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Free Study Guide for Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

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SONG OF SOLOMON: FREE LITERARY CRITICISM / LESSON PLANS

CHAPTER 4

Summary

Milkman does his Christmas shopping as he always does, the day before Christmas eve at the Rexall drugstore. It takes him fifteen minutes to get the gifts for his family and then he tries to find something for Hagar. As he shops, he thinks of how bored he is with his life. He decides he wants to break up with Hagar and that a gift would be insulting to her. He decides to give her money instead. Heís been with Hagar now for more than twelve years. Sheís become something like the third beer, so expected and so unlonged for as to be bland and tasteless.

When he first saw her when he was twelve and she was seventeen, he was in love with her. He remained in the world of puppy love until Guitar took him to his first Southside party and he found out he was attractive with girls of his own age and his own neighborhood. Milkman became the sought after member of the group who could be depended upon to supply the alcohol.

He remembers one time when he came to Pilateís house. Reba was in an argument with one of her lovers. The man had asked her for money and she had told him she had none. He didnít know her, so he didnít believe her. He began to yell at her and punched her. Hagar was in the house watching from the window. She told Pilate, who got up immediately, picked up a knife and went outside. She grabbed the man from behind and stuck the knife through his shirt and into his skin outside his heart. He began to bleed and she told him to be very still so she wouldnít slip while she talked to him about something. A crowd gathered to watch. Pilate told the man Reba was her only daughter and it made her extraordinarily angry when someone didnít like her. She said she wouldnít want to kill him because she figured he had a mother who felt about him how she felt about Reba. After talking to him, she asks him for a suggestion. He asked her to let him go and promised never to come back. When she let him go, he ran.

Reba was hurt and wanted to go to the hospital. She had Hollywood visions of hospitals as nice hotels and so insisted on being taken. When she and Pilate were gone, Hagar and Milkman were left alone. He exclaimed over Pilateís strength and her remark that women were weak. Hagar told him women were weak, not physically but in other ways. She said she wasnít weak yet because sheíd never found anyone to love enough to marry. They jokingly argue for a while longer and then Hagar gets up and leaves the room. In a moment she calls Milkman. In his rush to get to her room, he knocks his head on the sack hanging from the ceiling. Hagar says itís what Pilate calls her inheritance.

When he gets to Hagarís room, sheís unbuttoning her shirt and smiling at him as if she has won a bet. She tells him she will do this in the meantime until she finds the man she loves enough to marry. They had fun sex for three years after that, Hagar always acting as the one in control, sometimes wanting to be with him and sometimes not. Then her refusals began to dwindle until she began to wait for him to come to her and she began to pout about his lack of attention. She became aware of her age, thirty six, and she placed "duty squarely in the middle of their relationship." He lost interest.


Milkman goes back to the office and writes Hagar a good-bye note which ends with a "thank you" for all she had done for him. The word of thanks "sent Hagar spinning into a bright blue place where the air was thin and it was silent all the time, and where people spoke in whispers or did not make sounds at all." Occasionally, she bursts into fire and she runs out into the streets looking for Milkman.

Milkman sits at the office for a long time after writing the note to Hagar. He thinks about a conversation he had with Guitar recently about the police dragnet in search of the murderer of a sixteen year old boy. He had been killed in the same way other people had been killed, one in 1953 and four in 1955. They had been strangled and their faces had been bashed in. In the poolrooms and in the Tommysí Barbershop, people joked that it was Ruth Judd, a white woman who had in 1932 axed and dismembered her victims. Most people thought grisly crimes like these were particularly white crimes. African Americans committed crimes in moments of passion, they thought, never in the cold-blooded way murderers like Ruth Judd killed.

Even as they stood around joking, Milkman noticed an undercurrent of fear. These men knew that they were subject at any moment to being seized by the police and brutalized until or if they could prove themselves innocent. There had been reports that a "bushy haired Negro" had been seen running from the scene of the murder. For some time, Milkman had been hearing hints that these murders had been witnessed or committed by an African American. They were standing around the barbershop and Tommy called out that it was now closed.

