Song of Solomon

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The protagonist of Song of Solomon, his given name is Macon Dead III but he gains the nickname after Freddie sees Ruth, his mother, breastfeeding him. Over the course of the novel, Milkman changes from a callow, selfish man, willing to do almost anything to gain independence from his family, into a deeply moral, selfless man who is almost completely indifferent to material things. Milkman both loves and hates his parents. His father, Macon, encourages him to love business and money, but he longs to free himself from his father’s influence and travel far away from him. He protects Ruth, his mother, from Macon, but when he learns of his father’s suspicion of Ruth’s incest with her own father, his relationship with her is tainted. In fact, his relationship with all women becomes tainted, including with his unfortunate cousin Hagar, whom he leaves even after a long and loving romantic relationship. While searching for Pilate’s gold, which he hopes to use to gain his independence, he has a spiritual awakening, and rejoices when he learns that his great-grandfather, Solomon, could fly. It’s left up to us to decide how much Milkman has changed at the end of the novel — whether, after Guitar kills Pilate, Milkman will forgive Guitar or avenge Pilate’s death.

Milkman Quotes in Song of Solomon

The Song of Solomon quotes below are all either spoken by Milkman or refer to Milkman . For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Power of Names Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Song of Solomon published in 2004.
Part 1, Chapter 2 Quotes

“Boy, you got better things to do with your time. Besides, it’s time you started learning how to work. You start Monday. After school come to my office; work a couple of hours there and learn what’s real. Pilate can’t teach you a thing you can use in this world. Maybe the next, but not this one. Let me tell you right now the one important thing you’ll ever need to know: Own things. And let the things you own own other things. Then you’ll own yourself and other people too. Starting Monday, I’m going to teach you how.”

Related Characters: Macon Dead II (speaker), Milkman
Page Number: 55
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Macon Dead II, irritated with his son, Milkman, for spending so much time with Pilate, decides to give him some lessons in "being a man." Macon explains that Milkman must begin adulthood by aspiring to own as much as possible: ownership is the only way to be powerful and successful.

Macon's lessons for Milkman are a stark reminder of how many blacks in the U.S. tried to escape racism and gain independence by making money at all costs (a "tough" strategy famously exemplified by Booker T. Washington). Macon's advice seems harsh and deliberately un-spiritual, hence Macon's observation that Pilate's side of life is only fit for Heaven not Earth. Macon seems to believe that there's no point in being religious or hoping for the next world--the only way to get ahead in life is to own things. He has a point, as financial independence is one way for a black man to escape many of the racist obstacles of society, but at the same time Macon's philosophy seems devoid of any real happiness or spiritual fulfillment.

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Part 1, Chapter 3 Quotes

“Since I was little. Since my father got sliced up in a sawmill and his boss came by and gave us kids some candy. Divinity. A big sack of divinity. His wife made it special for us. It’s sweet, divinity is. Sweeter than syrup. Real sweet. Sweeter than…” He stopped walking and wiped from his forehead the beads of sweat that were collecting there. His eyes paled and wavered. He spit on the sidewalk. “Ho—hold it,” he whispered, and stepped into a space between a fried-fish restaurant and Lilly’s Beauty Parlor.

Related Characters: Guitar Bains (speaker), Milkman
Page Number: 61-62
Explanation and Analysis:

Guitar, one of Milkman's friends, recalls his childhood, when his father was killed in a sawing accident. Guitar recalls what happened after his father's death in cinematic detail: the sawmill owner gave him sweet candy. Ever since eating the owner's sweet candy, Guitar has found himself unable to enjoy sweetness of any kind.

Guitar's quotation is important on many different levels. First, we have the evocative conceit of a white store owner offering candy to a black child after the child's father dies. This incident is meant to symbolize the way that white Americans (even the well-meaning ones) deal with racism and oppression: instead of trying to solve the problem or make any fundamental change in their way of life, white Americans try to "paper over" the tragedy with sappy cliches or quick fixes--like giving a child candy. Furthermore, the incident forms an important part of Guitar's character: he's so disgusted with the white man's fake kindness that he seems to abandon kindness altogether (symbolized by his rejection of sugar). Perhaps Guitar goes too far in responding to the tragedy in his life: he becomes too brutal in his desire to obtain justice for the deaths of his friends and family, murdering whites as indiscriminately as his own family was murdered.

“In the bed,” he said, and stopped for so long Milkman was not sure he was going to continue. “In the bed. That’s where she was when I opened the door. Laying next to him. Naked as a yard dog, kissing him. Him dead and white and puffy and skinny, and she had his fingers in her mouth.

