Song of Solomon

by: Toni Morrison

Chapters 8–9

Summary Chapters 8–9

Milkman goes to sleep and wakes up at noon. He stands in front of the mirror in his bathroom and feels a profound sense of shame over stealing the green tarp. While reviewing the events of the previous day, Milkman realizes that Guitar has killed before and is capable of killing again. As he gazes into the mirror, Milkman notices that his undersized leg seems to have returned to normal length.

Milkman then walks outside, sees an old Oldsmobile packed with Guitar and six other friends, Porter among them, and realizes that Porter, a member of the Seven Days, is the man First Corinthians is secretly seeing. After Milkman informs Macon Jr. of his discovery, Macon Jr. breaks up the relationship, evicts Porter from his dwelling, and forces First Corinthians to quit her job.

A few days later, Lena confronts Milkman and harshly rebukes him for ending First Corinthians’s only relationship. She tells Milkman that he is just like Macon Jr., living off Ruth’s, First Corinthians’s, and her own labor without doing anything himself. Lena reminds Milkman of the time when he, then just a little boy, urinated on her. She claims that in one way or another, Milkman has been urinating on others his entire life, and that he is a “sad, pitiful, stupid, selfish, hateful man” without anything to show for himself except the “little hog’s gut” that hangs between his legs. Lena ends her rebuke by telling Milkman that she will no longer make artificial roses and sends Milkman away from her room.

Analysis: Chapters 8–9

Throughout the novel, white creatures are symbols of impending harm or wrongdoing. In this section, the white peacock seen by Guitar and Milkman, like the white bull that caused the labor and subsequent death of Freddie’s mother, is a phantom of evil. The two men’s pursuit of the white peacock symbolizes their greed. The peacock itself symbolizes the corrupting allure of wealth, just as when Macon Jr. saw the gold in the cave as a spread peacock’s tail and became obsessed with accumulating wealth. This greed is evil because it makes Macon Jr. a tyrant and eventually turns Guitar against Milkman. That these apparitions are specifically white evokes the idea of white oppression of blacks: the white bull effectively renders Freddie an orphan and forces him to grow up in jail because there are no facilities for black orphans, while the white peacock appeals to Guitar’s sense of blacks being the victims of economic injustice.

Milkman’s emotions following the theft of the tarp reflect his ongoing, intensifying transformation from a “Dead” man into a living one. The shame Milkman feels after robbing Pilate serves as evidence of his spiritual awakening. It is no coincidence that while he experiences this shame his undersized leg—the physical abnormality that represents his emotional childishness—appears perfectly normal again. The lame leg that seems miraculously cured demonstrates that Milkman’s shame is the beginning of a deeper transformation. Now that he is able to understand his actions and his way of life objectively and to see the immaturity of his lifestyle, he can repair his flaws and become a better person.

Milkman’s experience of being pulled over by a white cop without probable cause, or good reason, marks the end of his privileged, idealistic worldview. This incident proves to Milkman that, in the eyes of the law, he is just another black man, guilty before proven innocent. Ironically, the dehumanizing police station experience that follows Milkman’s arrest gives him a taste of being a part of the greater African-American community, from which he has always been alienated. Entering this community endows Milkman with compassion. In fact, we know that he tells Macon Jr. about Porter’s relationship with First Corinthians because he is genuinely concerned about her welfare, rather than—as Lena suggests—because Porter is of a lower social class. Lena viciously rebukes Milkman, equating his tyranny with Macon Jr.’s, because she does not realize that the Milkman before her is evolving from a selfish person into a caring one.