Free Study Guide for Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison|
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SONG OF SOLOMON: FREE BOOK NOTES / BOOK REVIEW
Pilate interrupts her story by exclaiming at the arrival of her daughter Reba and her granddaughter Hagar. They are pulling in a big bundle of blackberry brambles into the kitchen. As Hagar enters the kitchen backward, Milkman falls in love with her, before she even turns around and faces him. Pilate introduces him as Hagarís brother. Reba corrects her and calls him Hagarís cousin and hence ensues an argument over the necessity of the distinction between "brother" and "cousin" when one acts the same way toward both. Hagar asks Milkman to help her bring in the other two brambles. He is astonished at her muscular beauty.
Pilate asks Guitar where he got his name. He says when he was a child, he had wanted a guitar that was the prize of a storeís contest. To win it, one had to guess at the number of beans in a glass jar. Pilate says Reba would have been able to win it for him. They tell the boys of Rebaís remarkable gift at winning all kinds of contests. People come from all over to get Reba to buy lottery tickets for them or stand in lines. The best prize was the Sears and Roebuck prize of a diamond ring for being the five hundred thousandth customer. Reba had walked in the door to use the toilet. The store didnít want its prize-wining customer to be an African-American woman who also looked unkempt, so they gave her the diamond ring and then put the second place winnerís picture in the paper. He was white. As Milkman sits and listens to everyone talk, he realizes that heís happy for the first time in his life. Guitar wants to drink the wine they make. They find out Pilate doesnít drink any of it.
The women discuss their dwindling profits from the wine sales. Hagar says if Reba hadnít won the hundred pounds of groceries last winter they would have starved. Both of the older women are shocked that Hagar feels so unsure of their ability to feed her. She says she has had some hungry days and they freeze. Milkman notices that when Pilate stops moving her mouth, her face turns into a mask, "as if someone had clicked off a light." Then Pilate tells Reba that Hagar isnít talking about starving from a lack of food. She begins to sing the song "O Sugarman donít leave me here / Cotton balls to choke me / O Sugarman donít leave me here / Buckraís arms to yoke me." Then Reba and Hagar join in to the chorus "Sugarman done fly away." Milkman is astonished by Hagarís voice which "scooped up what little pieces of heart he had left to call his own." Guitar smiles in recognition.
When Milkman gets home, Freddie the janitor has already told Macon that he has been at Pilateís house drinking. Milkman assures his father that he didnít drink but Macon isnít satisfied. He says Pilate is a snake and that Milkman should not trust her because she will hurt him. Milkman reminds his father that he used to carry Pilate out to the fields with him where he would work. This memory makes Macon begin a long and loving description of the farm his father built called Lincolnís Heaven. He begins by saying "I worked right alongside my father." He says his mother died when Pilate was born and that Pilate stayed on another farm in the daytime.
His fatherís work horse was named President Lincoln. They had one hundred and fifty acres, eighty of which was woods. Macon wonders if thatís why the men wanted his fatherís land. He describes the lay of the farm in great detail. He remembers telling Ruth about the farm when they were first married. He also used to tell about it when he was first starting out his business to other men in the barber shop. Now he doesnít have the time. He tells Milkman President Lincoln had a foal named Mary Todd. Then they also had a cow named Ulysses S. Grant and hog named General Lee. When he went to school later he already had a personality to go with the names of these historical figures. He tells of a woman named Circe who worked at a big farm in Danville, Pennsylvania. The white people she worked for had a dog run. Macon marvels at the love white people would invest in their dogs. They could see an African American killed and "comb their hair at the same time," but they cried when their dogs died.
Milkman notices his fatherís voice has taken on a softer accent. Macon
says it took his father sixteen years to get his farm to the state that
it would pay and then they shot him. He doesnít know who it was who shot
his father, but he knows his fatherís illiteracy played a part in it.
He says every bad thing that happened to his father happened because he
couldnít read. Even his name came from that inability. When freedom came,
the Freedmanís Bureau came around to register all people of African descent.
His father was registered by a drunken man who mistakenly put his county,
Macon, in the space where his name went. The "Dead" came from
the question, "Whoís your father." His father never changed
his name because when he met Maconís mother, she liked the name because
it was new and would wipe away the past. Macon remembers his mother looked
almost white, but his father looked like an African, just as Pilate does
today. He says his father could close his face up like a door and Milkman
remembers seeing Pilate do the same. Macon stops the story and reiterates
the warning that Milkman stay away from Pilate. He tells him to start
coming to the office and working two hours every day.
The story of Pilate and Maconís past begins to unfold here. Itís a story that centers on the loss of property for Macon and one that centers on love and solidarity for Pilate. Pilate tells the story of her time with Macon after their father was killed. It was a time which confirmed her brotherís love for her. The disparity between this early Macon and the present mean-spirited one creates a sense of curiosity in the reader and suspense in the novel. Maconís memory of those early childhood days are centered around the loss of property. He remembers every part of the farm he and his father worked to build. He relishes every image he recalls.
The property his father owned differs sharply from the property Macon owns. His fatherís farm, Lincolnís Heaven, was lovingly created. Even the farm animals are named with the care of historical re-appropriation, turning presidents and generals into loyal and hard-working friends. Maconís own relation to property is purely exploitative, as evidenced by his behavior in the previous chapter with Mrs. Baines (Guitarís grandmother) and Porter.
This is the second time weíve heard Pilate sing the song about Sugarman.
As the novel proceeds, this song will be a clue to a larger mystery about
Milkmanís origins. For now, it provides a sense of the history behind
these people, the history of slavery. The voice is a womanís voice, and
she sings of the particular oppression of being a woman in slavery where
"Buckraís arms" yoke her against her will, Buckra being the
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. 09 May 2017