Related Characters: Macon Dead II (speaker), Milkman , Ruth Foster, Doctor Foster
Page Number: 73
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Macon Dead II tells his son, Milkman, the "truth" about Ruth and her father. Macon believes that he's seen Ruth kissing her father in a perverse, incestuous matter: he walked in on her naked and kissing her dying father's fingers. Macon interprets the incident as unambiguously sexual, suggesting that Ruth was locked in some kind of larger sexual relationship with her father.

As we come to see, however, the incident is far from unambiguous. While Macon continues to maintain that Ruth and her father were having an incestuous affair, Ruth herself maintains that her father never touched her, and in fact she was kissing her father's fingers because he was dying, and his fingers were the only parts of his body that he could still feel. Macon--whether he's right or wrong about his wife--has projected his own sexual insecurity onto the incident: i.e., he's so jealous of Ruth that he's assumed she's sleeping with her own father.

Part 1, Chapter 4 Quotes

She was the third beer. Not the first one, which the throat receives with almost tearful gratitude; nor the second, that confirms and extends the pleasure of the first. But the third, the one you drink because it’s there, because it can’t hurt, and because what difference does it make?

Related Characters: Milkman , Ruth Foster
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Milkman thinks about Hagar, the woman with whom he's been having an affair. Milkman is attracted to Hagar, but he seems not to think of her as a full human being. As far as Milkman is concerned, Hagar is an "object" for his consumption, not really so different from a beer. Moreover, Hagar isn't even the "first beer"--he's so experienced with women that he thinks of Hagar as a mere indulgence, barely even worth talking about.

Milkman's behavior in this scene is surprising, in no small part because he's being so misogynistic about Hagar. Milkman has no real models for how to treat women: he's surrounded by sexist and women-hating men. Partly as a result, Milkman echoes the mistakes of his father and friends. (The sexism of Milkman's community certainly shouldn't excuse Milkman's behavior, but it provides a partial explanation.) It's also interesting to consider how harsh Morrison is being on Milkman: even though Milkman is the protagonist of the story, Morrison doesn't shy away from showing him in all his faults.

Part 1, Chapter 5 Quotes

“…because the fact is that I am a small woman. I don’t mean little; I mean small, and I’m small because I was pressed small. I lived in a great big house that pressed me into a small package. I had no friends, only schoolmates who wanted to touch my dresses and my white silk stockings. But I didn’t think I’d ever need a friend because I had him. I was small, but he was big. The only person who ever really cared whether I lived or died. Lots of people were interested in whether I lived or died, but he cared. He was not a good man, Macon. Certainly he was an arrogant man, and often a foolish and destructive one. But he cared whether and he cared how I lived, and there was, and is, no one else in the world who ever did.

Related Characters: Ruth Foster (speaker), Milkman , Doctor Foster
Page Number: 124
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Ruth tells her son, Milkman, the truth about her own father, Dr. Foster. Ruth claims--contrary to what Milkman has heard from his father, Macon II--that that there was nothing perverse in her relationship with Dr. Foster. Instead, she thought of her father as her protector and only true companion. Ruth knew her father well enough to realize that he wasn't a good man by any stretch of the imagination. But because Ruth was so lonely and sad, she turned to her father anyway; he was the only person who cared about her.

It's important to recognize that while Ruth never specifically talks about any kind of sexual relationship with Foster, she doesn't explicitly deny as much either. Overall, however, we see that she loved her father deeply because he cared about her and protected her. In a world full of sexist men, Ruth had no choice but to lean on her father for support and friendship.

Part 1, Chapter 6 Quotes

“There is a society. It’s made up of a few men who are willing to take some risks. They don’t initiate anything; they don’t even choose. They are as indifferent as rain. But when a Negro child, Negro woman, or Negro man is killed by whites and nothing is done about it by their law and their courts, this society selects a similar victim at random, and they execute him or her in a similar manner if they can. If the Negro was hanged, they hang; if a Negro was burnt, they burn; raped and murdered, they rape and murder.

Related Characters: Guitar Bains (speaker), Milkman
Page Number: 154
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Guitar illustrates the iron law of "blood for blood" that he holds as a member of his secret society, the Seven Days. As Guitar sees it, there is a constant "exchange" between the white community and the black community. Whenever a black child is killed by racist whites, the black community as a whole has a duty to avenge the child's death by killing a member of the white community. While most people in the black community lack the determination to avenge their peers' deaths, the aim of Guitar's secret society is precisely to execute whites.