Milkman and Guitar leave together and Milkman tries to talk to Guitar about his suspicions that the crime was committed by a Black man. He remembered one of the Tommyís mentioning that the victim was wearing saddle shoes and he doesnít know how Tommy could have this information. Guitar wants to know why heís snooping. Then he tells Milkman they are very different people and that they arenít going to agree on most topics because Milkman has been privileged all his life and canít imagine what oppression feels like. He tells Milkman he doesnít really live his life anywhere, not on Not Doctor Street and not on Southside. Guitar asks Milkman what he would do if he suddenly found himself in Mongomery, Alabama. Milkman answers quickly, "Buy a plane ticket." Guitar rests his case. He tells Milkman heís not a serious person. Milkman thinks serious is just another word for miserable.

Milkman tells Guitar about a dream he has had recently about his mother. He is standing at the kitchen sink and sees his mother outside planting bulbs in the back yard. Suddenly he sees that shoots are already growing from the bulbs sheís just planted. She doesnít notice them at first and keeps planting. Then they touch her and she hits back at them as if in play. Suddenly the plants are shoulder level and his mother is being swallowed up by them. She merely smiles as if they were harmless as butterflies. Milkman knows the plants are dangerous and that they would soon suck the air from around her, but she doesnít seem to notice this danger. Finally she is covered in a mound of tulips. Guitar wants to know why he didnít go outside and help his mother. Milkman is exasperated by this question, telling Guitar heís tired of being judged, even for his inappropriate actions in his dreams. Guitar says it seems like everyoneís going in the wrong direction except Milkman. Milkman says heís going wherever the party is. Guitar smiles and turns and walks into the crowd.

Milkman closes the account books in his fatherís shop and tries to think of whatís happening to Guitar. Guitar has lost all interest in anything but politics and music. Milkman wonders if his life is indeed pointless as Guitar has said it is. He wonders if he should get married. He canít think of anyone to marry. Heís dating a red-haired woman of his own class, but canít imagine marrying her. Heís not interested in his fatherís business despite the fact that heís good at it. Money has always come easily to him, so heís not interested in making more of it.

Milkman hears Freddy tapping on the window. Freddy works as a security guard and messenger for several stores. He wants to come in and have coffee. As they sit over their coffees, Freddy asks Milkman how Guitar is. Freddy tells him heís from Jacksonville, Florida, a town mean enough that it doesnít even have an orphanage for black children. They have to grow up in the jail. Freddy grew up like that. He tells Milkman he had people but none would take him because his mother died when she saw a ghost. He says before his mother gave birth to him, she was walking down the road and saw a woman coming toward her. She called out to the woman and the woman turned into a white bull. She went into labor just at that moment and when they showed her Freddy she screamed, saying she saw the white bull again, and died.

Milkman starts laughing uncontrollably. Freddy is more surprised than hurt that Milkman doesnít believe his story. He says strange things are going on in their own town at the moment. He tells Milkman to ask Guitar about it. He says Guitar has been hiding Empire State out because some people say he is wanted for the murder. Milkman dismisses the idea, saying Guitar always hides people out from the police because he hates white people. Freddy insists that this is different. He asks Milkman to remember Emmet Till who was killed in 1953; he says that was right afterwards a white boy was killed in a schoolyard. He also reminds Milkman of the insurance man who jumped off the roof of Mercy hospital. As he leaves the office, he tells Milkman to ask Corinthians about whatís being going on.

Notes

The sack hanging from the ceiling of Pilateís house is another cue to the past which is only mentioned as of yet. Morrison often creates suspense in this way. She provides details which, as yet, are not meaningful to the reader, but create curiosity. In this way, Morrison recreates the everyday way in which mystery is lived. People live with the unexplained all their lives and one day decide to ask about it or they find out about it by mistake.

The other mystery being unfolded in this chapter has to do with the murders people have been talking about. Freddy links murders of Black people with murders of white people that follow closely in time. Before Freddy makes this link, Milkman has been thinking about the recent police interest in several murders committed in similar ways, strangulation followed by disfigurement. Freddy gives Milkman two leads: his friend Guitar and his sister Corinthians.


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