Song of Solomon

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:

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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:

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“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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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“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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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)
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Milkman goes to school. When he is twelve years old, the narrator explains, he meets a... (full context)
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...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)
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As Pilate and Milkman talk, a girl comes into the house, back first, dragging a basket of brambles. Milkman... (full context)
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Milkman enjoys spending time with Reba, Pilate, and Hagar, in part because he’s visiting his aunt... (full context)
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Milkman asks Macon if his father treated him like a baby when he was twelve, and... (full context)
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Milkman notices that Macon seems more relaxed and easy-going than usual. He asks how Macon’s father... (full context)
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Milkman asks what Macon’s father’s real name was, and Macon replies by reminiscing about his father,... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
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Milkman’s life gets better after he begins working for his father. He runs errands to the... (full context)
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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)
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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)
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At the age of fourteen, Milkman notices that his left foot is slightly shorter than the other. This makes him seem... (full context)
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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)
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...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)
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...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)