hagar is watching her mother (Reba) fight with a boyfriend in the backyard.
    • The boyfriend hits Reba, and Hagar calls for Pilate.
    • Pilate goes outside, grabs the man from behind, pulls out a knife, and cuts him ever so slightly on the skin right above his heart. In perhaps one of the greatest knife scenes of all time (it puts Kill Bill to shame), Pilate tells the man she’s not going to kill him, to please excuse her fervor, but that she can’t stand to see her baby hurt, just like his mama probably would hate to see him hurt. She makes him agree to leave and to never come back, which he does gladly and promptly.
    • Reba wants to go to the hospital because she thinks that her ribs are broken, but really she just wants to go to the hospital. Pilate takes her.
    • Well, Milkman is impressed with a capital I. He wonders at Pilate’s strength, but Hagar tells him women are weak.
    • They flirt for a little bit. Hagar informs him he’s not her type – he’s too young. She’s waiting for a knight in shining armor.
    • Just when Milkman gets ready to leave with his two bottles of wine, Hagar invites him into her bedroom and unbuttons her blouse. Thus begins their fourteen-year relationship. This ends Milkman’s memory of his first sexual escapade with Hagar.
    • He continues to reflect on the path this relationship has taken. For the first three years, Hagar’s love was fickle, unpredictable, and surprising. But then Milkman became more and more confident, more street-wise. Hagar grew more and more dependent upon his love, more boring in her love.
    • There in the drugstore, Milkman decides that ‘tis far better to give money to a girlfriend of fourteen years than an actual, thoughtful present when breaking up with her.
    • Along with a wad of cash, he decides to write a little goodbye note. This is how it ends: "Also, I want to thank you. Thank you for all you have meant to me. For making me happy all these years. I am signing this letter with love, of course, but more than that, with gratitude" (1.4.99).
    • When Hagar gets this note it slices her deep, sends her spinning. She hunts Milkman in the streets.
    • Later on, Milkman is counting cash in his father’s office. A recent murder is on his mind. A sixteen-year-old white schoolboy was strangled to death on his way home from school and his head was smashed in. The authorities say that the way in which he was killed was similar to the way in which a schoolboy had been killed in 1953 and the way in which four grown men had been killed in 1955.
    • In the barbershop, Milkman finds everyone laughing and suspecting that Winnie Ruth Judd is on the loose. Winnie Ruth Judd is a white murderess who was jailed in 1932, but who escapes once or twice every year. Whenever a white person is murdered for no good reason, everyone suspects that Winnie is on the loose.
    • The barbershop congregants believe firmly in "white madness," or the killing out of lunacy rather than purpose. They believe that people in the black community only kill another of their race for good reasons like adultery, theft, or insult, and then only kill when compelled by passion in the heat of moment.
    • Though everyone is laughing about Winnie’s latest strike, the barbershop air is tense. A witness saw a black man near the scene of the crime. An unspoken understanding moves between these men as each one knows he could be a suspect in the murder, for no good reason other than the color of his skin.
    • As they discuss the murder, Milkman is uneasy. The men discuss details that the news reports have not released, like the fact that the schoolboy was wearing saddle shoes. He begins to wonder whether one of these men knows the murderer or knows something that he doesn’t know.
    • Milkman and Guitar head out, and Milkman wonders about the saddle shoes aloud. Guitar doesn’t engage in conversation. Milkman gets mad at him. Guitar tells him they are two different people with two different perspectives.
    • They fight. It’s one of those monumental fights in a friendship that shake things up. Milkman tells Guitar that he doesn’t know who he (Guitar) is, and, therefore, can’t speculate as to what he is or is not interested in.
    • Guitar begs to differ. He tells him he knows his friend can spend most of his brainpower on picking up girls and socializing at Honoré Island with his "high-toned" friends.
    • Milkman reminds him he’s never excluded his friend. Guitar expresses his hatred for the island. He tells Milkman that he’s not a serious man. Defensive, Milkman feels his whole world is encircled with seriousness.
    • To illustrate this, Milkman relates a dream about the seriousness of his mother. Well, at least he tells Milkman it’s a dream, but it actually happened. We’re not quite sure what this means, because it’s a pretty wild dream.
    • This is Milkman’s dream: Ruth is gardening in the middle of December, making holes in the ground for what look like small onions. As she’s gardening, tulips start sprouting. They grow rapidly, becoming bright, blood-red heads. They continue to grow until they’re shoulder-height. Ruth is oblivious at first, then she playfully swats them away, as anybody would do when attacked by man-eating tulips. They grow and grow, and all Milkman can see is her arms flailing. Eventually they cover her and smother her. This ends Milkman’s dream.
    • After listening intently, Guitar asks his friend why he didn’t go help his mother in the dream.
    • Milkman, defensive once again, asks Guitar why he’s being so hard on him, so picky, and wonders why everyone is being so difficult.
    • Guitar observes that everyone seems to be going in the opposite direction as Milkman. Milkman remembers that time he was walking down the street and everyone was going the opposite way, pushing past him. He tells Guitar he’s going in search of the party. Guitar wishes him a Merry Christmas and disappears before Milkman can ask where’s he’s going. And so ends the friends’ quarrel.
    • This interaction confuses Milkman. His friend is growing distant, no longer likes to chitchat about weed or about girls. He finds that he constantly has to defend his lifestyle, his interests. He has interests other than his high-toned friends and girls, right?
    • Milkman ruminates for a little bit. He doesn’t like the real estate business. He begins to think Guitar has a point about his aimless life.
    • Guitar has made him think about his life and where he’s going. The obvious path of marrying, settling down, and going into partnership isn’t appetizing. But at the same time, he doesn’t care about the barbershop politics, the "racial problems" that fill Guitar’s days. He wonders where the men would be without these politics to debate.
    • Somebody knocks on the window. Freddie has come for a cup of coffee, which Milkman makes, adding a dash of whiskey (which he keeps in the toilet).
    • We hear about Freddie’s past. He was orphaned when his mother was killed by ghost. No one would take him in as a result.
    • This is his story: his mother was walking across a yard with a friend when they saw a woman walking toward them. As the woman got closer she turned into a white bull, and Freddie’s mother collapsed and went into labor right then and there. When he was born, she screamed and died on the spot. That ends the story of Freddie’s birth.
    • Milkman laughs long and loud at this story, but Freddie warns him that strange things go on all the time. He insinuates that the murderer of the recently slain schoolboy matches Empire State, the barbershop janitor, and that Guitar has been helping to hide him.
