We are back in Michigan, some unclear amount of time 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 to sit while he goes to borrow a car so that he can drive her home. As he looks for the car, he thinks about Hagar, driven mad by her unrequited love for Milkman. She’s devoted her entire life to Milkman, meaning that she doesn’t value it very highly — if so, Guitar thinks, why should Milkman value it either? He says aloud that Milkman didn’t lose interest in her because she’s worthless; she’s worthless because Milkman lost interest in her. He doesn’t think that Hagar hears him say this.
Though his friend Milkman comes to respect women more and more, Guitar’s attitude toward women is no better than it ever was — he seems to believe that men have the power to decide whether women have value or not, and thus, that women aren’t inherently valuable at all.
Guitar’s thoughts turn to his own life. Everything he has loved left him, he tells Hagar: his father, his mother, his aunt, his grandmother, and his uncle. It’s difficult for him to love anything because he’s been trained to expect it to disappear. He adds, cryptically, that he only managed to love one woman. Hagar is so distraught that she isn’t listening to anything Guitar says.
The “one woman” who Guitar has managed to love may be Hagar herself, but even here, he’s more interested in criticizing women themselves than in loving one particular woman. As brutal as Guitar’s views are, Morrison doesn’t treat him entirely unsympathetically — he’s been through more tragedy than most people ever experience, and in this sense, might be forgiven for some of his hostility.
Guitar drives Hagar back to Pilate, and Pilate and Reba treat her with 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 new clothing. With the money from the diamond Reba won, and then pawned for a fraction of its real value, Hagar buys a huge number of dresses and other pretty clothes. She then goes to Lilly’s Beauty Parlor, where she insists on getting her hair done immediately. Lilly and Marcelline, the shop’s two owners, are reluctant to take on another customer since it’s so late, but Marcelline eventually gives in and tells her to come back later. Alone, Lilly and Marceline laugh about Hagar’s reputation for trying to kill Milkman, and say that it’s shameful for two cousins to be sexually involved with one another.
Pilate and Reba are selfless here — they give Hagar their time and their attention, not to mention their money. Earlier in the novel Pilate commented on Ruth’s dependence on money (which made her dependent on men). Here Hagar’s devotion to appearance is also connected to an even greater dependence on Milkman. Hagar is not dressing up to feel better about herself; she’s dressing up to make up to try to hide those aspects of herself that she believes have made Milkman fall out of love with her. For all his cynicism, Guitar has a point — Hagar has come to value Milkman’s love so highly that she no longer respects herself.
Hagar walks home carrying heavy bags with her purchases from the day. It begins to rain, and one of her bags splits; she has to carry everything in her arms. When she arrives at Pilate’s house, she runs to her room, where she applies her makeup and puts on new clothes; when she emerges from her room, she realizes that her purchases don’t make her look any better: she’s applied too much makeup, and her dress is torn. She bursts into tears, and cries for so long that she 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. Certain that Milkman will never love her, she dies.
Hagar, like the peacock weighed down by its feathers and Milkman weighed down by his car and suit, finds that material possessions get in the way of happiness instead of leading toward happiness. Part of her sadness is racially based — Hagar clearly thinks that Milkman prefers light-skinned Black women, in other words, Black women who look as white as possible. This reflects Milkman’s desire for prestige and power — in a sense, his desire to become as white as he can.
Shortly thereafter, a funeral is held for her. Much of the neighborhood donates to it, since Hagar has spent all of Pilate and Reba’s money on clothing. At the funeral, Pilate bursts in and shouts that she wants mercy. She walks through the church, asking, half-rhetorically, half-seriously, if anyone has mercy. Eventually, Reba answers her — together they sing a song of mercy. Pilate next sings directly to Hagar the same soft song she sang for her when she was a child. Suddenly, Pilate shouts “And she was loved!” so loudly that a man who has been drinking in the church drops his bottle of wine.
Pilate’s behavior at the funeral demonstrates her love but also her capacity for anger. The song she shouts, “And she was loved,” is both mournful and angry. We’ve seen these two sides of Pilate before — for instance, when she protected Reba from a man’s advances by stabbing him just enough to make him bleed, but not enough to kill him. We might say that Pilate’s anger is a kind of love; it is never a kind of hate.