Song of Solomon | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Song of Solomon | Part 1, Chapter 6 | Summary

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Summary

In Part 1, Chapter 6 Milkman and Guitar are at a tavern called Mary's Place having a conversation. Guitar lets Milkman know he found Hagar standing in the middle of his apartment and took her home. He asks Milkman what he did to Hagar to make her so messed up. Milkman says he only broke off their relationship, which Guitar finds hard to believe.

Milkman accuses Guitar of keeping secrets from him. Milkman feels insulted about this because he thinks Guitar doesn't trust him. Guitar admits he's not sure if he can trust Milkman, but even so, he reveals his secret. Guitar explains that when a person is killed, that person's potential heirs are also killed. So killing a person means wiping out five to seven generations. Guitar thinks white people are killing black people to eliminate their race. Because of this, Guitar feels it's crucial to keep the ratio the same. When a white person murders a black person and the white courts do nothing to punish the murderer, then a secret society evens the score. Guitar states, "This society selects a similar victim ... and they execute him or her in a similar manner." So if a black man is lynched, then this society lynches a white man; if a black woman is raped and murdered, then a white woman is raped and murdered; and so on. The society is called the Seven Days. It consists of a small group of black people who keep their group secret.

The Seven Days has been operating for decades, and Guitar has joined them. Milkman is horrified that Guitar belongs to this society and wonders why this group doesn't go after the white culprits who did the killing. Guitar responds that it doesn't matter who did it; all white people could potentially do it because the white race is unnatural. Milkman counters that there are nice white people. Guitar admits there might be a few exceptions but says that even President Kennedy, if he grew up in the South surrounded by white racists, would end up lynching black people. Black people, Guitar claims, would never do anything like that no matter what environment they grew up in.

Milkman states that by killing white people Guitar has become as bad as them. Guitar insists that he has not become as bad because he is reasonable. Guitar believes white people kill for money or for fun. He does not kill for either reason. Guitar claims he doesn't like doing the killing but thinks he must. Milkman wonders why Guitar doesn't make the Seven Days public. Doing so might give black people some hope. Guitar says he can't do that for fear of betrayal. Each member of the society is assigned a day. If a white person murders a black person on a Monday, then the Monday man is responsible for killing a white person.

Milkman says Guitar could get caught and executed. Guitar doesn't care if he dies young. What matters to him is what he dies for. Milkman states, "There's no love in it," but Guitar claims he's doing it because he loves black people. Guitar adds that black people are poor and, because of this, don't have the backing to hunt down the perpetrators of atrocities, like the Jews hunting down Nazis. Milkman warns that the killing Guitar does for this group could become a habit, that he could start killing anybody. He could even kill Milkman. Guitar insists the Seven Days does not kill Negroes. Milkman points out that Guitar just referred to him as Negro instead of by his name.

Analysis

In Part 1, Chapter 6 Morrison focuses on the theme of racism through the dialogue between Milkman and Guitar about the Seven Days society. Guitar believes that the white race is unnatural. He has adopted a generalization about a racial group, stating that certain things make it inferior—the very idea on which racism is based. In a way Guitar's development of these attitudes is understandable. Like most African Americans, he has been immersed in a racist system, in which white people continually abuse black people. The legal system does little to counteract this racism and, in certain regions, actually supports it. Throughout his life Guitar has seen white racism being perpetrated and condoned, which convinces him that the white race is out to eliminate the black race. Any race that does this must be unnatural and thus inferior. Morrison, therefore, exposes how racism can breed more racism, even in the group being persecuted. Also Morrison conveys the theme of the relationship between the living and the dead by emphasizing how the practice of racism on people in the past still has a powerful influence on the living. Although Guitar's father has been dead for many years, the involvement of racism in his death motivates Guitar to join the Seven Days.

In addition Morrison shows how a racist theory and approach has a certain type of logic. Guitar believes the Seven Days society has identified a basic truth about life. White people are unnatural and are trying to wipe out black people. To counteract this, the ratio of killing must be kept equal. Because Guitar has been exposed to white racism throughout his life, the racist theory of the Seven Days makes perfect sense. His hatred of white people has taken the form of a "logical" theory. The same can be said for fascist theories, such as Nazism. The Nazis had devised an elaborate theory, which supposedly proved that the Aryan race is superior to other races and the Jewish race is so inferior it should be eliminated. Racism fueled by hatred and fear had been codified into a "rational" theory.

Milkman understandably is horrified when he learns Guitar has joined the Seven Days. He tries to raise logical arguments to convince Guitar that he is misguided. However, Guitar uses the Seven Days theory to counteract these arguments. For Guitar, Milkman is the one being illogical. Guitar has become a true believer who is convinced his way is the right way.

Morrison intertwines the theme of searching for identify with the theme of racism. The author shows that Guitar has joined the Seven Days to assert his black male identity. The reader has seen how Milkman has assumed a passive identity, in which he coasts through life believing in nothing. By joining the Seven Days, Guitar is attempting to counteract this passiveness. As Guitar states, "It's about how you live and why." Being a part of the Seven Days society gives meaning to Guitar's life and, as a result, enhances his self-esteem. Guitar has now taken what he believes is positive action to help his people.

In addition Morrison uses the theme of abandoning women to show Guitar's humaneness. Guitar shows real concern for Hagar and thinks Milkman must have done something terrible to her. Milkman, of course, denies this. In this way Guitar shows more empathy than Milkman, who has taken a callous attitude toward Hagar. Even though Guitar commits murder for the Seven Days, he has not become a monster but still is a caring person. Indeed Guitar's human qualities, such as his loyalty toward Milkman, his sense of humor, and his sympathy for others makes his participation in the Seven Days even more disturbing.

Morrison ends this chapter by using foreshadowing. Milkman warns Guitar that his involvement in the Seven Days could become a bad habit. Guitar has alienated himself enough from white people to kill them. This type of alienation could also be applied to Milkman. Guitar claims this would never happen, but his reference to his friend as a Negro instead of by name shows that he has begun to view Milkman as part of a group instead of as an individual. Later Milkman's fears about Guitar prove to be justified.

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