    • Freddie tells Milkman to keep his eyes open and, as he’s leaving, he tells him to ask his sister, Corinthians, to fill him in on what’s been going on. Milkman is thoroughly confused, and Freddie drank all his whiskey.
  • Part 1, Chapter 5

    • Milkman’s trying not to be too freaked out, lying on Guitar’s bed, waiting for his murderer to come and get him.
    • Rewind to five hours in the past. Milkman arrives at Guitar’s place, asking if he can stay there for the night.
    • Guitar makes him tea, giving him a "geography lesson" about the origins of the tea he’s drinking. He makes Milkman laugh.
    • The mood is light until they start talking about soft fried eggs. Guitar tells him he can never be an egg, let alone a soft-fried egg, because eggs are white and fragile. Milkman begs to differ. Guitar says someone will have to bust his shell.
    • Guitar starts to lecture Milkman once more as he cleans his pad. He throws away a pseudo ashtray with half-smoked cigarette butts. Milkman moves to stop him, and Guitar throws the trash across the room, exclaiming that Milkman’s not listening to him.
    • Guitar thinks there’s something funny about Milkman. He wants to know why he’s not running from his murderer, since anyone looking for Milkman would know to look in Guitar’s pad eventually, and since his murderer finds him every 30th day of the month. Milkman’s all dressed up in a suit, and Guitar thinks he’s excited about his murder.
    • Milkman tells him that he knows he’s holding a secret.
    • Guitar leaves cheerful, promising to bring cigarettes back with him.
    • Lying in Guitar’s bed, waiting for his murderer, Milkman reminisces about his life. He feels like a garbage can for other people’s actions. He wonders at his lack of independent thought and action.
    • He recalls the night he saw his mother leaving the house at 1:30 in the morning. Here is his recollection of the night:
    • Milkman sees his mother sneaking out of the house, walking down the street to the bus station. He tails her in his car until the bus arrives at the intra-county train station. There, he watches her catch a 2:15am. train, which he, like Sherlock Homes extraordinaire, also catches. Whenever the train stops, he leans his head out of the train to see if she has gotten off. Very sneaky, Milk, very sneaky indeed.
    • Ruth detrains at the very last stop, Fairfield Heights. Milkman follows her through the sleeping town to the cemetery. He waits at the gates for her. When she returns, Milkman confronts her/scares the heck out of her.
    • They don’t say a word until they get on the train home.
    • Ruth just starts talking as though they had been in the middle of a conversation already, and tells him how she’s a "small" woman, how her father was the only person in the whole wide world who ever cared for her, who ever cared whether she lived or died.
    • This is Ruth’s story: she explains that Macon was jealous or something. Macon hid her father’s medicine when he was dying, thus expediting his death. Pilate, she says, is the only reason why he, Milkman, is alive. (Pilate? What?) So, Ruth and Macon stopped sleeping together around the time her father died. When Pilate showed up in town some ten years later, Ruth was about to go crazy from living with a man who wouldn’t touch her and who abhors her. Pilate gave her a greenish-gray grass to put in Macon’s dinner. Macon got randy as a result, he and Ruth make love, and nine months later Milkman arrived by way of stork. But, Macon’s lovey-dovey mood only lasted four days, long enough for Ruth to get pregnant. As soon as the potion wore off, Macon was furious and pushed Ruth to get rid of the baby. Pilate helped keep Ruth safe. This ends Ruth’s story.
    • Milkman is flipping out. He’s finding out that his entire existence rests upon greenish-grey grassy looking stuff. That’s rough.
    • He asks his mom the big question: did you sleep with your dead father’s corpse?
    • She tells him that, when Macon found her, she was in her slip at her father's bedside, kissing his fingers (the only part of his body that wasn’t … she doesn’t finish her sentence, but we think she’s about to say, "decomposing" … eww).
    • Milkman brings up the whole breastfeeding thing again, asks why she breastfed him for so long. Ruth replies that she also prayed for him twice a day. This is not a good night for Milk. This ends Milkman’s memory of the night he followed his mother to her father’s grave.
    • Milkman is still lying in Guitar’s bed, imagining what it would be like to be dead, when he hears his murderer coming up the stairs and toying with the locked door.
    • His murderer is none other than Hagar who, we find out, has sought him out every 30th day of each month for the past six months with some weapon of choice (she likes to mix it up).
    • We momentarily switch to Hagar’s perspective, and we discover that it wasn’t Milkman’s I’m-breaking-up-with-you note that sent her over the edge. It was the fact that she saw him with his arms around another girl at Mary’s – a girl that looked like Lena or Corinthians, but who had coppery-colored hair and gray eyes.

      [We interrupt this program with a scintillating piece of juicy literary trivia. Gray eyes in literature are a bit ominous. Guinevere, who married King Arthur but had an affair with Lancelot, had gray eyes. Gray eyes became a symbol of betrayal or shiftiness. Don’t believe us? Check out the Canterbury Tales.]
    • Hagar had grown to believe that Milkman was her soul mate, her reason for being on earth. So seeing him with another lady cemented in her brain the need to kill him.
    • OK, Shmoopsters, now comes a point where we really can’t do justice or try to relate the sheer amazingness that is Song of Solomon. Go read this chapter right now, or at least this paragraph where the nature of Hagar’s rage, madness, jealousy is thrown down. The language in this moment is soul-shaking.
    • So what does the rest of the world in Southside and Not Doctor Street think about Hagar’s craziness? They just shake their heads, and talk about what crazy, "graveyard loves" can make people do.
    • Then they think about Empire State, the barbershop janitor who never says a peep. This is their memory:
    • Empire State marries a white woman in France, brings her home, and is happy as a clam for six years. Then, one day, he comes home to find her in bed with another man, another black man, and discovers that she has/would cheat on him with many other black men. It gets a little ambiguous here – we don’t know whether Empire State discovers that she’s been cheating on him or is just beginning to cheat on him. But we understand that Empire State discovers that his wife doesn’t truly love him for who he is. Upon walking in on this scene, Empire State becomes mute, never saying another word. This ends the collective Not Doctor Street/Southside memory of Empire State’s sadness.
    • We return to the scene of Milkman lying on Guitar’s bed, listening to Hagar break into the apartment. Unable to unlock the door, she takes her shoe, breaks the window next to the door, fiddles with the window latch, and eventually struggles to open the window.
    • All the while, Milkman is willing her death silently, but doesn’t move from his position in the bed.
    • Hagar hoists herself into the room, raises her butcher knife over her head, and brings it down toward Milkman’s neck. Are you nervous, yet? Do you think Hagar is capable of killing Milkman?
