Song of Solomon | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Song of Solomon | Part 2, Chapter 15 | Summary



In Part 2, Chapter 15 Milkman drives home but doesn't get far because his car breaks down. He then catches a bus. During the ride he recalls being ecstatic after leaving Susan's house. He joyfully swam in a river with Sweet. Milkman was on a high about his grandfather being able to fly without an airplane and escape his problems. Milkman continues to ride on the bus toward his home. He notices road signs and thinks about how recorded names can hide the real names of people, including some of his ancestors. Real names have meaning, which is why Pilate put her name in a box and hung it from her ear. Milkman thinks of many of the meaningful names he knows. Also he thinks of the name of Guitar, who is trying to kill him. Milkman hopes that when Guitar realizes there is no gold, he'll stop in his mission to kill Milkman. But then Milkman realizes that Guitar will continue pursuing his deadly goal no matter what.

When Milkman returns to his hometown, he heads toward Pilate's house. He greets her with open arms, and she greets him by breaking a bottle over his head, knocking him unconscious. He regains consciousness in Pilate's basement. A rope cuts his wrists. Milkman wonders why Pilate hit him and figures that Hagar must have died. He admits the harm he did to Hagar by leaving her, similar to the way Solomon harmed Ryna. Milkman knows Hagar's death is his fault, and Pilate knows it too. Milkman then realizes the true meaning of Pilate's father saying, "You just can't fly on off and leave a body." He shouts for Pilate, who heads down the stairs. Milkman explains that the bones Pilate has in the sack are not the white man's bones but the bones of her father, Jake. She seems stunned by this news. Milkman tells Pilate that her father wants her to bury his bones.

Milkman drives in a car with Pilate and the sack containing Jake's bones toward Virginia. He remembers the subtle effect his news about Solomon and his ancestors had on his family. Ruth showed some relief. Macon liked Milkman to repeat the stories he had learned about the folks in Danville. In Shalimar, Pilate blends in with the people in the town. Milkman carries a shovel, and Pilate carries her father's bones in the sack as they hike up to Solomon's Leap, a high outcropping of rock. Once there Milkman digs a grave, Pilate places the bones in the hole, and Milkman covers it with dirt. Pilate then yanks the box containing her name written by her father off her ear. She digs a small hole and buries the box in the hole. A shot rings out, and Pilate falls. Devastated, Milkman holds her in his arms and asks if she's hurt. In the darkening twilight blood oozes from her neck. She asks Milkman to sing something. He says the words of the song Pilate often sang. Milkman says, "Sugargirl don't leave me here." Pilate dies. A bird scoops up something shiny from the little grave and flies away with it. Milkman stands and shouts for Guitar. Guitar puts down his rifle and stands on a nearby flat rock. In the darkness Milkman can barely make him out. Milkman shouts, "You want my life? You need it? Here." Milkman leaps without seeming to exert himself at Guitar. As he wrestles with Guitar, Milkman knows what Shalimar knew: "If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it."


In Part 2, Chapter 15 Milkman continues his search for identity through his realization and acceptance of his true identity as a black man. In this realization Morrison's combination of legend and reality and the relationship between the living and the dead play a vital role. The story of Solomon's flight has a strong and profound effect on Milkman because he believes it really happened. As a result Milkman is ecstatic with a newfound energy as he jumps in the river, shouting about his great-grandfather being able to fly and escape his oppression. Milkman's belief in the reality of his family's stories continues throughout the chapter, leading to his acceptance that Pilate's father told her to bury his bones. The fact that her father was dead when he conveyed his message doesn't matter to Milkman, who has expanded his view of what is real along with his view of his family's history. He now knows the dead can relate with the living. At the end of the novel, Milkman displays his new belief in the possibilities of life when he allows the wind to carry him to Guitar. Milkman realizes, "if you surrendered to the air, you could ride it."

Morrison, though, counterbalances Milkman's newfound euphoria about his true identity with his realization of how his flight, like Solomon's flight, had a devastating effect on the woman left behind. Consumed by anguish, both Hagar and Ryna went insane. Milkman's newfound connection with the dead makes him realizes the fullness of who he is in his family, which includes this dark side. Milkman knows he is to blame for Hagar's decline. Morrison here seems to be presenting a paradox: flight allows Solomon and Milkman to transcend their problems, but through their transcendence they severely harm others. The solution to this quandary comes through Pilate. After her death Milkman understands he loved Pilate because she could fly without ever leaving the ground. So for Morrison the key is to learn to transcend problems without abandoning responsibilities to others.

Morrison also shows how Milkman uncovering his ancestral history has repercussions for members of his family. Many of these effects are subtle. Ruth shows some relief. Macon delights in having Milkman repeat to him the stories about his family and friends in Danville. However, by far the most profound effect happens to Pilate. First of all she shares Milkman's belief in the reality of mystical events and the bond between the living and the dead. Also Milkman clears up a vital aspect of her personal history. Pilate realizes her father's bones are in the sack and her father wants her to bury his bones. This realization deeply affects Pilate because throughout her life she has had a sense of incompleteness. Pilate kept ties to her ancestral past as much as she could, and she has always sensed an unrest in her family, especially concerning her father. As a result she kept her name written on a piece of paper by her father, the only word he ever wrote, in a snuffbox attached to her ear. After understanding her mistake, Pilate senses a peace. She buries the snuffbox after burying her father. Pilate no longer needs to carry it with her.

Morrison emphasizes how names can represent what a person means to his or her family and community. When Milkman discovers the real names of his grandfather and great-grandfather, he appreciates the meaning of these names. The name Macon Dead does not have any connection to Solomon, but the name Jake does. In addition the names for places can give a person a sense of belonging. For example, Solomon's Leap identifies that Solomon's family belongs to the region.

At the end of the novel Morrison uses the symbol of singing to unify Milkman with Pilate and their shared black heritage. As Milkman sings the song, he expresses the pain of Pilate's leaving him, his love for her nurturance of him, and pride in their African American family and culture. After Pilate dies, a bird carries off Pilate's snuff box with her name in it, symbolizing her spirit flying away from the sorrows of the world. Pilate now has become a spirit or ghost like her father, but even so Milkman will still maintain a strong connection with her. Perhaps because of this connection, death doesn't frighten Milkman. As a result he stands up and makes himself an easy target for Guitar.

Morrison shows the scarring effect of racism through Guitar. His hatred brought on by racism causes a split in his personality. Part of Guitar loves Milkman and another part of him wants to kill him. Driven by hatred, Guitar becomes filled with vengeance for Milkman, but at the same time he cares for him. Because of this he often leaves warnings that he is close by and still following him. At the end Guitar shows this split. He shoots at Milkman and inadvertently kills Pilate. But when Milkman shouts Guitar's name, Guitar says, "My man. My main man" and puts down his rifle. Now the side of Guitar that loves Milkman has come to the fore.

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