Song of Solomon | Study Guide

Toni Morrison

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Song of Solomon | Part 2, Chapter 9 | Summary

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Summary

In Part 2, Chapter 9 Corinthians has taken a job as a maid for a wealthy white spinster named Michael-Mary Graham. Corinthians has developed into a highly refined, educated woman with a college degree. Her father and mother expected her to marry a wealthy black man. Over the years eligible bachelors paraded through the Deads' home, but none of them asked Corinthians to marry them. By the time Corinthians reaches the age of 42, she is still unwed and mired in a depression. To get out of the oppressive influence of her family, Corinthians secretly takes a position as a maid.

As Corinthians takes the bus to work, she notices a man watching her and eventually starts to have conversations with him. His name is Henry Porter. He does occasional yard work. Soon the man takes her out on dates. Corinthians feels ashamed of Porter and thus keeps him, along with her job, a secret from her family. Eventually at a drive-in movie Porter invites her to his apartment and she refuses. He accuses her of being ashamed of him. Corinthian denies this and says she has to keep Porter a secret from her strict father, who won't accept him. Upset at Corinthians's lack of independence, Porter drives her home and lets her out of his car. As she walks to her house she envisions becoming an old spinster making red velvet flowers. Finding this future unbearable she runs back to Porter's car and bangs desperately on the window to let her in. Porter brings Corinthians back into the car and drives her to his apartment, where they make love.

The next morning Corinthians feels more self-assured. Porter takes her home. As she heads to her room, she notices Milkman and Macon having a talk in the kitchen. They talk about the fiasco of Milkman and Guitar stealing Pilate's sack. The police happened to stop Milkman and Guitar in their car after the robbery. When the police found a sack in the back seat filled with bones and rocks, they arrested Milkman and Guitar. Macon came down to the jail but had difficulty getting Milkman off. The police brought in Pilate to explain the situation.

Milkman laughs at his father for his suspicions that Pilate was hiding gold in her sack. Macon still claims that Pilate is hiding gold somewhere in her house. Milkman recalls with astonishment how Pilate took on a submissive attitude toward the police to get Milkman and Guitar released. As Macon drove Pilate, Milkman, and Guitar away from the police station, Pilate's attitude completely changed. She became tall and proud again as she explained that the bones are the remains of the white man Macon killed in the cave.

The next day Milkman takes a bath and remembers the shame he felt about stealing a skeleton, being caught, and most of all seeing Pilate do an "Aunt Jemima act" to get him released from jail. Pilate loves Milkman deeply and in return he steals her inheritance. Also last night when Milkman noticed Guitar's hatred simmering within him, he knew Guitar could kill a person. Milkman walks to Guitar's place and sees him with Railroad Tommy, Porter, and other members of the Seven Days. Milkman leaves without saying hello to Guitar.

Milkman gets drunk and goes home, where Lena asks him to come into her room. There she points out the window to a dying maple tree. She says Milkman not only peed on that tree but also on her. When Milkman was a boy he peed on her when she took him out of the Packard to relieve himself. Since then Lena has wanted to kill Milkman. Lena accuses Milkman of peeing on her and Corinthians his whole life. Now Milkman has told Macon about Corinthians taking Porter as a lover. As a result Macon has broken off their relationship and evicted Porter from his apartment. Milkman says he did this for her own good. Lena says Milkman thinks he has the right to determine his sister's life just because he's a man. She tells him he has pissed on her the last time and orders him from her room.

Analysis

In Part 2, Chapter 9 Morrison develops the theme of searching for identity through the shifting identities of Corinthians, Lena, and Pilate. In previous chapters the author has shown Macon setting himself and his family above the black community, while using it through the payment of rents to amass wealth. Macon has raised Corinthians and Lena to be, in his eyes, superior to most other black people. In an ironic twist, however, Macon has made Corinthians so refined and educated that many prospective beaus become intimidated by her and refuse to marry her. Because of this Corinthians reaches middle age having wasted her talents and life staying at home making velvet flowers.

Feeling confined and oppressed in her family, