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Milkman returns to Susan Byrd, who fills in the gaps in his newfound knowledge of his family history. Sing, it turns out, left on a wagon to go North with Jake, who belonged to the legendary tribe of flying African children, the descendants of Solomon. Solomon and his wife, Ryna, had been slaves on a cotton plantation and had had twenty-one children, all boys, the last one named Jake. When Solomon flew away from Virginia, he tried to take Jake, who was a baby at the time, with him. Unfortunately, Solomon brushed by some tree branches and dropped Jake, who fell from the sky into the yard of an Indian woman named Heddy. Heddy had a baby daughter named Singing Bird (later called Sing) and raised Jake as her own son after Ryna became insane following Solomon’s flight. Eventually, Heddy had another son, Crow Bird (later called Crowell Byrd), who was to become Susan Byrd’s father. Meanwhile, Jake and Sing secretly ran off together.
Milkman leaves Susan’s home. He is profoundly energized by the information he receives from his newfound cousin. Exhilarated, he runs to Sweet’s place and, refusing her offer of a bath, tells her he needs to swim in the “sea! The whole goddam sea!” Milkman and Sweet whirl around in the local swimming hole as Milkman sings Solomon’s song at the top of his voice: “O-o-o-o-o-o Solomon done fly, Solomon done gone / Solomon cut across the sky, Solomon gone home!”
Eventually ready to return home to Michigan, Milkman sells his car and boards the bus, thinking along the way about his family in Michigan and in Virginia, about his recent journey, and about his broken friendship with Guitar. When he reaches his hometown, he rushes to Pilate’s home to tell her about his discoveries, unaware of Hagar’s recent death. Pilate knocks him out by striking him with a wine bottle on the head.
When Milkman wakes, he finds himself in Pilate’s basement, surrounded by Hagar’s things, and understands that she is dead. Milkman knows that Pilate lives by the idea that when one takes a life, one owns it, which is why she carries the green tarp containing what she thinks are the old white man’s bones. Milkman understands that Pilate is trying to make him own Hagar’s life and that he will have to carry this burden to the end of his days. When Pilate finally enters the basement, Milkman tells her that the bones in the green tarp are actually her father’s, and that she must bury them. Pilate then releases Milkman, sending him home with a box of Hagar’s hair.
At home, Milkman finds that First Corinthians has moved to a small house with Henry Porter on the Southside, that Lena, though unforgiving, has become civil, and that the relationship between Macon Jr. and Ruth remains as broken as ever. Nevertheless, Macon Jr. decides that he will eventually head down to Danville to see Reverend Cooper and some of the others.
Milkman and Pilate drive down to Virginia to bury Jake’s bones. They reach Solomon’s Leap, the cliff near which Solomon dropped Jake, and bury the contents of the green tarp. In place of a gravestone, Pilate leaves her snuff-box earring containing her name. Just as the burial rites are completed, Pilate collapses into Milkman’s arms, shot by a bullet that Guitar intended for Milkman. Milkman comforts Pilate as much as he can, singing the last lines of Solomon’s song to her, but replacing the name Solomon with Sugargirl. Despite his efforts, Pilate dies. A flock of birds appears over Milkman’s head, two of which circle around him until one of them dives from the sky and retrieves the snuffbox from the grave.
In your character analysis of Ruth Dead, you wrote that "Ruth relies on Pilate for financial support." I'm not sure what you meant to say - maybe "Ruth relies on Pilate for emotional support" or "Pilate relies on Ruth for financial support." Either way, please correct. Thanks.
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