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Free Study Guide for Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

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Milkman decides he wants to leave town and start on his own. He asks his father to stake him in his endeavor and promises to return after a while and help his father with the business. Macon doesnít want Milkman to leave. He has come to rely on him for taking care of his business. As Milkman is trying to convince his father, he tells about the sack Pilate has hanging from the ceiling of her house. Macon gets excited about it and tells Milkman the story of its origins.

According to Macon, when his and Pilateís father died, they went to Circe, an old woman who was the midwife for both of them and who worked for some rich, white farmers outside of Danville. She harbored them for six days trying to think of a plan to get them to safety. Since Macon had seen the men who killed his father, he couldnít be seen for fear that he would be killed also. Pilate and Macon go crazy locked up in the third floor room all those days because they are so used to living a free, country life. They decided that after Pilateís ear healed from the new earring she has made for herself, they would leave. They leave without telling Circe where theyíre going and they only take a knife and a tin cup.

At first theyíre very happy outside, but soon they begin to be afraid. They wander in a general southerly direction, hoping to end up in Virginia where Macon thinks their mother had family. One day, they see the ghost of their father sitting down on a post. He looks past them in such a way that they become scared and run. This scene is repeated over and over all during the next three days. Finally, they end up at the mouth of a cave. They see their fatherís ghost again, but this time, it is beckoning them to come inside. They decide to sleep in the cave that night. The next morning, Macon gets up early to relieve his bowels and as he finishes he sees an old man asleep on the ground against the wall of the cave. He is so frightened that he grabs a rock and throws it at the man. The rock makes the manís head bleed. He starts after Macon and Macon throws more rocks at him. Finally, he reaches for the knife and stabs the man over and over until he dies. Before he dies, he asks what seems like "What for?"

Macon tries to get the blanket the man was sleeping on to cover him, but as he is standing by the bedroll, he sees a shallow pit filled with bags full of gold. He gets excited and tells Pilate they must take the gold and they will have no more worries. She refuses to let him take it, saying it would be stealing. They fight and she gets the knife and holds it to his chest. He runs out of the cave and waits outside. That evening, hunters come and Macon runs into the forest. Three days later he works his way back to the cave to find Pilate and the gold gone.

Macon tells Milkman he knows Pilate stole the gold. He says he used to think Pilate had spent all of it in the twenty years between the time he left her at the cave and the time she came to town with her daughter and granddaughter. Now he thinks she has it in the canvas bag hanging from her ceiling. Macon tells Milkman to get it and he will be able to keep half of it and then leave town as he wants to.


The cause of the rupture in the relationship between Macon and Pilate is finally revealed, at least his version of it. Maconís life revolves around money. Itís not surprising that the reason he left his twelve-year old sister and the reason he now thinks she is a snake has to do with money he thinks she stole from him.



Milkman and Guitar discuss the ways they will spend the money when the gold is converted into cash. Milkman had gone to Guitar with the story, telling him they could get it and then split it with his father three ways. Macon doesnít know about this plan, but Milkman decides Macon will have to agree to it after the fact of the robbery. Guitar fantasizes all the things he can get for his family. Milkman fantasizes about ways to get out of town: cars, boats, and planes.

He realizes his fantasies ring hollow. He doesnít have a great desire for the gold. Guitar questions him about why he is so cautious about stealing the gold from Pilate. Guitar thinks the theft will be utterly easy since they will only be going against three women. He pushes Milkman to give him an answer and then in frustration he tells Milkman to live his life. The sound of these words make Milkman realize heís never had a goal before. He begins to feel a self emerge in him. This is the kind of escapade he could one day tell at the barbershop. Heís never done anything worth telling before except hitting his father and that isnít something a person tells a bunch of bored old men sitting around a barbershop.

They agree to meet that night at one in the morning. They step into Pilateís kitchen and are shocked at how intensely cold it is in contrast to the warm air outside. The moon suddenly shines into the room and Milkman stands on Guitarís hand to pull the sack down. Itís tied with wire and itís a bit of a struggle to get it down. When it is released from its hold, a sigh escapes, but both men think it is the other man. Another sigh escapes as they hoist it out the window. As Guitar is pulling it through the window from Milkmanís hands, he thinks he sees the figure of a man standing behind Milkman. As they run off, Pilate looks out her window and wonders why they want that sack. Then she picks a splinter from the window sill and chews on it.


While Guitar and Milkman are talking about what they will do with the money and how they will get the gold out of Pilateís house, they see a white peacock in a car lot. When Milkman asks Guitar why it canít fly, Guitar explains that the bird has too much for a tail, too much treasure, and that in order to fly, one has to lighten oneís load. Morrison uses this white peacock to emblematize Milkmanís dilemma. He wants to leave town, but having always had all he needs, he has no drive to make a life for himself independently from his fatherís money. It is Milkman who needs to get rid of the baggage of materialism in order to fly free. The bag, which is supposed to hold gold, actually holds bones, as is indicated with all the conventional ghostly signs: the cold air, the heavy sighs, and the image of the man standing behind Milkman. Obviously, Milkmanís plan to escape the past by use of the gold is not going to work. Instead of escaping the past, heís digging the past up.

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