Guitar is calm and intimidating as he explains this violent rule to Milkman. He never stops to address an obvious moral flaw in the system: he and his peers may be executing innocent white people whenever they avenge the murder of an innocent black person. It may be "just" to punish murder with murder, but it isn't exactly fair to group an entire race together and consider them all equally complicit in a crime. While white people can obviously still be racist and uphold racist structures without actually killing black people, in practice the idea that an innocent white child should be killed in exchange for an innocent black child seems brutal and unjust.

Part 1, Chapter 8 Quotes

He’d always believed his childhood was sterile, but the knowledge Macon and Ruth had given him wrapped his memory of it in septic sheets, heavy with the odor of illness, misery, and unforgiving hearts. His rebellions, minor as they were, had all been in the company of, or shared with, Guitar. And this latest Jack and the Beanstalk bid for freedom, even though it had been handed to him by his father—assigned almost—stood some chance of success.

Related Characters: Macon Dead II , Milkman , Ruth Foster, Guitar Bains
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:

Milkman and Guitar have planned to work together to steal gold from Pilate's house. Milkman wants to steal gold for a number of reasons, but above all, he wants to gain a measure of freedom and independence for himself--he thinks that with the money the gold will provide, he'll be able to travel far away and start a life for himself.

As the quotation indicates, Milkman's desire for freedom and independence is psychological as well as geographic. He's learned a lot about his family in recent months: he knows about the possibly incestuous relationship between his mother and grandfather; his other grandfather's years as a slave, etc. Milkman is, in short, haunted by his family's past, and by the nightmarish legacy of racism as a whole. For now, he thinks that the best way to escape his own past is to make money and use it to "start over."

“How come it can’t fly no better than a chicken?” Milkman asked. “Too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” The peacock jumped onto the hood of the Buick and once more spread its tail, sending the flashy Buick into oblivion. “Faggot.” Guitar laughed softly. “White faggot.”

Related Characters: Milkman (speaker), Guitar Bains (speaker)
Related Symbols: Flight
Page Number: 179
Explanation and Analysis:

In this symbolic passage, Milkman and Guitar, preparing to steal gold from Pilate's house, notice a large peacock strutting around outside. As Milkman and Guitar discuss the bird, they notice that it's unable to fly: it is so weighed down with its fancy plumage that it can't fly away from its home on the ground.

The peacock has obvious symbolic resonances for the characters--it's like an inkblot test, revealing the characters' psychology. From Milkman's perspective, the bird seems to symbolize the weight of the past. Milkman sees himself as being weighed down by the legacy of his family--slavery, incest, violence, etc. And yet we, the readers, recognize that the peacock is also an omen of the futility of Milkman's plans to free himself. Milkman believes that by stealing gold, he'll be able to "fly away" to a new place--but we suspect that he, like, the peacock, will get too weighed down by his new wealth to find any real freedom at all. Finally, we should note that Guitar thinks of the peacock as the symbol of white extravagance and complacency: the bird, like the average wealthy white man, is a ridiculous, incompetent figure (no match for a clever, motivated black man like Guitar).

Part 2, Chapter 10 Quotes

He loosened his collar and lit another cigarette. Here in this dim room he sat with the woman who had helped deliver his father and Pilate; who had risked her job, her life, maybe, to hide them both after their father was killed, emptied their slop jars, brought them food at night and pans of water to wash. Had even sneaked off to the village to have the girl Pilate’s name and snuffbox made into an earring. Then healed the ear when it got infected. And after all these years was thrilled to see what she believed was one of them. Healer, deliverer, in another world she would have been the head nurse at Mercy. Instead she tended Weimaraners and had just one selfish wish: that when she died somebody would find her before the dogs ate her.

Related Characters: Milkman , Circe
Related Symbols: The Earring
Page Number: 246
Explanation and Analysis:

In this moving passage, Milkman--traveling through the country to track down the mysterious gold and learn about his family history--comes face-to-face with a remarkable woman, Circe. Circe is the nurse who delivered Pilate, as well as Macon Dead II, Milkman's father. Furthermore, Circe has spent her entire life caring for others--not just Macon II and Pilate, but children, dogs, strangers, etc. Milkman stops to contemplate the injustice of Circe's life: if she weren't black, she probably would have ended up working as a prestigious nurse or a doctor. Instead, she lives in squalor, devoting herself entirely to helping others.

The scene is an important turning point, since it marks one of the first times in the novel when Milkman shows genuine sympathy for another person--and a woman at that. Milkman is beginning to change--transforming from a selfish, materialistic brat to a more enlightened, forgiving figure. (The passage is also a great example of Morrison's magical realism--it's almost mathematically impossible that Circe could have tended to the Dead family for so long and still be alive, and yet here she is.)

