Song of Solomon
Summary: Chapter 6
Milkman confronts Guitar and asks him to reveal the reasons for his secretive behavior. Guitar tells him that he belongs to a secret society called the Seven Days. The organization, composed of seven black men each of whom is assigned a day of the week, kill white people at random every time that a black person is murdered and the assailants are left unpunished. Guitar says that Robert Smith and Henry Porter were both members. The Seven Days try to make each revenge killing similar to the original violence against the black victim. If he was hanged, for example, they hang their next victim. These revenge killings are performed on the same day of the week as the original murders of the black victims. Guitar is the only young man in the group.
Guitar tells Milkman that his activities are driven by the firm belief that whites are “unnatural” people who would murder and pillage in the right circumstances. The twentieth-century German leader Adolf Hitler, Guitar argues, murdered Jews because there were no blacks around. Furthermore, he continues, blacks need to take drastic measures to avenge assaults against them. Unlike Jews who survived World War II concentration camps, they do not have recourse to legal action. Guitar concludes by saying that his actions help keep the ratio of blacks to whites balanced, ensuring that whites will not gain an upper hand by means of genocide.
Milkman counters Guitar’s rhetoric by telling him that many whites have made real sacrifices on behalf of African-Americans. He also asks why Guitar does not change his name, like Malcom X did, in order to show that he refuses to accept his “slave name.” But Guitar answers that his slave name, Bains, does not bother him—only his slave status does. To no avail, Milkman begs Guitar to see him and others as human beings rather than whites or blacks. Milkman finishes his conversation with Guitar by telling him that Guitar’s murderous activities are “crazy,” that they have become a “habit,” and that since he is able to kill so callously, he might move toward killing black people, including Milkman himself.
Summary: Chapter 7
Life, safety, and luxury fanned out before him like the tailspread of a peacock.
After his conversation with Guitar, Milkman goes to speak with Macon Jr. Stifled from spending over thirty years at home, he asks Macon Jr. if he can leave home for a year to travel and explore his personal interests. During the conversation, Milkman unintentionally mentions the green sack hanging from Pilate’s ceiling.
Macon Jr. interrupts Milkman and his eyes begin to gleam. He tells Milkman about the days after his father’s murder. For two weeks, Macon Jr. and Pilate hid in a manor house where Circe, the midwife, worked as a maid. While in hiding, Pilate put a brown piece of paper with her name on it in a snuffbox, attached a wire to the box, and began to wear it as an earring. After Macon and Pilate left Circe, they traveled across the countryside, encountered their father’s ghost sitting on a tree trunk, and then saw the ghost again at the mouth of a cave. The siblings followed the ghost into the cave and spent the night there. In the morning, Macon Jr. became aware that there was someone else in the cave: an old, white man. Terrified that he was seeing an apparition, Macon Jr. killed the man. Underneath the man’s green tarp, Macon Jr. discovered a treasure of gold nuggets. Macon Jr. imagined a life of luxury spread out before him “like the tailspread of a peacock,” but then they saw their father standing before them. Macon Dead I then disappeared and Pilate darted around the cave looking for him. Macon Jr. wanted to take the treasure, but Pilate urged him not to. They fought. Macon Jr. left and came back three days later, finding the dead man still there, but Pilate, the tarpaulin, and the gold were gone.
After hearing Milkman mention the green tarpaulin, Macon Jr. becomes convinced that it is full of the dead man’s treasure. He urges his son to “get the gold” so that they can share it.
Analysis: Chapters 6–7
Guitar’s anger is justified and his love for African-Americans admirable, but the manner in which he expresses his love—murder—is disgraceful and pointless. Traumatized by the childhood death of his father, Guitar moves from being a sensitive young man to a heartless killer. Because murdering others grows to be a habit, Guitar gains the same “unnatural” qualities that he accuses whites of having. Just like whites, whom he accuses of being ready to murder anyone if the right conditions exist, Guitar is on his way to becoming a reckless killer. Milkman’s question as to whether or not Guitar could kill a black person like Milkman ultimately proves prophetic. Although Guitar claims that his deeds are grounded in a clear philosophy, his distinction between murdering out of love for black people and murdering out of hate for white people is blurry. Through his question, Milkman points out that loving a group of people because of the color of their skin is also a form of racism because it involves rejecting a particular person as an individual and treating him or her solely as a member of a group.
That Guitar is the only young member of the Seven Days suggests that his beliefs—those he expresses to Milkman—are outdated. His hidden, terrorist way of thinking and operating is no longer justifiable or necessary in the burgeoning civil rights climate of the 1960s. During this era, African-Americans gained access to new ways of dealing with racism, ranging from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s policy of peaceful protest to Malcolm X’s policy of open agitation. Whereas such leaders and their followers were able to channel their anger about racial oppression into a socially productive course of action, the immature Guitar lets his anger explode into acts of revenge, with no thought for the consequences.
Milkman’s demand that Guitar see him as a human being rather than just a black man, however, may be too idealistic at a time when African-Americans were persecuted for the color of their skin. When we consider Milkman’s comments alongside his careless lifestyle, they begin to sound slightly hollow. Furthermore, Milkman seems to be more concerned with his “slave name”—Macon Dead III—than his “slave status”—the possibility of facing discrimination because of his race. But, even though Guitar suggests that Milkman is concerned with the wrong issues, the novel’s emphasis on one’s name as an important part of one’s identity illustrates that one’s slave name is an undeniable part of one’s slave status. Only by rediscovering their true names, which lie beneath their slave names, can the characters free themselves from oppression.
The shift from the first-person narrative to the third-person in the story about the gold forces us to question whether or not the narrator is reliable. Because events of the past in the novel have usually been recounted to us by a character, this interruption by the narrator is abnormal and should make us wary. Unlike the conflicting stories that Macon Jr. and Ruth tell Milkman about their life and relationship prior to his birth, the story of the gold in the cave is not quoted from one of the characters—we receive only the narrator’s version of events. Morrison’s decision to allow the narrator to speak to us directly here compels us to question whether the narrator, like the individual characters, has a particular motive in telling the story. We must question whether he or she is trying to persuade us to see the story from a particular point of view so that we see the characters in a particular light, either favorable or unfavorable.
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