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Free Study Guide for Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

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Milkman lies on Guitarís bed afraid. He knows Hagar is after him and he canít stop imagining when the ice pick will enter his neck. He got to Guitarís apartment five hours earlier. He hasnít been talking much to Guitar, who has begun to lead a rather ascetic existence. He and Guitar have been getting along better in the past six months because Guitar has been helping him avoid Hagar, who, once a month comes after him with some form of weapon.

Guitar gets into a playful political argument with Milkman which Milkman ignores to criticize Guitarís uncouth method of making tea. Milkman doesnít take any of Guitarís insights on the racism of the United States seriously. Milkman asks Guitar if he can stay at his apartment that night. Guitar offers to stay with him, but Milkman says he wants to be alone even though itís likely that Hagar will come for him again. Itís the thirtieth day of the month, the day of every month for the past six that Hagar has come after Milkman. Before Guitar leaves, Milkman asks him what has been going on with him lately. He tells Guitar heís been "making some funny smoke screens lately." Guitar doesnít answer him and jokes with Milkman about asking his guest to clean up after she leaves so he doesnít find Milkmanís severed head messing up the apartment the next day. Guitar leaves. He has a meeting planned with six old men.

Milkman lies quietly feeling his fear and his eagerness for death return. He thinks of a night last week when he returned home from a party in the early morning and saw his mother walking down the street. He followed her and saw her get on a bus. Then he followed the bus until it reached a train station. He got out and found his mother getting onto a train bound for the suburbs. He thought she must be going to meet a lover and wanted to find out what her secret was. She got off the train at its last stop and walked to a cemetery. He realized she was going to visit her fatherís grave. When she was finished, he came out from behind a tree, and asked her if she had come to lie on her fatherís grave. She told him to walk with her to the train station. They got on the train in silence and she began to tell him her story.

Ruth told Milkman her father was not at all a good man, but he was the only person in the world who noticed her or cared what happened to her. She says Macon killed her father and tried to kill Milkman before he was born. She says Macon threw away her fatherís medication. She says Macon tried to kill him when he was still in her womb, but Pilate came around and saved him. She says that when Pilate came, she and Macon hadnít had sex since her father had died. He had stayed around in order to get her fatherís money, but he refused to sleep with her after her fatherís death. She comes to the cemetery to talk to him because heís the only one she feels wants to listen to her.

Pilate noticed as soon as she came into Ruthís life that Ruth was wanting sex. She gave Ruth a potion to make Macon want her. He came to her for three days and when the spell was over and he left her alone again, she was pregnant. Then he tried to make her abort the fetus. Milkman wanted to know if his fatherís story of her being in bed with her father when he was dead was true. She told him that when her father died that afternoon, the only part of his body that hadnít been mutilated by the disease was his hands. She has knelt beside his bed in her slip and kissed his hands. Milkman then told her he remembered that she nursed him when he was too old. She replied that yes, she had done that, but she had also prayed for him every single night and every single day and she asked him, "What harm did I do you on my knees."

Milkman lies in Guitarís bed thinking of that time with his mother as the beginning and now as the end. He can hear Hagar coming up the stairs. Hagar had been coming for him every month since she received the "thank you" for Christmas. It wasnít really that note that drove her crazy; it was seeing Milkman at Maryís bar with a woman from the Honore crowd. This woman had silky copper-colored hair and gray eyes. Now every new moon, Hagar looks for a weapon and come after him. Hagar moves through her life "finding peace nowhere and in nothing." She canít think of anything except "the mouth Milkman was not kissing, the feet that were not running toward him, the eye that no longer beheld him, the hands that were not touching him." She stalks him because any contact with him is better than none.

People watched for these times when Hagar went after him. They werenít at all surprised by the "lengths to which lost love drove men and women." Empire State is one man who could understand. He had come back from the war married to a white woman from France. One day he came home and found her with another Black man and found out she wasnít just in love with him, but with all Black men. From that moment, he never spoke again. Milkman has been saved from death because Hagar is clumsy in her homicidal rages. As soon as sheís stopped, she sinks to the ground crying and then Pilate beats her.

The door is locked and Hagar breaks the glass and opens the latch. Milkman lies on the bed with his arm over his eyes. He refuses to look up. He wills her dead. She raises a butcher knife over her arms and comes down with it on his chest, but it hits his collar bone and glances off, cutting him only slightly. She lifts her arms again and Milkman lies there still for thirty seconds. Then he removes his arm. Hagar is taken aback at the shock of seeing his beauty again. He tells her if she will come down all the way with the knife she will stab her "cunt." He gets up, pats her cheek, and walks away, leaving her staring with "wide, dark, pleading, hollow eyes."