Part 2, Chapter 11 Quotes

It sounded old. Deserve. Old and tired and beaten to death. Deserve. Now it seemed to him that he was always saying or thinking that he didn’t deserve some bad luck, or some bad treatment from others. He’d told Guitar that he didn’t “deserve” his family’s dependence, hatred, or whatever. That he didn’t even “deserve” to hear all the misery and mutual accusations his parents unloaded on him. Nor did he “deserve” Hagar’s vengeance. But why shouldn’t his parents tell him their personal problems? If not him, then who? And if a stranger could try to kill him, surely Hagar, who knew him and whom he’d thrown away like a wad of chewing gum after the flavor was gone—she had a right to try to kill him too.

Related Characters: Milkman , Guitar Bains, Hagar
Page Number: 276-277
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Milkman comes face-to-face with his own selfish behavior. Milkman has spent most of his life believing that he doesn't deserve what's happened to him. He thinks of himself as the victim of an unjust universe: a black man in a racist society; the victim of an angry woman (Hagar); the reluctant bearer of his family's tragic history, etc. At every point, Milkman has pretended that he's above such pain--he claims that he's entitled to better.

As Milkman studies the language of his own thoughts, however (the word "Deserve"), he comes to see how silly his beliefs have been. Milkman recognizes that he's not "entitled" to anything in life--he must accept his problems and pains. Furthermore, he realizes that he does, in fact, deserve some of the hardship he's experienced: he certainly deserves some pain for mistreating Hagar, for example.

Milkman's epiphany has an unmistakably religious flavor--his thought process is similar to that of Job at the end of the Biblical book of Job. Like Job, Milkman realizes that he doesn't automatically deserve anything in life--everything good in his life has been given to him by someone else, while his sins and misdeeds are partly his own, not just the products of a corrupt world.

Part 2, Chapter 12 Quotes

Guitar looked at the cookie again, then back into Milkman’s eyes. Nothing changed in his face. Milkman knew it sounded lame. It was the truth, but it sounded like a lie. A weak lie too. He also knew that in all his life, Guitar had never seen Milkman give anybody a hand, especially a stranger; he also knew that they’d even discussed it, starting with Milkman’s not coming to his mother’s rescue in a dream he had. Guitar had accused him of selfishness and indifference; told him he wasn’t serious, and didn’t have any fellow feeling—none whatsoever. Now he was standing there saying that he willingly, spontaneously, had helped an old white man lift a huge, heavy crate. But it was true. It was true. And he’d prove it.

Related Characters: Milkman , Guitar Bains
Related Symbols: Gold
Page Number: 296
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Milkman confronts Guitar, now his sworn enemy. Guitar believes that Milkman has run off with the gold which the two of them tried to steal from Pilate (in reality, there is no gold). Guitar, who wants the gold to fund his secret society, wants to kill Milkman for his betrayal. He confirms his belief that Milkman is a thief when he sees Milkman at the train station, helping an old white man lift a crate into the train. Although Milkman was only helping the man, he knows that from Guitar's perspective, it looks like he's taking Pilate's gold out of the city.

The irony of the scene is that Milkman has become a good man--but too late. Milkman really was trying to help the old man, but because he's spent most of his life refusing to help anyone, he knows full-well that Guitar will never believe the truth. The passage conveys how greatly Milkman has changed in only a few days. The encounters with Circe, and the general spirit of traveling the country in search of his past have taught Milkman to be a stronger, kinder man--the very antithesis of his former self. Milkman's transformation is nothing short of miraculous--and so of course, Guitar (blinded by his hatred) doesn't believe it.

Part 2, Chapter 13 Quotes

“Look at how I look. I look awful. No wonder he didn’t want me. I look terrible.” Her voice was calm and reasonable, as though the last few days hadn’t been lived through at all. “I need to get up from here and fix myself up. No wonder!” Hagar threw back the bedcover and stood up. “Ohhh. I smell too. Mama, heat me some water. I need a bath. A long one. We got any bath salts left? Oh, Lord, my head. Look at that.” She peered into the compact mirror again. “I look like a ground hog. Where’s the comb?”

Related Characters: Hagar (speaker), Milkman
Page Number: 308-309
Explanation and Analysis:

Hagar--still in love with Milkman, and still furious with Milkman for abandoning her--tries to make herself prettier. She's convinced herself that the reason Milkman left her behind is that she's ugly; therefore, the only solution to her problem is to become more beautiful.

Hagar seems calm and controlled; paradoxically, though, her calmness makes her seem more frightening. Instead of lashing out at Milkman, she's begun to blame herself for her own pain and hardship--a poisonous mindset indeed. Milkman's indifference to Hagar's happiness has left her miserable and self-hating. The tragedy is that Milkman has become a better man as a result of his travels through the country--but too late to save Hagar from her fate.