    • The knife angles off of Milkman’s neck, cuts him a little bit, but is ultimately unsuccessful. Milkman flinches a little, but doesn’t open his eyes.
    • Hagar tries a second time, but can’t bring herself to pull the trigger, if you will. Milkman knows he’s in the clear, gets out of bed, says something really demeaning, and then leaves.
    • Ruth gets wind of Hagar’s murderous attempts by way of the town crier. She is hurt and immediately starts walking down memory lane, thinking about how hard it was keeping Milkman alive when he was in her womb. She thinks about all the ways Macon made her try to abort her baby. It was only when she went to Pilate’s house out of desperation that her baby was saved. Pilate strapped her in a girdle that she told Ruth not to take off until several months had passed. Then Pilate also put a little voodoo doll on Macon’s office chair, which scared him into never touching Ruth again.
    • At this point, after swimming in all of these memories about Milkman’s conception and birth, Ruth is furious. She yells at the cabinet, and then catches the bus to get to Darling Street to find Hagar.
    • Nobody seems to be home, but Ruth walks into Pilate’s house anyway. Again she is enveloped in memories of coming to Pilate for help those thirty-one years before. She hears humming outside and assumes it is Pilate or Reba.
    • In the backyard, Ruth finds Hagar and what follows is a showdown. Go read this chapter right now. Ruth sees in Hagar the person trying to kill the person (Milkman) who represents the last time she was made love to. Hagar sees in Ruth the person who gets to see the person (Milkman) she loves everyday.
    • Both are angry and jealous. Hagar tells Ruth that Milkman is her home. Ruth replies that she is his home.
    • Pilate overhears this brouhaha, and thinks it’s just that: a whole lot of brouhaha. She knows Milkman doesn’t care about either of them.
    • Hagar has a crazy moment and starts grabbing her hair. Pilate tells her to sit down on her bench and invites Ruth in to take a load off.
    • Pilate then begins to tell the story of her childhood and of seeing her father’s ghost everywhere. This is her story:
    • Shortly after their father’s death, Macon and Pilate are wandering around the countryside. They have a falling out, and they split. Pilate decides to head toward Virginia where she suspects she has family (because she thinks her mom was from Virginia, even though she never knew her mom).
    • Pilate decides to earn some money before she heads to Virginia, is taken in by a Preacher and his wife, and has to wear shoes.
    • The Preacher and his wife make Pilate go to school. There she finds her undying love for … geography! Her teacher even lets her keep her geography textbook at the end of the school.
    • But then Pilate enters glorious adolescence, and the Preacher starts "pattin" on her. We don’t know what this means, but we don’t think it can be a good thing.
    • The Preacher’s wife gets wind of this and kicks Pilate out.
    • Pilate then meets up with a bunch of migrant harvesters who roam from place to place, picking fruit and beans (a.k.a. legumes) on farms.
    • She goes to such hot spots as "New York State" and finds a real family in this community. Pilate even finds a mentor, a mother-figure who teaches her the womanly ropes.
    • Pilate starts getting' busy with one of her fellow pickers, and he notices her lack of a belly button. It turns out, the lack-of-bellybutton is a bad omen of mythical proportion.
    • When Pilate’s newfound mother gets wind of her nonexistent navel, she makes Pilate strip naked so that she can see with her own eyes. Pilate doesn’t really know what the big deal is because she just thought bellybuttons were things boys had that girls didn’t, since all she knew growing up were her dad and her brother.
    • The pickers give Pilate lots of money and tell her to peace out, because having no navel is not good for business. Or something.
    • So Pilate wanders on. At this point, we’re not quite sure where she is, but we know that she’s still dying to get to Virginia.
    • She joins up with another group of migrant pickers, and again she gets it on with one of the workers. And again they kick her out of their group on account of having no belly button. Only this time, they are not very nice about it. They take her tin cup and leave before she knows they are gone.
    • Pilate’s in a bind. She needs money to get to Virginia. So she goes into town and starts to work as a laundress. Her hands get all bloody from all the hard work, but eventually she makes some money and catches a wagon down to West Virginia.
    • We’re not quite sure what happens next, but soon Pilate arrives in Culpepper, Virginia where (again) she’s working as a washerwoman at a hotel. She hears about a colony of black farmers on an island off the coast of Virginia and, faster than you can say "belly button," she catches a ferry boat over to the island and is immediately accepted by the community there. She is the ripe old age of sixteen years old.
    • Pilate works hard, and eventually starts up a fling with a local farmer. She remembers to keep her non-existent belly button covered up this time. And she gets pregnant.
    • The other island women are shocked that Pilate doesn’t want to marry her baby’s father, but Pilate worries that she won’t be able to keep her belly button secret a secret if she marries him. She names her baby Reba.
    • Soon after, Pilate’s dad pays her a visit and says, "Sing, Sing," and "you just can’t fly off and leave a body." So Pilate takes his advice and goes back to Pennsylvania, to the cave where Macon killed the white man many years before, gathers up his bones, and brings them back in a pretty green sack. Pilate is now the proud owner of a rock collection, a geography book, two spools of black thread, and a baby named Reba.
    • Pilate gets an itch to go traveling, so she and Reba leave the island and wander from state to state. Pilate stops trying to hide her lack of belly button, and so becomes kind of an outcast.
    • As a result, she does some serious self-reflection and realizes that the way society defines normalcy is just a bunch of hooey. She cuts her hair and begins to really examine what she cares about and why.
    • She realizes that since she talks to dead people all the time, she doesn’t have to be scared of death (or anything else really) and, in turn, the community around her recognizes her generosity and respectful nature. She becomes the respected outcast with healing powers.
    • Pilate then begins to make a steady living as a genuine bootlegger. She is successful because she never lets anyone drink on her property. She outsmarts the Prohibition.
    • When Reba gives birth to Hagar, Pilate recognizes in Hagar a nature and personality that is the polar opposite of her own, and she is stumped. With no Dr. Phil around to answer her questions, Pilate and Reba just decide to continue spoiling Hagar, giving her everything she asks for.
    • Pilate then realizes that Hagar will need more of a family, so she goes in search of her long lost brother, Macon Dead.
    • When she finds that her brother is a complete jerk who doesn’t want anything to do with her, she is ready to pick up and push on once more. But then she meets Ruth Dead who is "dying of lovelessness," and realizes that she can’t leave, but has to help this poor woman.
    • This ends Pilate’s epic tale, which she is making deliberately long in order to calm Ruth down.
