Song of Solomon | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Song of Solomon | Part 2, Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

Part 2, Chapter 8 starts with Guitar thinking about his next assignment for the Seven Days. Four black girls had been blown up in a church on a Sunday. Because Guitar's day is Sunday, he has to kill four white girls in a similar manner. However, getting some type of explosive, like dynamite, requires money, which Guitar doesn't have. Then as if an answer to a prayer, Milkman arrives and asks Guitar if he wants to get some gold. Amazed at the coincidence, Guitar shows interest.

Milkman tells Guitar about Pilate having gold in a sack and Macon wanting Milkman to get it. Macon doesn't know that Milkman is bringing Guitar in on the scheme, but Milkman claims his father can't do anything about it. The profit would be split three ways. Guitar happily agrees to the plan and says getting the gold should be easy because there are only women in Pilate's house. Milkman doesn't share Guitar's confidence and worries that Hagar will stab or shoot him as he tries to steal the gold.

The next Sunday Milkman and Guitar meet to talk about the heist. Milkman has been curious about whether Guitar has actually killed anyone but doesn't want to ask him yet. Milkman likes the effect the plan to steal gold has on Guitar. Since hearing about this plan, Guitar has been more like his old self—carefree and cocky. Also Milkman feels some envy about how Guitar is willing to risk his life for the Seven Days. In fact Milkman also feels envy toward Macon, Pilate, and even Hagar because each of them has shown the capacity to take risks. Milkman, though, has tended to play it safe. Bringing Guitar in on the gold scheme adds an edge of danger to the plan, which Milkman finds stimulating.

As Milkman and Guitar walk down Route 6, they talk more about getting the gold. Milkman still expresses caution because Pilate, Reba, and Hagar are "crazy women." The two friends notice a white peacock spread its dazzling plumage. Entranced by the bird, they try to catch it. Milkman and Guitar stop chasing the bird and fantasize about what they will do with the money they get from the gold. Guitar wants to buy things for his grandmother and brother and a marker for his father's grave. Milkman has less tangible desires, but they all revolve around getting away from his family and the emotional burdens they have placed on him.

Guitar wants to steal the gold soon, but Milkman shows caution. Guitar accuses Milkman of stalling. Milkman insists he's just trying to be careful. Guitar shouts at Milkman, "You listen! You got a life? Live it! Live the motherfuckin life! Live it!" This call for Milkman to live his life causes his doubts to fade away. Milkman agrees that he and Guitar will take the gold tomorrow night.

On an autumn night, the air smells of crystallized ginger, giving a sense of the exotic. Milkman and Guitar sneak into Pilate's house through an open window. At first because of the darkness, they can't see much of anything. Soon the moon comes out, illuminating the sack hanging from the ceiling. Milkman hoists himself up on Guitar's shoulders and reaches for the sack, which hangs by a wire. He cuts the wire with a knife. The sack breaks free. Milkman gets down to the floor, and he and Guitar leave through the open window. At another open window, a person watches Milkman and Guitar make off with the sack and wonders, "What the devil they want that for?"

Analysis

In Part 2, Chapter 8 Morrison develops the theme of searching for identity for Milkman through the symbolism of flight and gold, and additionally, of the white peacock. Milkman wants to get Guitar involved in the plot to steal the gold because doing so adds a sense of danger to the theft. Milkman envies people unlike himself who can take risks, such as Guitar, Macon, and Pilate. Forming a partnership with Guitar to get the gold energizes Milkman. However, when Milkman fantasizes about what he'll do with the money from the gold, his plans are nebulous. He wants to use the cash to get away from his family and continue coasting through life. Milkman would not use the money to find a deeper, truer identity but instead to continue his lifestyle free from family burdens.

Morrison shows that the lure of wealth as symbolized by the gold provides a false hope. If Milkman got a lot of money, his malaise would probably get worse because he wouldn't have family burdens to fight against or complain about. Even so Milkman becomes obsessed with the gold and its promise of freedom. This obsession is conveyed through the symbol of the white peacock. Guitar often refers to the peacock's plumage as "jewelry"; the peacock's dazzling tail represents wealth. The bird's ability to fly represents the possibility of freedom. However, a peacock can't fly well because it is weighed down by its plumage. In symbolic terms the potential of freedom offered by wealth is weighed down by the wealth itself, making the quest futile. When Milkman sees the peacock, he feels the joy of flight he felt as a boy. The wealth represented by the peacock, however, does not provide a transcendent flight or escape but rather a dead end.

The complex symbol of the white peacock also has another dimension, namely its color. The whiteness of the peacock represents the white race. Therefore the peacock can also be seen as being symbolic of the greed of some white people for riches. Macon has become infected with this greed, which separates himself from his black community. Now this greed threatens to infect Milkman and Guitar. Although Milkman and Guitar covet wealth for reasons different from Macon's, the end result of such gain would be equally destructive. Even though Macon is a wealthy man, he remains miserable and consumed by hate and greed. Milkman would become immersed in his malaise, using his wealth to buy distracting pleasures. Guitar would use his wealth to kill people.

In addition Morrison depicts the theme of abandonment of women from a different angle. Milkman robs Pilate, a relative and close friend who loves him. Through his theft Milkman casts away this relationship like a piece of trash. Such actions can be seen not only as a betrayal but also as a spiritual and emotional abandonment of Pilate and her female family.

Morrison also continues to identify the negative effect of racism. White people have killed four black children in a church. Because of this Guitar has been assigned to kill four white children in a similar manner. Racism continues to spread its destructive influence. The wealth that Milkman and Guitar hope to gain will be used partially to facilitate the murder of these white children, so their search for the gold is intertwined with the violence spurned by racism.

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