didn’t mean it. It happened before he was through. She’d stepped
away from him to pick flowers, returned, and at the sound of her
footsteps behind him, he’d turned around before he was through.
It was becoming a habit—this concentration on things behind him.
Almost as though there were no future to be had.
This passage from Chapter 2 references
Milkman Dead’s alienation from the world and from himself. Milkman
accidentally urinates on Lena during a pit stop on a trip to Honoré
Island. At a young age, Milkman has inherited Macon Jr.’s mistrustful
attitude and spiritual deadness. Although he is only six years old,
Milkman already acts like a world-weary man. Milkman’s “concentration
on things behind him” shows that he is different from other children
his age, who have faith in the future. When Milkman turns “at the
sound of . . . footsteps behind him,” he shows how his father, who
fled Pennsylvania after killing a man, has passed to his son the
mentality of a hunted man. Milkman’s childhood is disfigured by
events that took place before his birth. Milkman’s alienation is
one example of Morrison’s argument that a single instance of racism
can harm generations of people. Ironically, Milkman’s preoccupation
with the past eventually allows him to bring closure to the family’s
suffering by discovering his family history.
This passage also refers to the motif of trauma inflicted
by men on women. During the drive to Honoré Island, Milkman urinates
on his sister unintentionally. As Lena expresses in Chapter 9, urination becomes
a metaphor for Milkman’s treatment of his sisters and other women
in his life. Milkman is so concerned with his own problems that
he doesn’t see that he is given special treatment by his family.
Milkman is always supported by women behind the scenes: his sisters,
Hagar, Pilate, and his mother. He fails, however, to reciprocate