  • Part 1, Chapter 6

    • Guitar grills Milkman about Hagar and what he did to make Hagar so crazy. Guitar found Hagar standing frozen in his apartment after her latest attempt to kill Milkman, and so Guitar simply took her home.
    • Guitar and Milkman banter a little bit until Milkman demands to know about Guitar’s secret life and his business hiding Empire State.
    • Guitar doesn’t want to discuss it, but eventually decides to tell his best friend his deepest darkest secret. A secret that can’t be repeated to anyone, anywhere without compromising Guitar’s life. Here it is:
    • Guitar belongs to a secret society that, whenever a black man, woman, or child is killed by a white person, retaliates by murdering a white person or group of white people in a similar manner. The society is called the Seven Days and is composed of seven men, and only seven men. The Days, as they are known, are sworn to secrecy and take as long as they need to replicate a murder. They do not brag or boast of their work.
    • The society has been active since 1920 after two hate crimes were committed on two black war veterans.
    • Milkman is shocked. He wants to know why Guitar is OK with killing innocent people.
    • Guitar does not believe that there is such a thing as an innocent white person. He believes all white people are capable of killing black people because they are, as a race, unnatural.
    • Milkman says that the people who commit hate crimes are truly crazy.
    • What kind of excuse is that? asks Guitar. Since when does being crazy make it OK to kill, humiliate, and degrade another human being?
    • They discuss JFK Jr., Albert Schweitzer, and Eleanor Roosevelt – all white people who fought for human rights and who stood for moral and ethical values. Guitar holds fast to his belief that all white people, when put in a specific circumstance, are capable of killing black people.
    • Why don’t you want to be better than these unnatural white killers? asks Milkman. Because I am better than they are, replies Guitar.
    • Because he does not have fun when he murders, because he is not trying to usurp anybody’s wealth or power, and because he is not angry at anybody, Guitar feels he is better than the white people who commit hate crimes.
    • You aren’t angry at anybody, Guitar? Milkman asks.
    • Guitar feels he kills white people purely out of love for black people. His whole participation in the Seven Days is based on love. He believes in the Seven Days because of the love for his people, and because he feels strongly that a balance in numbers must be kept. If too many black people are killed, then the black population will diminish. By killing white people, he helps to maintain the balance.
    • Guitar and Milkman discuss the Holocaust and how Jewish people helped find and arrest Nazis following that horrific moment in history. Milkman feels the concept of the Seven Days is very different because the Days are killing innocent people and because the law is not involved.
    • Guitar retorts that there is no money and there is no law to go about rendering justice appropriately. He tells Milkman that there are courts in America that are still advised to ignore anything a black person has to say. Society, he claims, is not set up to provide the trials, the retribution that the Nazis faced.
    • Milkman wants to know what good all of this killing will bring. Guitar tells him the killings will improve the meaning of his life: "It’s about how you live and why" (1.6.160).
    • Guitar’s day is Sunday.
    • Milkman is scared for Guitar.
    • Guitar is scared for Milkman.
  • Part 1, Chapter 7

    • Chapter Seven opens with all this talk about what it means to live in a landlocked place, and how the Great Lake people get the itch to wander on account of the pseudo-oceans that are fed by a river that empties into the great blue Atlantic.
    • Apparently the ocean is a big deal, psychologically speaking.
    • Milkman is one of these itchy people, and just when he’s giving his dad notice, the green bag gets in the way.
    • Oh yes, it’s a powerful green bag. One that hangs from Pilate’s ceiling and that has given Milkman’s head many a bruise, or many a "hickey" as he calls it. But we thought hickies were very different.
    • Macon perks up like an Eggo waffle when he hears about this green bag, and he tells his son to go get some BBQ and meet him in the park for lunch.
    • On the park bench, Macon tells the story of the green bag. Here is his story:
    • Six days after Macon and Pilate’s dad is shot, they go in search of Circe, the midwife who helped bring them into the world. She works for a white family of "gentlemen farmers" in a big house nearby.
    • Circe is really glad to see them and hides them in two rooms in the attic, bringing them food and emptying their chamber pots for two weeks.
    • Macon and Pilate are really depressed. They are used to being outdoors, and feel like prisoners inside the big ornate house. After two weeks, they sneak out of the house and wander about in the glorious Pennsylvania wilderness.
    • But after a few days, they start to see their dad’s ghost everywhere, and the woods that they love so much and that they know so well begin to feel like a haunted place.
    • One evening they see their dad’s ghost standing by a big, dark cave. The ghost beckons them inside. They could either stay the night in the creepy woods, or follow the ghost into the pitch-black cave. Hmmm. What to do, what to do.
    • Macon and Pilate choose to follow the ghost. Not our first choice, but, hey, what do we know?
    • They fall asleep in the cave, and in the early morning, Macon has to, um, go number 2 (on account of all the wild fruit he’s been eating) and does so in the back of the cave, away from their sleeping nook.
    • Just as he’s finishing up, he sees an old white man stirring from sleep. The man starts to come toward him. Macon is totally freaked out. He grabs a rock and throws it at the old man.
    • The man keeps coming toward him, until Pilate screams. Momentarily distracted, the man doesn’t see Macon whip out a knife and stab him in the back.
    • Macon goes to grab the man’s green blanket in order to cover up the dead body, and, in doing so, he uncovers a shallow pit filled with little bags. The bags are filled with solid gold.
    • Macon is thrilled beyond all comprehension, knowing that he will live well for the rest of his life on the treasure at his feet.
    • Pilate, on the other hand, is furious at Macon for even thinking of stealing the money. Having just killed a white man, everyone will be looking for the two of them, and, if the authorities see that the gold is missing, they will think that Macon and Pilate killed the white man for the money.
    • Macon and Pilate spar. Pilate pulls a knife on her brother, the very knife soaked in the dead man’s blood, and Macon backs out of the cave.
    • Macon waits for his sister to come out of the cave all day, but she never comes out.
    • He hears a search party in the distance, and bolts like lightening (leaving his sister), terrified that the authorities are coming after him.
    • Three days later he returns to the cave only to find the dead body, but no gold and no Pilate.
    • This ends Macon’s story.
    • Macon connects the dots for Guitar and tells him that the bag swinging from Pilate’s ceiling is the same green blanket-thingy that covered the gold in the cage. He tells his son to go get the gold.
    • If Milkman is successful, he can have half of the gold.
  • Part 1, Chapter 8

    • Guitar is dreaming about his next murder. Recently, four black girls were killed in the Birmingham Church bombing, and Guitar is trying to come up with a way to reciprocate the murder. But it’s going to take money. Lots of money.