Part 2, Chapter 15 Quotes

“Yeah. That tribe. That flyin motherfuckin tribe. Oh, man! He didn’t need no airplane. He just took off; got fed up. All the way up! No more cotton! No more bales! No more orders! No more shit! He flew, baby. Lifted his beautiful black ass up in the sky and flew on home. Can you dig it? Jesus God, that must have been something to see. And you know what else? He tried to take his baby boy with him. My grandfather. Wow! Woooee! Guitar! You hear that? Guitar, my great-granddaddy could flyyyyyy and the whole damn town is named after him. Tell him, Sweet. Tell him my great- granddaddy could fly.”

Related Characters: Milkman (speaker), Guitar Bains, Solomon
Related Symbols: Flight
Page Number: 328
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Milkman embraces the knowledge he's just learned. His distant ancestor, Jake, was the son of a man named Solomon--a man who's so famous in some parts of country that his name can be found everywhere. Solomon, according to legend, was a slave who, dissatisfied with slavery, decided to fly back to Africa--and did. Solomon tried to take his favorite child, Jake, back to Africa with him, but failed. Now, Milkman realizes, he is the descendant of Jake--and therefore the inheritor of a rich, magical family legacy.

Milkman's joy in this scene stems from the fact that he's finally found a history for himself. After years of being tormented by the knowledge that his grandfather was a pathetic, abused slave, and his other grandfather might have been guilty of incest, Milkman is overjoyed to finally have a family history to be proud of. The fact that this family history is bizarre and possibly imaginary is never addressed. In other words, it's never clear if Solomon's ability to fly is accepted as a fact according to the rules of the novel (i.e., Solomon's flight is an example of magical realism) or if Milkman is so desperate to find something to believe in that he chooses to believe in a myth. Ultimately, though, the reality of Milkman's family history matters less than the effect it has on him. Milkman has finally found a family for himself--one to be embraced, not despised.

He closed his eyes and thought of the black men in Shalimar, Roanoke, Petersburg, Newport News, Danville, in the Blood Bank, on Darling Street, in the pool halls, the barbershops. Their names. Names they got from yearnings, gestures, flaws, events, mistakes, weaknesses. Names that bore witness.

Related Characters: Milkman
Page Number: 330
Explanation and Analysis:

After "discovering" (in reality, more like, "choosing to believe") that his ancestor Solomon flew back to Africa, Milkman is in a state of bliss. He rides the bus all the way back to his hometown, no longer the least bit concerned with tracking down the gold that motivated his quest in the first place. As he rides the bus, Milkman stares out the window and sees a universe of names, each with its own special story and history.

Milkman has found something more valuable than gold: the power of language. For most of the novel, Milkman has tried to come to terms with his conflicted family legacy, a legacy full of betrayal, incest, and slavery. As we reach the end of the novel, Milkman seems to realize the truth: he's been struggling to find the right words all along. Finally confident in the strength of his family "name," Milkman can see, very clearly, that the struggle for power itself is a struggle for the right to name. Milkman's realization takes us back to the first lines of the novel, in which Morrison showed us how a seemingly trivial dispute over the proper name for "Mains Avenue" reflected the struggle for power between black and white people in the community.

Milkman stopped waving and narrowed his eyes. He could just make out Guitar’s head and shoulders in the dark. “You want my life?” Milkman was not shouting now. “You need it? Here.” Without wiping away the tears, taking a deep breath, or even bending his knees—he leaped. As fleet and bright as a lodestar he wheeled toward Guitar and it did not matter which one of them would give up his ghost in the killing arms of his brother. For now he knew what Shalimar knew: If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it.

Related Characters: Milkman (speaker), Guitar Bains, Solomon
Related Symbols: Flight
Page Number: 337
Explanation and Analysis:

At the very end of the novel, Guitar--still furious with Milkman for supposedly stealing the gold for himself--tries to kill Milkman, accidentally murdering Pilate in the process. Here, Milkman asks Guitar if Guitar wants Milkman's life, and then runs toward him. It's left to us to decide what will happen next: will Guitar kill Milkman; will they embrace and forgive one another, will Milkman "fly away," etc.

Although Morrison ends the novel on a note of ambiguity, a few things are clear. In the second half of the novel, Milkman has become a better man: more selfless, forgiving, and loving. Here, he seems to be forgiving Guitar for his horrendous crime; indeed, Milkman seems to be surrendering all his anger and desire for revenge, preaching forgiveness and mercy to an extent that Guitar seems incapable of matching.

