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Song of Solomon

Toni Morrison

Chapter 5

Chapter 4

Chapter 5, page 2

page 1 of 2

Summary

Driven mad by her overpowering love, Hagar ceases to be interested in anything other than Milkman. She obsesses over being abandonded, and remains depressed despite Pilate and Reba’s attempts to comfort her. Milkman spends much of his time at Guitar’s place, hiding from Hagar, who roams the streets of their town and periodically tries to kill him. Meanwhile, Guitar has become paranoid and politically active, triple-locking his doors at night and lecturing to Milkman about the oppression of African-Americans and other subjugated peoples around the world. One night, as Guitar continues to chide Milkman about being wealthy and well-dressed, Milkman confronts him, asking him to account for his secret activities. Guitar only smiles in response, and leaves for a mysterious house where six old men wait for him. Milkman remains alone in the Southside flat on a night when both expect Hagar to make another attempt to murder him.

As Milkman lies alone in Guitar’s bed, he remembers how he came to discover one of his mother’s darkest secrets only a week before. Milkman recalls how he witnessed his mother leaving Not Doctor Street on a bus late at night. Unbeknownst to Ruth, Milkman followed her to the county train station and then to Fairfield Cemetery, where Dr. Foster had been buried more than forty years earlier. Milkman waited for several hours outside the gates while Ruth was inside the cemetery and confronted her when she finally exited. On the ride back to town, Ruth gave Milkman an explanation of her relationship with Dr. Foster, one that challenged Macon Jr.’s version of the events. She told Milkman that she cherished her father because he was the only person in the world who cared about how she lived.

Milkman also recalls that Ruth told him that Macon Jr. had killed Dr. Foster by throwing away his medication and that their sex life had ended after Dr. Foster’s death. Hungry for her husband’s physical attention, Ruth had secretly fed him an aphrodisiac concocted by Pilate. Macon Jr. made love to Ruth for four days and Milkman was conceived.

Macon Jr. had tried to force Ruth to abort the baby. Pilate prevented the abortion by frightening Macon Jr. with a voodoo doll. Ruth acknowledged that she breast-fed Milkman past infancy and also claimed that she prayed for him every day and night.

Milkman stops ruminating when he hears Hagar’s footsteps in the room. She enters with a butcher knife. Instead of getting up and stopping her, Milkman closes his eyes and wills her dead. He asks an unseen power to choose between him and her. She strikes him on the collarbone with the knife, but the blow is harmless, and she is unable to make another attempt. Milkman sits up, throws Hagar a few jeering remarks, and turns away.

Within a short time, Ruth finds out about Hagar’s murderous behavior and goes to see Pilate. Because she has always seen Milkman as her “passion” and her “single triumph,” rather than a separate person, Ruth is determined to keep him out of harm’s way. On the porch of Pilate’s home, Ruth threatens Hagar. Ruth and Hagar heatedly discuss their love for Milkman until Pilate interrupts and tells them that it is silly for a woman to feel so much for any man. Pilate then tells Ruth the story of her childhood. She had worked diligently as a migrant worker but was driven out of each place because people were terrified of a woman with no navel. Pilate settled down on a Virginia island for a few years, and found a good man who fathered Reba. Despite being in love, she refused to marry him. After Reba gave birth to Hagar, Pilate moved her family to Macon Jr.’s town, bringing a green sack from Lincoln’s Heaven as one of her few possessions. The ghost of Macon Dead I, Pilate claims, followed her, sometimes speaking to her and murmuring the word “sing.” Pilate also tells Ruth that she became a wine-maker and seller because it was the job that afforded her the most independence. Finally, Pilate concludes her story, which she has deliberately made long to keep Ruth’s mind off Hagar.

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Correction

by GrammarJunkie18, August 16, 2014

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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