    • Milkman tells Guitar about the scheme to steal Pilate’s gold and promises that, if they are successful, Guitar will get a third of the wealth. Guitar is on air. He now has a means to make his murder possible.
    • Milkman is skeptical. If Pilate was crazy enough to wait in a cave with a dead man for three days, then she’s probably crazy enough to do anything in her power to protect that money.
    • Guitar thinks stealing the gold from three women who live in a house without locks will be easy as pie.
    • Milkman puts his skepticism aside, because he hasn’t seen Guitar so happy and so playful in a really long time.
    • Guitar begins to talk about all the things he would buy with his share of the gold: brass beds, good meals, a marker for his father’s grave, presents for his nieces and nephews.
    • Milkman dreams of buying things like cars, airplanes, and ships. Then he has a realization: having more money won’t change his life drastically, like it would for Guitar. Milkman already has everything he could want.
    • He then realizes that what he wants more than anything is to get out of town, to go far away from his family.
    • As Guitar and Milkman are laying out their dreams, a white peacock with lots of "jewelry" on its tail lands on a Buick in a used car lot. This is incredibly random. The peacock sends the Buick "into oblivion," and we’re not quite sure what that means. We just know it’s weird that a peacock is hanging out in a used car lot. Symbol much?
    • Milkman continues to be skeptical, and Guitar roars like a lion with frustration. He accuses Milkman of wanting to hoard the money all to himself, and then he points out the fact that Milkman doesn’t really need the money. He tells Milkman to live his life, and this totally wakes Milkman up.
    • Suddenly Milkman feels like the burglary project is real, tangible, and necessary. He feels connected to Guitar and feels like he now has a goal and purpose. They set a date and time.
    • There’s a ginger smell in the air the night Milkman and Guitar set out to steal the gold.
    • They sneak into Pilate’s house. Guitar hoists Milkman toward the ceiling. Milkman severs the green bag from ceiling, and, boom, the boys are out of there with their treasure in no time flat.
    • The only thing is that the bag sighs like a human, Guitar thinks he sees a man standing next to Milkman, and Pilate watches them from the window as they walk away, wondering what the h-e-double hockey sticks they want with that green bag.
  • Part 1, Chapter 9

    • 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.
  • Part 2, Chapter 10

    • Welcome to Part II, everyone.
    • We find Milkman looking at an old house that looks like it’s been eaten by a disease. All around is macadam.
    • Right about now, Milkman wishes he hadn’t ventured on his own into the Pennsylvania wilderness in search of the famous cave of Pilate and Macon’s youth. But there’s not much he can do about it at this moment, is there? His ride won’t be back around for another couple of hours.
    • He wishes Guitar were with him, but remembers how he left his best friend back home, telling him he needed to fly solo, to find the gold on his own.
    • This is his recollection of the parting moment: Guitar is skeptical of him at first – because, when has Milkman ever done anything on his own before? – but Milkman is adamant about being independent.
    • He promises to bring Guitar his fair share of the booty, and reminds Guitar about how he needs the money to help him get away from his family. He tells his friend that everyone wants something from him.
    • Guitar launches into one of his lectures, telling Milkman that everyone wants a piece of his life. He says, "It’s the condition our condition is in. Everybody wants the life of a black man" (2.10.222). He tells Milkman that everyone wants his life, except his fellow black men.
    • Milkman then asks why his own father wanted to kill him before he was born, and Guitar responds that Macon, Sr. acts and thinks like a white man.
    • Guitar also brings up Pilate and the "performance" she put on for the police when she bailed them out of jail. Her act reminded him again of the way his mother behaved around the white mill owner, who gave her $40 after his father was sawed in half. He starts to feel nauseous.
    • Guitar then reminds Milkman of how much the Days need the gold. Henry Porter has been kicked out of his apartment by Macon, Sr., because a little birdie (named Milkman) told Macon that Porter and Corinthians were dating.
    • Milkman tries to explain why he spilled the beans, but Guitar dismisses his apology and tells him he is not blaming him.
    • Milkman asks Guitar why he trusts him, and Guitar hopes that he never has to ask himself that question.
    • This ends Milkman’s recollection.
    • Instead of returning to the macadam and the disease-ridden house, we jump back in time to Milkman’s bus ride from the Pittsburgh airport to Danville, Pennsylvania.
    • Milkman’s is bored with the green hills and supposedly beautiful scenery that the Greyhound travels through.
    • But then he notices the signs and the names of the towns that he passes through. He begins to be intrigued by the foreign life represented by those signs and names: "everybody had to do his act, he thought, for surely anybody who was interested in Dudberry Point already knew where it was" (2.10.226).
    • Milkman wishes he had some whiskey.
    • Milkman rolls into Danville, PA, only to realize that he doesn’t have a p-l-a-n. Rats. So he leaves his suitcase in the bus depot, and goes roaming the main street looking for people who might know some people he knows.
    • He asks one such Danvillian if he knows of a woman named Circe. No such luck, but the Danvillian tells him to seek out Reverend Cooper who lives in a yellow house not too far away.
    • Milkman arrives at the yellow house and asks to speak with the Reverend. Milkman soon realizes that he never took Social Skills 101. He’s never had to make nice with random strangers before, so he’s a little awkward at first.
    • Luckily, Reverend Cooper is home and is incredibly excited to see him. He tells Milkman he knows his "people." Milkman had never thought he had "people" before this moment, and the idea of having "people," a community, a lineage, is totally exciting.
    • They drink rye whiskey, and Reverend Cooper asks him all kinds of questions. Milkman tells him he’s trying to find a woman named Circe, and the Reverend hurdles down memory lane, recollecting the story of Macon and Pilate’s father’s death.
    • Milkman asks if anyone ever caught the murderers who shot his grandfather. Reverend Cooper stares at Milkman in disbelief and breaks it down for him.
    • The murderers boasted of their killing, and because they were white and because their victim was black, no one did anything at all.
    • The Reverend relates another story of having gone to march in the Armistice Day Parade in Philadelphia, right after World War I. The white people at the parade didn’t want black people to be part of the parade, and so they started throwing stones and calling the Reverend and his compatriots names. Then the police got involved, but instead of rendering justice, they trampled the Reverend and his friends with their horses. The Reverend shows Macon the scar on his neck begot of a horse hoof.
    • Milkman hangs out at the Cooper’s for four days, and during that time, all of the locals come over to meet him and to reminisce about Macon, Pilate, and Milkman’s grandfather.
