Milkman closed his eyes and opened them. The street was even more crowded with people, all going in the direction he was coming from. All walking hurriedly and bumping against him. After a while he realized that nobody was walking on the other side of the street.
This passage, from Chapter 3, describes Milkman wandering the streets, distraught about his parents’ relationship. As Milkman begins to face dark moments from his childhood and from his family’s past, he also realizes that he is completely alone in his endeavor. Even Guitar fails to salve his friend’s wounds. On the same night Macon strikes his father and remembers that his mother breast-fed him through infancy, the rest of the Michigan town discusses the recent lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi. Unlike Guitar, who takes the community’s problems too seriously, Milkman is an egotist, concerned only with his own tribulations. Heading against the flow of traffic, Milkman is not a maverick, but an alien, alone in his town and unwelcomed by its residents.
This scene occurs at the beginning of Milkman’s journey to uncover his family’s past. But from its inception, this journey is different from all other journeys, and puts Milkman at odds with the rest of humankind. It is also the beginning of the end of Milkman’s childhood. At twenty-two years old, Milkman is beginning to act like a grown man, capable of handling responsibility. Of course, at this time Milkman is not yet ready for the full burdens and privileges of being an adult. Growing up comes at the end of his journey.