The key word of this final passage is "surrender." Guitar has lived his life based on the belief that surrender is always a sign of weakness: for example, the black community has largely "surrendered" to the white community's authority. In contrast to Guitar's desire for revenge and aggression, Milkman has surrendered completely: he's given up any desire for bloodshed, material wealth, or power. And yet Milkman is anything but weak; on the contrary, his humility and spirituality give him power (here, for example, he's brave and eerily calm, not even shouting at Guitar anymore).

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Milkman Character Timeline in Song of Solomon

The timeline below shows where the character Milkman appears in Song of Solomon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Ruth’s son grows up with his older sisters. Ruth is married to an angry, imposing man, Macon... (full context)
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Based on what he sees, Freddie calls Ruth’s son a “milkman,” and spreads the story of how Ruth nursed him around the Southside of... (full context)
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Macon Dead spent fifteen years wanting a son; then when he had one — Milkman — he was still bitter. As a younger... (full context)
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
...relatives the same names they were given: Macon Dead, Lena Dead, First Corinthians Dead. Macon’s son’s name is Macon, too, but now everyone knows him as Milkman Dead. Macon’s sister, named... (full context)
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Mercy and Forgiveness Theme Icon
When Macon Dead’s son was born, Pilate was extremely interested in the child. She acted like an in-law, helping... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
...seat of their parents’ car, enjoying the ride as if they’re princesses in a chariot. Milkman sits up front, between Macon and Ruth. He isn’t allowed to sit in his mother’s... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
...have the money to live in the area in the next five or ten years. Milkman asks to use the bathroom, and Lena, annoyed, takes him out of the car. Corinthians... (full context)
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Milkman goes to school. When he is twelve years old, the narrator explains, he meets a... (full context)
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
...sister, and Pilate tells him that she is one of only three Dead’s left alive. Milkman, who has been silent since saying “Hi,” suddenly exclaims that he has sisters — in... (full context)
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
As Pilate and Milkman talk, a girl comes into the house, back first, dragging a basket of brambles. Milkman... (full context)
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Milkman enjoys spending time with Reba, Pilate, and Hagar, in part because he’s visiting his aunt... (full context)
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Milkman asks Macon if his father treated him like a baby when he was twelve, and... (full context)
The Power of Names Theme Icon
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Milkman notices that Macon seems more relaxed and easy-going than usual. He asks how Macon’s father... (full context)
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Milkman asks what Macon’s father’s real name was, and Macon replies by reminiscing about his father,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Milkman’s life gets better after he begins working for his father. He runs errands to the... (full context)
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Mercy and Forgiveness Theme Icon
One day — one of the few days when Milkman has opportunities to see Guitar anymore — Milkman and Guitar go to a pool hall,... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Guitar mentions that he doesn’t like to eat sweet foods, and Milkman is amazed. Guitar can’t explain why he doesn’t like them, except that they make him... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
At the age of fourteen, Milkman notices that his left foot is slightly shorter than the other. This makes him seem... (full context)
Racism Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Macon enjoys teaching his son his business, since it means that his son belongs to him and not to Ruth.... (full context)
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The last time that Macon hits Ruth occurs when Milkman is 22 years old — and Milkman hits Macon back. Milkman is a mature young... (full context)
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
...a former patient of Ruth’s father’s and was always grateful to him for keeping her son out of the tuberculosis sanatorium, where he surely would have died. At the wedding, Ruth... (full context)
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...her father’s daughter. Ruth smiles and agrees. In response Macon hits her in the jaw. Milkman then grabs Macon, pushes him into the radiator, and threatens to kill him if he... (full context)
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
...and surprised that another man is dominating him, but is also a little proud of Milkman. Milkman is angry with Macon, but is also saddened to have so easily defeated a... (full context)
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Milkman has been sleeping with Hagar, and thinks that it has made him kind and generous.... (full context)
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Macon enters Milkman’s room and tells him to sit down, which Milkman does. Macon explains that he married... (full context)
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...so concerned about their skin color unless Macon were the father. Macon concludes by telling Milkman that he isn’t a bad man, but that he couldn’t stand Ruth smirking about being... (full context)
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Milkman doesn’t know what to think. He tries to convince himself that he defended Ruth because... (full context)
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As Milkman walks down Not Doctor Street, he realizes that no one else is on the other... (full context)
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Milkman finds Guitar in Tommy’s Barbershop. Everyone in the shop is listening to a radio report... (full context)
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Milkman and Guitar walk to a nearby bar, Mary’s, where Milkman asks Guitar where his name... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
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It is Christmas, and Milkman is consumed with boredom. His mother is obsessing over Christmas decorations, even though they’re exactly... (full context)
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As Milkman shops, he remembers his relationship with Hagar. They first met when he was 12 and... (full context)
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Afterwards, Milkman talks with Hagar about Pilate’s impressive display of toughness, and tells her that he’s waiting... (full context)
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Milkman and Hagar then began semi-secret relationship. They go through periods when they don’t see each... (full context)
