Song of Solomon | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Song of Solomon | Part 2, Chapter 13 | Summary

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Summary

Part 2, Chapter 13 revisits the scene of the confrontation between Milkman and Hagar, opening with Hagar finally lowering the knife that she had held in the air for a long time after Milkman left. Guitar finds Hagar and drives her home. Along the way Guitar tries to talk sense to her, explaining that a person can't own another person. He reflects on how Hagar's being spoiled by Pilate and Reba has caused her to expect to get whatever she wants, including Milkman. Guitar confides in Hagar about how everyone he loved has left him. Hagar, though, doesn't seem to be listening but instead just stares vacantly into space.

Back home Pilate and Reba try to do whatever they can to get Hagar out of her depression. They cook her favorite food and buy her gifts, but nothing helps. Finally Hagar looks at her reflection in a compact and says, "No wonder." She realizes how bad she looks and thinks this is the reason Milkman has left her. Following Hagar's wishes, Pilate bathes Hagar and washes her hair. Hagar wants new dresses and other things to make her look better for Milkman. Using money Reba got from pawning her diamond ring, Hagar goes shopping downtown. She tries on a skirt and has trouble zipping it. She tries to force the zipper, splitting her forefinger. A saleswoman realizes the skirt is too small and gives her a larger size. Hagar then goes to the cosmetics department and buys makeup, followed by a beauty parlor, where a beautician tells her that she can squeeze Hagar in later.

Holding her shopping bags, Hagar walks oblivious to the rain pouring down. Soon she is soaked, and one of her shopping bags splits open, dumping her new skirt, gloves, nightgown, and other things on the road. Hagar stuffs these now dirty items into her other bag, grabs the bag underneath, and continues walking. But this bag now splits open. Her makeup falls into a puddle. She grabs as much as she can and makes her way home. There Hagar gets dressed in her dirty, soaked new clothes and puts on her ruined makeup. When Hagar shows herself to Pilate and Reba, she can see reflected in their eyes how she really looks wearing "the wet, ripped hose, the soiled white dress, the sticky, lumpy face powder." Hagar sobs and eventually gets a fever, which dries her eyes. Pilate and Reba treat Hagar attentively. Hagar mumbles about Milkman not liking her hair because he likes silky hair the color of a penny. Hagar dies.

Ruth goes to Macon's office; he gives her money for Hagar's funeral. At a Baptist church Ruth at first seems to be the only member of the bereaved family who will attend the funeral service. Then Pilate arrives and shouts "Mercy! I want mercy!" She walks up the aisle to Hagar's open casket. Pilate now asks "Mercy?" In response Reba at the back of the church sings "I hear you." Pilate and Reba then begin a call-and-response hymn about needing mercy all the time. Pilate then softly sings a lullaby to Hagar, which deals with finding somebody "who's botherin my baby girl." Pilate addresses the individuals in attendance, saying to each one, "my baby girl." Some people reply "Amen" and others avoid Pilate's gaze. Suddenly Pilate shouts, "And she was loved!"

Analysis

In Part 2, Chapter 13 the theme of abandoning women takes center stage through Morrison's exploration of Hagar's devastation about Milkman leaving her. Hagar does not have a sense of self-worth as a black woman and, as a result, looks to a man, namely Milkman, to make her life meaningful. Guitar correctly assesses the problem. He asks Hagar, "Could you really love somebody who was absolutely nobody without you?"

The reason for Hagar's reliance on a man is complex. Pilate and Reba have spoiled Hagar by satisfying her every whim, so Hagar has grown up expecting to get what she wants. Also Hagar does not have a strong nature like Pilate; like many women, Hagar draws strength from her family network and community to deal with life's difficulties. Although Pilate and her family have kept strong ties to their ancestral roots, their strangeness in an urban setting has separated them from the black community where they live. Hagar does not get the support she needs to build a strong identity as a black woman but rather relies on being a pretty girl to get what she wants.

When Milkman rejects her, the house of cards that is her identity collapses. She senses a deep insecurity about who she is. This insecurity is reflected when Hagar asks, "Why don't he like my hair?" indicating that she has also sensed Milkman's own separation from his true black identity. He likes smooth hair like a white person's hair, which is different from his own hair; so Milkman's rejection of his own black heritage is also a rejection of Hagar. Without a strong enough identity to deal with such a rejection, she blames herself and so tries to dress up and apply makeup in a way that will attract Milkman, with disastrous results. It is important to note that many of the items she buys are things that are associated with white femininity. These items have labels that lure white women from high society, such as Nina Ricci, Yardley, and Evan-Picone. The name of one of the items, Sunny Glow, gives the impression of lightening up a person's face or skin. Because these items get dirty and soaked in a rain storm, Hagar looks like a pathetic horror when she puts them on, showing externally the horror of Hagar trying to make herself into something she is not.

Morrison further emphasizes the consequences of Milkman's abandoning Hagar through Hagar's death and Pilate's and Reba's grief. The women's experience of abandonment and grief are linked to the male fantasy of flight. Morrison has described how Milkman felt disillusioned when he learned as a child he couldn't fly. In the last chapter Milkman is energized when he dreams about flying, which has served as a metaphor for transcendence and escape for black men in the novel. However, when men attempt to fly away from their problems, they often abandon others—and in this case the flight has deadly consequences.

When Pilate sings a lullaby to her deceased granddaughter and addresses the mourners, she repeatedly uses the phrase "my baby girl." Herein lies the tragedy of Pilate's love. She loves Hagar like her baby and so constantly spoils her, and thereby hinders her from developing as a woman. Pilate truly feels she loves Hagar in the best way she can. This love, however, is not enough. Pilate's agony about this can be felt when she shouts "And she was loved!" Perhaps Hagar would have benefited from having a loving father. A father could have helped give Hagar confidence as a woman that her mother and grandmother could not.

Also at this point it is important to note how Morrison uses symbolism with Hagar's name. In the Bible Hagar is the maid of Abraham's wife, Sarah. When Sarah remained childless, Abraham conceived a son with Hagar. Sarah became jealous of Hagar and her son, Ishmael. As a result Abraham cast Hagar and Ishmael into the wilderness. The Arabic people believe they are descended from Ishmael. Therefore, because Islam was founded by the Arab Muhammad, Ishmael and Hagar have come to have a place of special importance to the Muslim people. During the Civil Rights era, many African Americans adopted Islam and, as a result, Hagar became important to them as well. Like the Hagar in Song of Solomon, the biblical Hagar was abandoned by a man. Even so God turned this oppression into glory by making Hagar's son the father of the Arabic people. In Song of Solomon Milkman's realization about his abuse of Hagar causes him to repent and renew his life.

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