    • Milkman soon discovers how respected, how loved his grandfather was. The men recall Lincoln’s Heaven with such glee and reverence, it only ignites Milkman’s desire to go in search of Circe and the farm.
    • On the fourth day, Reverend Cooper has his nephew (named Nephew) drive Milkman to the house where Circe used to work.
    • Nephew, who is thirteen years old, drives Milkman to a patch of bushes. Milkman is confused. The house is through those bushes, Nephew tells him. The car can’t get him any closer.
    • Nephew and Milkman settle on a rendezvous time and place. Milkman enters the macadam (there’s that word again) and has three hours to explore Circe’s old house, the farm, and find the gold.
    • Easy as pie. Wrong. First of all this city boy has some major issues making his way through the macadam with his fancy shoes. He forgot to plan for that whole nature thing.
    • He arrives at the big disease-eaten house where Circe used to work. And look at us! We’re right back to moment at which we began Chapter Ten. Full circle.
    • Milkman knocks on the door of the giant house, just for kicks. No one answers. He turns the doorknob. No such luck. He pushes the giant door. It opens.
    • Whoa. Milkman loses his breakfast when he gets a whiff of the mansion’s interior smell. It smells hairy and ripe. Deesgusting.
    • But then that ginger smell comes back.
    • We’re a little unclear about what happens next, whether it’s a dream or for real. Milkman sees a witch standing at the top of the stairs inside the house. He thinks she’s a witch because she looks like every other witch that used to appear in his dreams as a little boy. Her arms are outstretched for him, and so he goes to her.
    • The witch grabs him and hugs him, and Milkman gets an erection.
    • Milkman hears a humming sound. Strange. He looks down and sees a pack of golden-eyed dogs. We’re talking lots of dogs. And their hair is nicely groomed, and they have "intelligent" eyes. This place is creepy.
    • The witch takes Milkman into a sitting room, and Milkman is trying to figure out who the heck this woman is. Can it be Circe? But if she’s Circe, then she is really, really old. Almost impossibly old. And what’s weirder is that she has the voice of a 20 year-old girl.
    • The woman is indeed Circe, and she thinks that Milkman is Macon. And when he tells her who he is, she’s a little disappointed.
    • Circe tells him that all of the Butlers (the family who used to live in the mansion) have died, and she’s stayed to take care of the dogs.
    • She tells Milkman that she has birthed nearly everyone in the county, only losing his grandmother during Pilate’s birth. His grandmother was Native American, and Milkman nearly pees his pants when Circe tells him that her name was Sing.
    • Sing. That’s a word he’s heard before, from Pilate’s stories of her ghostly father.
    • Circe tells Milkman that Sing watched over her husband with a nervous, crazy love. Sounds familiar.
    • Circe tells him about the cave and recalls that Macon and Pilate’s father’s dead body was dumped in that same cave.
    • Detective Milkman corrects her and tells her that Macon actually buried their father by the fish pond. Circe retorts that the grave was too shallow and the body eventually floated up. The locals dumped the decomposing body in the cave.
    • Circe gives Milkman directions to the cave.
    • Milkman offers to give Circe some money so that she can leave, and asks her why she still stays at the house of the hateful murderers who killed his grandfather.
    • She tells him the story of the demise of the Butler family, how they eventually lost all of their wealth, how it devastated the sole heir of the property. Circe watched the last Butler go mad and eventually commit suicide because the family wealth disappeared.
    • Circe stays in the house, breeding dogs, letting them roam wild throughout the house, destroying the beautiful things that the Butlers killed for.
    • Just as Milkman’s about to head out in search of the cave, he asks Circe if he knows what his grandfather’s real name was.
    • Circe tells him she thinks his grandfather’s original name was Jake.
    • The city boy then attempts the macadam in search of the cave, following Circe’s directions, but getting soaked in a creek. Each time he rips something or falls into a creek, he realizes he could have taken a better path that would have left him high and dry.
    • But Milkman is just too excited to get to the gold. He can smell it, and it smells good.
    • Finally, he reaches the cave. But wouldn’t you know, he can’t see a thing. His matches are soaked, so he takes a stick and uses it to guide his way deeper into the cave.
    • Eventually, after clawing at a lot of dry bat poop, he finds a shallow pit. His stick hits something hard, and Milkman is thrilled beyond belief. This is the pot. This is it. The making of his life.
    • He gets down on his belly and remembers he has a lighter in his pocket. He flicks his lighter and scrapes at the pit. Nothing.
    • He scrapes again, feeling for any sign of gold or of little bags. No such luck. Milkman screams and starts to cry a little.
    • He’s insanely hungry (because he only ate like a grapefruit that morning), his feet hurt, and what’s more, he has to make his trek back to the road where Nephew dropped him off.
    • When he gets to the rendezvous stop, the sun tells him that Nephew has come and gone. The only thing left to do is to walk in the direction of what he thinks is Danville.
    • His shoe is coming apart, so he uses his tie to strap it together.
    • Eventually, he is able to hitch a ride with a man who happens to be driving by. The man gives him a coke, which Milkman wolfs down, and drops him off near the bus depot.
    • Milkman tries to pay him for the ride and the coke, but the man is extremely offended and tells Milkman his name is Fred Garnett and that he can afford to give a stranger a ride and a coke every now and then.
    • Milkman is left standing there feeling like a big loser.
    • He walks to the bus depot to collect his suitcase, but it’s not there. Ruh-roh. So Milkman just orders six cheeseburgers, and he scarfs them down.
    • The freight yard where Reverend Cooper works (because his day job doesn’t pay enough to tide him over) is close to the bus depot. Milkman goes to look for Cooper, as he’s known in the freight yard, but he just misses him.
    • While there, a man asks Milkman for help hoisting a big crate onto a dolly. Milkman is exhausted and hurting and has eaten one too many cheeseburgers, but (having learned a few more social skills in the past few days) he decides to help the man anyway.
    • Milkman gets on a bus headed to Virginia, deciding that he doesn’t feel like going home just yet, only to return to Guitar’s disappointment and his family’s usual suffocating ways.
    • He sleeps on the bus, gets some pea soup at a rest stop, buys toiletries to replace the ones he left at Cooper’s, and considers the complete failure of his attempt to grab the gold.
    • But he’s no longer bored by the scenery that rolls by him. In fact, he’s totally intrigued. He knows that the hills and wilderness outside of the bus are real and tough.
    • Then Milkman thinks about the pieces of the puzzle he gathered while in Danville. Milkman wonders why Pilate didn’t see two skeletons when she went back to the cave all those years ago.