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Milkman sits at his father’s desk and thinks about a white teenager who was recently killed... (full context)
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...Tommy and Hospital Tommy. Hospital Tommy remembers killing people in “the war.” Beneath the jokes, Milkman realizes, the black men in the barbershop are worried for their safety, since they know... (full context)
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As the Tommys are closing up their shop, Milkman asks them about their mention of saddle shoes. Guitar, who is still standing in the... (full context)
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Almost involuntarily, Milkman begins to describe “a dream” he’d had about his mother, in which he watched her... (full context)
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Milkman thinks that Guitar no longer enjoys music or drinking; the only things he likes anymore... (full context)
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Milkman then notices Freddie, who is looking for a warm spot in the middle of his... (full context)
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Milkman laughs, and Freddie is surprised that Milkman doesn’t believe him. He then advises Milkman to... (full context)
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Freddie remembers the insurance man who jumped off the roof, and remembers Milkman as a baby, without explaining what has reminded him of either thing. He gives Milkman... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5
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Six months have passed since Milkman argued with Guitar. Milkman lies in Guitar’s bed, thinking about being stabbed by an icepick.... (full context)
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As Milkman and Guitar talk, it becomes clear that Guitar has traveled through the North. Guitar muses... (full context)
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Milkman asks Guitar if he can have Guitar’s room for the night. Guitar doesn’t believe that... (full context)
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Milkman thinks about the time he hit his father years ago. He hasn’t done anything truly... (full context)
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Milkman confronts Ruth and asks her if she’s here to “spend the night” with her father.... (full context)
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Milkman sits in Guitar’s room, thinking about his mother. He hears footsteps, and knows that Hagar... (full context)
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Milkman listens as Hagar enters the house, and thinks that either she or he will die.... (full context)
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...to talk with her. She hopes to learn that Freddie was wrong, that Hagar and Milkman aren’t having an affair. At Pilate’s house, she finds Hagar herself, and tells her that... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6
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Milkman is talking to Guitar about the latest of his many encounters with Hagar, who is... (full context)
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Milkman tries to name “good whites,” but his examples — John F. Kennedy, Albert Schweitzer, Eleanor... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
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Milkman waits for the day when he’ll inherit his father’s business, and have the money to... (full context)
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Milkman meets Macon for lunch, where Macon tells him about his teenage years with Pilate. After... (full context)
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...cave, Pilate and the gold are gone. Pilate took the gold, Macon concludes. He begs Milkman to get the gold. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
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...blown up in a church. To avenge this atrocity, he will need explosives or guns. Milkman approaches him with a plan to steal gold, so Guitar eagerly agrees to help him,... (full context)
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Guitar and Milkman try to think of a way to get Reba, Pilate, and Hagar out of the... (full context)
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Guitar wants to run into the house and steal the gold, while Milkman wants to get the three women out of the house first. But because neither one... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
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Porter drives Corinthians back to her house, where she walks in to hear Milkman arguing with Macon. Macon is angry that Milkman has included Guitar in their scheme to... (full context)
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Milkman contemplates his time in jail. Pilate had been called down to the police station, where... (full context)
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Milkman goes home and thinks about the shame he felt in front of Pilate, mostly the... (full context)
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Soon after, Lena takes Milkman and brings him along to a place where she shows him a tree. Years ago,... (full context)
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Furious, Lena tells Milkman that for years, Macon has been treating his daughters like jewels to be shown off,... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 10
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Milkman is struggling through a thick forest, thinking of the gold he will shortly obtain. The... (full context)
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Milkman thinks about his journey to Danville. He flew in a plane, which dazzled him, though... (full context)
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Milkman flies into Pittsburgh and from there takes the bus to Danville, where he realizes how... (full context)
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Over dinner and whiskey, Reverend Cooper tells Milkman about the Dead family’s history. The Butlers, a wealthy white family for whom Circe worked... (full context)
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While Milkman waits the four days for the trip, he meets other men who remember Macon Dead... (full context)
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Cooper and Nephew accompany Milkman to the farm, where Milkman wanders through the forest. He imagines himself as his father... (full context)
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Upstairs in the Butler house, Milkman is surprised to find a pack of well-groomed dogs and an old, crazy-looking woman. Milkman... (full context)
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...black and Native American descent and bragged that she was never a slave. Circe asks Milkman if Pilate ever married Reba’s father; Milkman says no. She remembers Pilate’s shame at her... (full context)
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Milkman thinks to himself that Circe, a woman who has spent her entire life selflessly caring... (full context)
