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Free Study Guide-Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison-Free Chapter Summary
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Milkman felt like the child in Hansel and Gretel who, starving and cold, saw the house of the witch. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end. He came upon the biggest house he had ever seen. It was in complete disrepair, looking as if it would fall down any moment. He had been driven out to the place by Reverend Cooperís nephew. He had made up an elaborate tale about his search for the cave.

He had arrived in Pittsburgh by plane and then took a bus to Danville. The whole time, he had wished Guitar were with him. Still, he felt he had to do it on his own. In his last conversation with Guitar, when he told his friend of his plan to look in the cave for the gold, Guitar had looked suspiciously at him and hinted that Milkman might decide to take the gold for himself and never come back. Milkman had told Guitar no one needed the money more than he did. He added that everyone seems to want his life, his parents, his sisters, Hagar, even Guitar. Guitar had said everyone wants the life of a Black man, even Black women. Guitar had told Milkman of his disgust for Pilate for putting on the Aunt Jemima act in front of the white men. He said Pilate fit into that role because she is identified with it. Guitar can only remember one other time when he had seen someone switch roles so completely. It was when his father had died and his mother had smiled ingratiatingly to the white man who gave her twenty dollars to tide the family over.

Guitar had told Milkman the "crunch is here." He added that the Seven Days are very busy these days and now one of them has been put out on the streets and his wages garnished. Milkman knows heís talking about Porter and takes the blame for it, but Guitar wonít let him explain.

When Milkman had ridden the train all the way from Pittsburgh to Danville, he had looked at the landscape with a city dwellerís boredom. When he got there, he left his suitcase at the station and walked around town looking for someone who could tell him about Circe. He was directed to Reverend Cooperís house. When he mentioned his name, Reverend Cooper treated him like royalty. He remembered his father and grandfather well. Other old men Reverend Cooperís age came and went telling stories of the wonders of the farm Milkmanís grandfather had built. Milkman becomes excited for the first time about belonging to a community, having his ancestors remembered with love and admiration, and he becomes angry for the first time at racist injustice. He finds out it was the Butlers, the people for whom Circe worked, who killed his grandfather.

Reverend Cooper tells him Circe was a hundred when he was a boy and couldnít possibly be alive now. The next morning, Milkman asks to be taken out to the place so he can see it. Cooperís nephew, named Nephew, takes him out and drops him off. He gets to the house and knocks but no one answers. Then as he is about to leave, he pushes against the door and it opens. The smell of animal is so strong he vomits. Then a sweet smell greets him and he enters the house. At the top of the stairs is an ancient woman. She holds her arms out to him and he goes to her. It is like all the nightmares of his youth when he dreamed of witches grabbing hold of him. He went to her and let her hold him and then he pulled away and she says "I knew you would come back." Circe thinks heís Macon. He corrects her, telling her who he is and letting her know his father and Pilate are well and living in the same town.

Circe tells him she raises dogs in the Butler house. The last Butler died a few years ago, having committed suicide by jumping from the upper floor of the house because she couldnít stand the idea of losing all her wealth and having to work. Circe tells him about his grandmother who she thinks was of mixed heritage, but mostly Indian. She says this woman was overcrazy about her husband, Macon Dead. Her name was Sing. When Milkman asks where she got such a strange name, Circe asks him where he got his. "White people name Negroes like race horses." Circe says both Macon Dead and Sing came from Virginia, Culpeper or Charlemagne. She tells him about Pilateís birth. Sing was dead and Circe didnít hear a heart beat and so had given up on the fetus as well, but suddenly Pilate came out. She says Pilate "birthed herself." Circe also says the murderers dumped Macon Deadís body in the cave. Even though his son had buried him, a flood had uncovered the body and washed it up. When they saw it, they dumped it in a cave.

Milkman says he wants to go find the remains and bury it. Circe gives him directions for getting to the cave. He asks Circe if he can do anything for her. She says she stays in the house because she hated the Butlers. She wants to see what they treasured turn to dust before she dies. She has moved about thirty dogs into the house and let them tear it up completely. She only hopes that when she dies, someone will find her soon before the dogs eat her body. Milkman finds out that his grandfatherís real name had been Jake.

Milkman gets back outside and begins making his way for the cave. Itís much further than he had expected from Circeís directions. When he crosses the river, he goes under completely. He comes out on the other side with a broken watch and ruined shoes. He walks a distance further and comes upon the cave. He climbs the hill to the cave and sees the scene of his father and Pilateís story. He gets to the pit in the back of the cave and uses his lighter to look inside. He finds it empty. He is so disappointed he screams out and upsets the bats living in the cave.

He walks back to the road, but he has missed Nephew who was to return for him at noon. He is intensely hungry. He gets a ride from a man who takes him to town. The manís name is Fred Garnett. When Milkman offers to pay him for the ride and the Coke, Garnettís face changes and he says he doesnít have much money, but he can afford a ride and a Coke. Milkman is bewildered that he has offended the man. He gets to town and eats four hamburgers. He goes to the station to find his suitcase and itís gone. As he is leaving, a white man asks him to help him lift a heavy freight box. The exertion exhausts him. Instead of going back to Reverend Cooperís house, he decides to take a bus to Virginia and continue his search. As he rides away, he notices the landscape now means something to him. He wants to go to Virginia because he has begun to suspect Pilate. He thinks she took the gold to Virginia.


When Milkman goes under completely in the river on his way to the cave, we can view this as a symbolic baptism. Milkman is coming into his own identity on this search for his past. At present, he thinks of it as a search for gold, but in reality, it is a search for connection, for history that has been erased, and for family. The dunking at the river just before he reaches the scene of his father and Pilateís separation, just before he reaches the land around Lincolnís Heaven, indicates that Milkman is going to have to leave behind a great deal of his baggage before he can continue on his journey. Itís no surprise that his expensive watch is ruined as well as his clothes and that he finds his suitcase missing when he gets back to town.

The reader will notice, however, a change in Milkman even before he gets to the river. His treatment of Circe is exactly the opposite of what his sister Magdelena would expect. Circe tells him he has given her a gift to come into the house, ignoring the overwhelming smell of the dogs, and talked to her of his family. Milkman saves her from the sadness of the fact that Pilate and Macon are still separated. He asks after her, wanting to do something to help her, and he lets her embrace him when he is afraid of her initially.

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Free Study Guide-Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison-Free Online Book Notes


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