    • He surmises that Pilate returned to the cave twice: once to get the gold, and a second time to get the bones. The gold, he concludes is in Virginia, and now he has an excellent reason for having bought a bus ticket to Virginia (even if he doesn’t have a plan).
  • Part 2, Chapter 11

    • After traipsing all throughout a random Virginian town, looking for a town that sounds like Charlemagne, he finally catches wind of a place known as Shalimar.
    • Milkman buys a car for $75, but it breaks down before he can get out of town.
    • He’s beginning to like his newfound independence, cruising the Virginian backwoods without anyone to tell him what to do. He is learning how to be generous, how to interact with strangers, and the strangers he’s meeting are so nice! Life is good.
    • But then his fan belt breaks. Lady Luck, however, has a plan. Milkman finds himself in front of Solomon’s General Store, which is, wouldn’t you know, right in the very heart of Shalimar, Virginia. Though you’d never know that this was Shalimar, Virginia, because there is only a general store.
    • Milkman orders a beer, but it’s Sunday and not Beerday. Wooeee, these Virginian prices! Seven whole cents for a bottle of Cherry Smash?
    • Solomon, the store owner, is curious about what Milkman is doing in Shalimar, suggests that one of the locals might be able to fix his fan belt, and tells Milkman that a man passed through looking for him earlier that day.
    • Someone is looking for Milkman in Shalimar, Virginia? Solomon tells him that that certain someone left a message to the tune of, "Good luck, your day has come."
    • Guitar! That’s so creepy, and Milkman thinks so too.
    • Milkman needs a breather. He goes out to the general store porch, takes in the sights and sounds of Shalimar. These include ladies and children singing nursery rhymes, the likes of which send him down memory lane. He thinks about the fact that he never got to play games like Double Dutch or Ring Around the Rosy when he was little.
    • Things go downhill in the next few moments. Milkman has to go and tell his new Shalimar friends that the local ladies are fine. And then he asks where he can find a Marriot. Oh boy, this man sure doesn’t know how to adapt to new places, does he?
    • Milkman gets into a knife fight over the comment about the ladies. Everyone comes to watch Milkman fight with a broken bottle. His opponent slices his cheek, his left hand, and his pretty beige suit. Just when Milkman’s about to really get his butt kicked, some ladies start yelling for the fight to stop, which it eventually does.
    • Frustrated and cut up, Milkman slumps down on the front porch of the store, only to be invited to go hunting by some older gentlemen.
    • He wholeheartedly accepts, and then takes a siesta in his car.
    • The hunting party outfits Milkman with army fatigues, good boots, and Falstaff beer.
    • The men drive deeper into the mountains, and Milkman thinks he sees headlights in the rearview mirror. Is someone following them?
    • The dogs are let loose. Apparently Becky the dog is the best hunter in the world, because everyone gets excited when they realize she is part of the party.
    • The men split up, and Milkman gets to go with the nice one, Calvin.
    • After a relentless trek through the mountain wilds, Milkman starts to get more and more tired.
    • The dogs are searching for something. The men communicate with the dogs through various sounds, and they catch the scent of a bobcat.
    • It is pitch-black and Milkman can’t see a thing. He can hear someone weeping though. It’s just the wind blowing through Ryna’s gulch, though.
    • Finally, Milkman takes a load off by a tree, losing sight of Calvin, who’s far ahead. Just as he’s settling down in a dreamy state, thinking about all the people in his life, and finally getting some good "dear diary" reflection done, someone startles him and wraps a wire around his neck.
    • Just before he’s about to die, his life flashes before his very eyes, and guess what it shows him? Hagar. He sees Hagar bending over him, and it feels like love. Just when he’s about to give up the ghost, he remembers he has a gun.
    • He grabs his gun, shoots it behind him, and his attacker (Guitar) goes off running.
    • Milkman is shaken, but he eventually meets up with his fellow hunters who have cornered a bobcat in a tree. They shoot the bobcat down from the tree.
    • The skinning of a bobcat is totally fascinating, so we suggest you take a good look at this part of this chapter.
    • The men ask Milkman why he fired his shotgun, and Milkman tells them he was scared. This sends his new best friends into uproarious laughter. Milkman has grown on them like moss on a tree, and they even let him take the precious, sacred heart out of the bobcat.
    • Omar, the head of the hunting party, tells Milkman about a lady of the night who would take him in and give him a place to stay. He also gives Milkman the name of a woman who might know his people.
    • Milkman heads straight for the lady of the night’s house. Her name is Sweet and she does all kind of things for Milkman that we won’t mention here. But the point is that Milkman finds a little bit of heaven.
  • Part 2, Chapter 12

    • Milkman goes in search of Ms. Byrd, the woman Omar believes would know his people. Ms Byrd lives in a little house with a perfect lawn and a white picket fence that separates it from the wild field grass that surrounds it.
    • We smell gingerbread, and there’s a children’s swing.
    • Milkman meets Susan Byrd and Grace Long. Susan is reticent and isn’t too comfortable having Milkman around, because he’s asking questions about her aunt who he supposes to be his grandmother. Her aunt is named Sing and was the sister of her father, Crowell Byrd.
    • Grace Long has a field day with all of this, because it would seem that Milkman and Susan are related. Susan denies this claim on the grounds that, based on Milkman’s skin color, his grandmother couldn’t possibly have been as light-skinned as her aunt.
    • Then the ladies delve into a conversation about all the people they know who are black, but who are "passing" in society as white. Grace Long is odd, but she certainly knows how to flirt.
    • Milkman takes his leave of the ladies, and Grace tells him to come visit her at the "normal" school where she teaches.
    • It’s only when Milkman’s walking down the road that he realizes that Grace has stolen his watch. But she includes her address in his little cookie care package, just in case he wants to come visit.
    • Milkman encounters Guitar along the woodsy path, and Guitar is livid. He tells Milkman he saw him steal the gold and ship it elsewhere. He plans to kill Milkman for betraying him and for betraying the Seven Days.
    • Milkman is confused. Guitar clarifies that he saw with his own two eyes Milkman lift a crate onto a dolly in Danville.
    • Wait, but that wasn’t gold! Milkman was just helping an old man out. It’s a little hard for Guitar to understand why Milkman would help a man out for no reason at all, except to be nice. Guitar warns Milkman once more that his day is coming.
    • Milkman returns to Sweet’s house and finds a little bit of heaven again.
    • Distracted, he rushes over to Solomon’s general store. He puts on his Sherlockian mystery hat and begins to try to put the pieces of his family tree together.
