Song of Solomon

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Song of Solomon Part 2, Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Milkman, who is used to seeing women carrying purses, is struck by the lack of possessions women carry with them: no purses, keys, wallet, etc. He has arrived in this place by trying to track down the town where Pilate lived: it’s called Shalimar, not Charlemagne, as Circe had previously told him. After leaving Pennsylvania, he bought a cheap car and has begun to enjoy his travels. In Shalimar, his car breaks down. While he waits for the car to be fixed, he rests at Solomon’s General Store. As he speaks to the owner of the store, Mr. Solomon, he learns that someone from Michigan drove to Shalimar looking for him; Milkman realizes that Guitar must have come to the store, and thinks that he must be in trouble.
As Milkman goes further along in his quest, he becomes less and less focused on material things. At this point, however, he’s a fish out of water — he can’t believe how un-materialistic other people are (which is, of course, a way of saying that he’s too materialistic). As selfish as Milkman’s behavior has been in the preceding chapters, we get a reminder that he’s loyal to his friends the point of naiveté — he doesn’t suspect any foul play from Guitar whatsoever.
Themes
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Mercy and Forgiveness Theme Icon
As Milkman walks outside the General Store thinking of Guitar, he sees children playing and chanting a nursery rhyme about Solomon. He remembers that he never played so happily when he was a child, and this makes him think of getting in a fight as a boy and being rescued by Guitar. Guitar beat up the four boys who were attacking Milkman, and then lent Milkman his baseball cap so that he could wipe the blood off of himself; when Milkman was finished doing this, Guitar put his cap back on his head.
The memory of Guitar running to Milkman’s defense is supposed to be soothing to Milkman — a reminder that Guitar is always looking out for him, even with the odds against him — but as Morrison conveys it, it’s more properly described as terrifying. One gets the sense that Guitar loves to fight more than he loves Milkman.
Themes
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Milkman walks back into the General Store, and makes the mistake of complimenting the women of the town on their beauty. Mr. Solomon becomes hostile, and tells Milkman that there are no places to stay in town. Milkman also remarks that he might have to buy a new car; this makes the other men regard him as a rich snob. One of the men in the store, Saul, picks a fight with Milkman, and pulls a knife on him; Milkman fights back, but winds up with cuts on his face and hand. Mr. Solomon breaks up the fight, and Saul leaves the store.
One common trait of all the places Milkman travels to is their patriarchal culture — the men are extremely protective and possessive of their women, to the point where even a (fairly innocent-seeming compliment) provokes the townspeople. Milkman also comes to grasp how much of an outsider his wealth makes him — it’s really his comment about the car, not the women, that sets Saul over the edge.
Themes
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
An old man named Omar asks Milkman to go hunting with them; Milkman lies and says that he’s a good shot. Omar tells him to meet them the next morning at a nearby gas station called King Walker’s. Milkman sleeps in his car that night, dreaming that Guitar is looking down on him. The next morning, he goes to meet the other hunters, Calvin Breakstone and Small Boy.
Omar’s behavior around Milkman could be seen as either friendly or sinister, since it comes after Milkman offends a large portion of the town. Similarly, Milkman’s thoughts about Guitar are both soothing and disturbing — it’s as if Milkman’s subconscious knows that Guitar is out to get him even before he’s consciously aware of the fact. Though Milkman continues to stand out because of his wealth, he’s getting less and less fancy the further he goes — tonight, for instance, he sleeps in his car.
Themes
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon
Mercy and Forgiveness Theme Icon
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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 day passes and the light fades, and the hunters use lamps. Milkman thinks to himself that he shouldn’t have participated in the hunt; he doesn’t know what the people he’s hunting with are capable of. Calvin runs after a bobcat, and in the chase, Milkman falls behind, and sits down to rest. He thinks that the people in Shalimar are wrong to despise him because of his wealth. As he thinks this, he realizes that he has a bad habit of claiming not to deserve bad luck or abuse; he’s always assumed he deserves to be loved by everyone around him, even when he’s not lovable at all. He realizes also that all the things he liked about his life back home — his father’s reputation, his money, his car — are useless to him in Shalimar; only instinct and cleverness can help him as he walks through the forest.
Though the hunt is meant to be a fun group activity, for Milkman, it becomes an opportunity to think about his life and his relationship with other people. The hunt is enormously successful in this way — Milkman confronts the fact that he thinks he’s better than everyone around him, and thinks he deserves others’ love even when he’s done absolutely nothing to deserve it. The question, then, is why Milkman arrives at these conclusions so quickly in the middle of the hunt. One answer is that Milkman’s epiphany isn’t sudden at all — he’s been building up to it throughout the trip, stripping away the layers of wealth and entitlement that have kept him from connecting with others and understanding himself throughout his life.
Themes
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Mercy and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Milkman walks through the forest thinking of women, especially Hagar. As he walks, he hears a voice say, “Your Day has come,” and feels a wire slip around his neck. Milkman is quick enough to put his hand between his neck and wire, and he fires his gun into the trees. Guitar, who has been trying to murder Milkman, runs away, startled.
In a sense, Guitar is right — Milkman’s day has cone, in the sense that his perspective on life has changed. That Guitar would try to kill Milkman, his best friend, comes as a shock, but it wasn’t entirely unforeseeable — we already know that Guitar is violent, and we know also that Guitar now is under the influence of needing the gold as Milkman was before.
Themes
Mercy and Forgiveness Theme Icon
The other hunters run toward Milkman; they find him alone on the ground. Milkman claims that he tripped and his gun went off, not mentioning Guitar. The hunters laugh and display the bobcat they’ve caught. They leave the forest and travel to King Walker’s Gas Station, where they meet a man named Vernell. He cuts the bobcat open, slicing off its genitals and offering Milkman the heart. Milkman accepts, thinking about what Guitar told him about how everyone wants the life of a black man. As he contemplates the disgusting sight of the dead bobcat, a peacock flies onto a car.
Milkman’s claim that he slipped and dropped his gun is a lie for which there’s no clear motive — perhaps he’s shocked by what Guitar has tried to do that he can’t begin to put it into words for the other hunters. This episode also recalls the scene at the beginning of the novel when Porter drunkenly fires his gun into the ceiling. The presence of the peacock in this moment takes us back to the peacock’s earlier scene in the novel. Where before the peacock’s ostentatious appearance weighed it down, it’s able to fly here. The message is obvious — Milkman is no longer weighed down with his greed and his entitlement, so that his soul can feel free in a way it couldn’t back in Michigan.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Milkman asks the hunters if they knew Pilate, Sing, or Macon’s father. Vernell, remembers Sing as a light-skinned girl; he reveals that her last name was Byrd, and that she lived in a nearby area. Vernell thinks that Susan Byrd, another member of the family, still lives there, near a rock formation called Solomon’s Leap. At first, Milkman wants to go there immediately, but the other hunters convince him to spend the night resting first. Milkman stays with Sweet, a woman who lives nearby. Sweet feeds Milkman and takes care of his injuries from the past two days. He pays her for sex and says he’ll see her again soon.
Milkman doesn’t linger on Guitar’s betrayal; very quietly, his interest in his family history has eclipsed his interest in anything else, including the gold. It’s unclear if Milkman is any different than he was before in his attitude toward women, though — he seems to treat Sweet fairly well, but at the end of the day, he’s still treating her like a prostitute.
Themes
Racism Theme Icon
Memory and Storytelling Theme Icon