Let me tell you right now the one important thing you’ll ever need to know: Own things. And let the thing you own own other things. Then you’ll own yourself and other people too. Starting Monday, I’m going to teach you how.
Macon Dead forbids his son, Milkman, to visit his aunt Pilate again and tells him that he has better things to do with his time. Macon compares his sister, Pilate, to a snake whose nature is to do harm no matter how she might try to do otherwise. He doesn’t agree with what Pilate tells Milkman, and he feels determined that he can steer his son along a better path. Macon says he’s going to take Milkman to his office and begin to teach him how to do the work he does.
The silver-backed brushes were a constant reminder of what her wishes for him were—that he not stop his education at high school, but go on to college and medical school.
When he turned sixteen, Milkman’s mother gave him a pair of brushes engraved with his initials and letters that indicate he might one day earn a medical degree:
Bryn Mawr had done what a four-year dose of liberal education was designed to do: unfit her for eighty percent of the useful work of the world. First, by training her for leisure time, enrichments, and domestic mindfulness. Second, by a clear implication that she was too good for such work.
Here, the narrator provides information about Milkman’s sister, First Corinthians, in particular how her education at Bryn Mawr shaped her. Readers learn that First Corinthians works as a maid for a poet and has hidden this truth from her family. At one point, the poet suggests First Corinthians learn how to type so she can help her with her manuscripts. Despite the notion that her education ruined her for “useful work,” First Corinthians appears to take on whatever work is offered to her with an open and eager mind.