    • And then he decides to actually listen to the song that the local children are singing. He listens to the lyrics. And guess what? They are all about his family.
    • He hears names that he recognizes, Heddy (Susan Byrd’s grandmother), Jake, Ryna, and Solomon.
    • Like Christmas morning, Milkman opens all the gifts that this simple child’s song provides. In it, he understands that his grandmother, Sing, was part Native American, and he understands a skeleton of a story: Solomon leaves Ryna, and Ryna is devastated. Ryna is the name of that gulch that wails like Moaning Myrtle. This marks the happiest time in Milkman’s life.
  • Part 2, Chapter 13

    • Hagar goes into a deep depression when Milkman leaves her standing in Guitar’s room with the butcher knife, and nothing Pilate or Reba can give her soothes her mind or makes her forget about Milkman.
    • Even Guitar, who takes her home and treats her like a baby unicorn when he finds her frozen solid in his pad, tries to convince her not to care about Milkman. But she is too far gone.
    • Guitar takes her home. He tries to get her to listen to him, to listen to reason. He tells her that everything he’s loved in his life, he has lost. He summons a beautiful metaphor of love, telling her that clouds often love a mountain, but they never cover the mountain’s head. They never consume or demand every inch of the mountain, like Hagar is demanding of life and of Milkman.
    • But Guitar’s wizardy words do not help. He realizes she is afflicted by her spoiled-rotten ways. She needs a whole armada, army, and chorus of women in her life to help discipline her and teach her the ways of the world, to make her grow strong and confident.
    • In an attempt to ease Hagar’s sorrow, Reba gives her a mirror, and Hagar takes a good look at herself.
    • She comes to the immediate conclusion that it’s her looks that are the crux of Milkman’s rejection of her. She tells Reba and Pilate that she needs new clothes, new makeup, and a new look.
    • Reba sells the diamond ring she won at Sears and Hagar goes shopping, buying a sea foam colored slip, a two-piece Evan-Picone outfit, con brio shoes, jungle red lipstick, Bandit and Chantilly perfume, sky blue eye shadow, Youth Blend foundation, and Sunny Glow blush.
    • After arranging a last minute hair appointment, Hagar goes walking in the rain, but she doesn’t realize it’s raining. Her new purchases get soaked and ruined when her shopping bag breaks. She returns home, soaked to the bone to Pilate and Reba’s dismay. She dresses herself in her new purchases and makes up her face with her new colors.
    • When she presents herself to Pilate and Reba, she sees in their eyes the grime and disrepair of her rain-soaked, muddy clothes.
    • Soon after, Hagar develops a fever and grows very sick. She dies.
    • Ruth demands that Macon pay for a proper funeral, because Pilate and Reba have no money to afford one, having given away all of their money to Hagar so that she could buy the things she wanted.
    • Pilate bursts into the church where the priest is presiding Hagar’s service, and cries out, "Mercy!" She continues to say this word, singing it out of despair and heartache.
    • She tells the congregants, "and she was loved!" (2.13.319).
    • One of her sympathetic customers accidentally drops a bottle of wine at the back of the church; it bleeds jungle red like Hagar’s lipstick, and thus ends one of the most heartbreaking chapters in literary history.
  • Part 2, Chapter 14

    • Milkman returns to Susan Byrd’s house to ask some follow-up questions, and guess what? It IS a creepy house after all! This time, Milkman notices that the paint is peeling on the white picket fence. The rope that holds the child’s swing is decaying. The cedar tree looks like an elephant’s leg.
    • Susan Byrd is much nicer this time around. And it’s because Ms. Flirty-McFlirt-Flirt isn’t there to steal gold watches and spin gossip.
    • Susan Byrd confirms the story behind the song that the Shalimar children sing: Milkman’s grandfather, Jake, ran off with his grandmother Sing on a wagon train going north. Jake was the youngest of 21 children. Legend has it that Jake’s father, Solomon, flew away to Africa, leaving his wife, Ryna, devastated with all of those children to take care of. Legend has it that Solomon tried to take Jake with him when he left, but dropped the baby as he was flying off.
    • Well, Milkman is pretty much floating at this point. Here he has some concrete affirmation that his family, his very own family, is the subject of a song and a legend.
    • Susan Byrd apologizes for her Grace’s flirtatious and thieving behavior, telling Milkman that nothing ever happens in Shalimar, and when a stranger from the north wearing a gold watch comes to visit, it’s pretty much the most exciting thing in the world.
    • We end the chapter somewhat flabbergasted. Nothing happens in Shalimar? Is it opposite day?
  • Part 2, Chapter 15

    • Milkman and Sweet go swimming. Milkman is on cloud nine, having unraveled some of the mystery of his ancestry. He feels fearless.
    • He goes all the way home to his city by Lake Superior, bursting to tell the world about what’s he’s discovered.
    • He goes straight to Pilate, who hits him over the head and locks him in the cellar. When he comes to, Milkman wonders why in the world Pilate would knock him out. And then he knows in the pit of his stomach: Hagar has died.
    • Milkman calls out to Pilate from the damp darkness, describing everything that he’s learned about their ancestors. Intrigued and still grief-frozen, she comes down to the cellar, in wonderment at Milkman’s stories. She gives him a box full of Hagar’s hair, which Milkman accepts whole-heartedly.
    • He feels like a huge schmuck. He returns home briefly to find his family just the same (except Corinthians has left home to move in with Henry Porter).
    • Milkman drives Pilate to Shalimar, Virginia (because there’s no way in Hades she will fly), where she blends in like butter in a churn. They stay with Omar and, one night at twilight, they go to Solomon’s Leap to bury Jake’s bones. Look at all the names we know now!
    • The bones sigh and the ginger smell appears when the bag of bones is opened.
    • Pilate takes her snuffbox earring out and places it on the grave that Milkman has dug.
    • She falls suddenly, and only after she falls does Milkman register the sound of the gunshot.
    • Milkman cradles his aunt in his arms. Pilate asks Milkman to take care of Reba for her. She tells him she wishes she could have known more people so that she could have loved more people. Milkman sings the Sugarman song to her (the same one she sang to Robert Smith at the very beginning of the novel), only he sings Sugargirl.
    • A crow flies down and takes hold of the snuffbox earring Pilate has laid on her father’s grave. Milkman, shaken, yells to Guitar, asks him if he wants his life, too.
    • Guitar puts his gun down and says, "My main man."
    • Milkman jumps off of Solomon’s Leap, and learns what his great-grandfather knew: "if you surrendered to the air, you could ride it" (2.15.337).
    • THE END.