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Milkman leaves the Butler house and heads for Hunters Cave, noting that he has plenty of... (full context)
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Dejected at having failed to find the gold and annoyed with Reverend Cooper’s friends, Milkman boards a Greyhound bus to Virginia. He remembers that Pilate told him she’d returned to... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11
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In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Milkman, who is used to seeing women carrying purses, is struck by the lack of possessions... (full context)
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As Milkman walks outside the General Store thinking of Guitar, he sees children playing and chanting a... (full context)
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Milkman walks back into the General Store, and makes the mistake of complimenting the women of... (full context)
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An old man named Omar asks Milkman to go hunting with them; Milkman lies and says that he’s a good shot. Omar... (full context)
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During the hunt, Calvin is cheerful, and assures Milkman that they’re in no danger from bears or other animals, since they’re armed. As the... (full context)
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Milkman walks through the forest thinking of women, especially Hagar. As he walks, he hears a... (full context)
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The other hunters run toward Milkman; they find him alone on the ground. Milkman claims that he tripped and his gun... (full context)
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Milkman asks the hunters if they knew Pilate, Sing, or Macon’s father. Vernell, remembers Sing as... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
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The day after Guitar tries to kill him, Milkman travels to Susan Byrd’s home. He thinks that Guitar won’t try to kill him in... (full context)
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Milkman arrives at Susan Byrd’s house and introduces himself as Macon. Susan appears to be around... (full context)
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As he leaves Byrd’s home, Milkman thinks that he feels the same pleasure in Shalimar that he felt at Pilate’s house.... (full context)
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As he walks away from the house, thinking about his family, Milkman runs into Guitar, who is casually trimming his nails, and seems to have been waiting... (full context)
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Milkman returns to Sweet’s home, where he spends the night with her. He dreams about flying,... (full context)
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It occurs to Milkman that everything in the town of Shalimar is named after Solomon: Solomon’s General Store, Solomon’s... (full context)
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Quickly, Milkman interprets the rest of the children’s song, realizing that they’re singing about his own family.... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 13
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...after the events of the previous chapter. Hagar has given up her attempts to kill Milkman. Guitar, who has returned from Virginia, finds Hagar waiting at his home. He tells her... (full context)
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...great sympathy, cooking food for her and tending to her every need. Hagar says that Milkman lost interest in her because she looks ugly, and asks Pilate for money to buy... (full context)
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...develops a fever. As Pilate and Reba take care of her, she asks them why Milkman doesn’t like her hair, and notes that he only likes silky hair and light-colored skin.... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 14
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Milkman returns to Susan Byrd’s house, noting that it looks different than it did the last... (full context)
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Milkman asks Susan about Jake, and Susan tells him that Jake married Sing, and may have... (full context)
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Milkman asks Susan about Heddy; he learns that Heddy was Susan’s grandmother, an Indian woman, who... (full context)
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Milkman asks Susan about the “flying African children,” and she mentions the folktale of the slaves... (full context)
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Milkman pieces together Susan’s information and his own. Jake and Sing must have traveled to Boston... (full context)
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Milkman asks if Jake was a slave; Susan reminds him that no one in her own... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 15
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Though Milkman’s car has been repaired, it gives out once again while he is driving through a... (full context)
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Milkman thinks of his behavior after he left Susan Byrd’s house. He returned to Sweet’s home... (full context)
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Milkman tells Sweet that his great grandfather, Solomon, could fly. He can’t wait to tell everyone... (full context)
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As Milkman rides the bus back to Michigan, he sees signs along the road. Each sign is... (full context)
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Milkman tries to convince himself that when he returns to Michigan, he’ll be able to convince... (full context)
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As Milkman arrives back in Michigan, he thinks that everyone in his life would seem to prefer... (full context)
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Milkman wakes up in Pilate’s cellar and tries to figure out why Pilate hit him. At... (full context)
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Milkman remembers the words Pilate claims her own father told her: “You just can’t fly off... (full context)
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Pilate hears Milkman’s voice and comes down to the cellar. Milkman tells her what he’s come to realize:... (full context)
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Milkman drives Pilate to Virginia, since she refuses to ride in a plane. Before he does... (full context)
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Once Milkman arrives with Pilate back in Shalimar, everyone is happy to see him again, and Pilate... (full context)
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As Milkman holds the dying Pilate, she begs him to watch Reba, and says that she wishes... (full context)
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Milkman understands that Guitar is the one who shot Pilate, and was in fact trying to... (full context)
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Milkman, weeping, runs toward Guitar, asking, “You want my life? You need it? Here.” He jumps... (full context)