Song of Solomon


Toni Morrison

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Song of Solomon: Part 1, Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Milkman is talking to Guitar about the latest of his many encounters with Hagar, who is still trying, clumsily, to kill him. Suddenly, he changes the subject and asks why Guitar was spending time with Empire State last Christmas. Guitar is reluctant to explain himself, but Milkman reminds him that they’re close friends, who tell each other everything. Guitar gives in and explains to Milkman that he has been “keeping the numbers even” — avenging dead blacks by killing whites, many of whom have nothing to do with the original crime. Milkman asks how Guitar could kill innocent people, but Guitar responds that all whites are capable of killing blacks, whether they’ve actually done so or not.
In this short chapter, we come to understand what Guitar has been up to. The form of “justice” he practices resembles the Code of Hammurabi — an eye for an eye — except that he kills innocent people, reasoning that no white person is truly innocent. In response to white racism, Guitar practices his own form of racism, treating all white people as villains who must be punished for their actions. In a sense, Guitar is turning white racism of blacks back around toward whites. The racism itself is an eye-for-an-eye.
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Related Quotes
Milkman tries to name “good whites,” but his examples — John F. Kennedy, Albert Schweitzer, Eleanor and Franklin Roosevelt — Guitar dismisses. Guitar concludes that he may be arrested for his crimes, but he doesn’t care — he’s already accomplished plenty with his life. Milkman asks Guitar why he doesn’t follow the example of the Jews, trying his persecutors in court; Guitar replies that the Jews have money and power, while blacks are forced to take the law into their own hands. Milkman compares Guitar to Malcolm X and says that he’s afraid for Guitar. Guitar replies that he’s scared for Milkman, too.
Instead of focusing on the differences between whites and blacks, Milkman tries to find commonalities, naming white people who wouldn’t hurt blacks. But there’s a joking quality to his list, as if he doesn’t really take the challenge of naming a good white man seriously (he doesn’t really care about politics, anyway). It’s significant that Guitar rejects FDR, who Milkman had previously regarded as a hero. Guitar also echoes white anti-Semitism by implying that Jews are rich and powerful. Milkman’s comparison between Guitar and Malcolm X reminds us that decades and decades have passed since the novel began, and that the relationship between white and black communities is at its most volatile.
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