Hagar stood there for a long time before anyone found her. Everyone knew where to look. Even Ruth had heard about it. She had become agitated with the knowledge that after all her trouble in keeping Milkman alive when he was in her womb, someone was trying to kill him again. Macon had tried all kinds of methods to make her abort the fetus. Finally, Ruth had run to Southside to look for Pilate. She had gotten to Pilateís house and Pilate had given her Argoís Cornstarch to eat. It had satisfied a craving in her that she kept the entire time of the pregnancy. Then Pilate had made a girdle for her to wear that was tight around the crotch, which she was to keep wearing until the fourth month. Pilate had put a doll in Maconís desk chair, scaring him so much that he left Ruth alone afterwards. Ruth had given birth to Milkman and had regarded him as something like a beautiful toy to play with. Now she had nothing to hold onto but "tiny irrelevant defiances."

Ruth had gone once again to Pilateís to find out if it was true that Hagar was trying to kill her son. Ruth has a passionate opposition to death. She had kept her father alive long past the time when he wanted to be in life anymore, when his body was rotting. When she gets to Pilateís house, she sees that it still looks like a safe harbor. She sees Hagar on the porch and feels her anger rise. She introduces herself to Hagar, who stiffens at the sound of her name. Hagar has only seen Ruthís silhouette from outside the Dead house when sheís been outside watching for signs of Milkman. Ruth tells her if she hurts Milkman in any way, she will kill her. Hagar tells her she will try not to but she canít make a "for-certain promise." Ruth understands that Hagar is not in control of her actions. Hagar tells Ruth "He is my home in this world" and Ruth replies "And I am his."

At that moment, Pilate comes upon them and tells them Milkman "wouldnít give a pile of swan shit for either" of them. She doesnít blame him for this indifference when they donít have the pride to keep from talking about a man as if he were a house. Hagar makes a motion that seems so out of order that Ruth sees she is truly disturbed. Pilate, on the other hand, has always been eccentric, but has always maintained an amazing equilibrium. Pilate tells Hagar to sit down and not leave the yard, then she tells Ruth to come inside with her.

Inside, they sit across from each other looking as if they have nothing in common, when in fact they do. For one, they both hold "close and supportive posthumous communication with their fathers." Pilate asks Ruth to understand Hagar and tells her she will do all she can to keep Hagar from hurting Milkman. She assures Ruth that no woman will ever kill Milkman. They discuss the idea of living forever. Pilate thinks people choose whether they will die. She tells Ruth about her fatherís ghost coming back to her and Macon after he had been shot off the fence of his homestead. She says her father stays with her even now and is very helpful in her life. She tells Ruth she was twelve when she and Macon split up and she had to go out into the world on her own. She had always heard that her motherís family came from Virginia and so she had always tried to get there.

Pilate walked for seven days and then came to a town where she went to work for a preacherís family and went to school. She loved geography and her teacher gave her the geography book. When the preacher started molesting her, his wife found out and they made Pilate leave. She went to New York state and worked with "pickers" picking beans and moving from place to place doing migrant farm work. She stayed with these people for three years because she was interested in learning from a woman who was a root worker. When she was fifteen, she had sex with a boy from the group and he had noticed she didnít have a navel. He had inadvertently told others and they made her leave the group, thinking she was not natural. She wandered again until she hooked up with another community. The same thing happened, but these people abandoned her without telling her they were leaving. Everywhere she went she picked up a rock for her collection.

After the second group left her, she went to a town and worked in a laundry long enough to make enough money to pay her fare to Virginia. She got to West Virginia and found more African Americans than she had ever seen before. She never lost the sense of comfort that brought her. She found a group of people who lived off the coast on an island. There, she lived happily and kept her stomach hidden. She got pregnant and refused to marry for fear of being rejected again. The group helped her give birth and she named her child Reba after the Rebecca of the Bible. After the childís birth, Pilate felt very depressed. Her father appeared to her and said, "Sing. Sing." Then he said, "You just canít fly on off and leave a body." She thought he was talking about the man she thought she had killed back home in Pennsylvania, so she asked the women to take care of her baby and she went back to collect the manís bones. She was back in two weeks carrying a sack of his bones.

When Reba was two years old, Pilate became restless to travel. She began a wandering life for the next twenty years or so until Reba had her own child. Hagar had been so interested in nice things that Pilate decided she should look for her brother, who she imagined had established himself in a respectable life. She had appealed to several aid agencies and the Salvation Army ended up finding him. Pilate took her family to her brotherís city but found him "truculent, inhospitable, embarrassed, and unforgiving." She would have moved on if Ruth hadnít needed her so much at the time. Pilate has told Ruth this story, making it deliberately long in order to keep Ruthís mind off Hagar.


In this chapter, Morrison develops the lives of the older generation of characters, the women of that generation. Ruth has lived a life of small, jealous pleasures and great deprivation and meanness. Pilate, on the other hand, has lived a life of freedom, part of it sadly enforced by peopleís intolerance of her difference, but part of it a blessing which has made of her a strong and beautiful person. In setting these two womenís narratives side by side, Morrison describes the parameters of what it was to be a woman of their generation. These women are brought together in this chapter by the younger generation. Hagar seems to have gotten none of Pilateís free spirit, but is much more like Ruth in her blind and self-effacing devotion to Milkman, who spits on her love as he disregards his motherís.

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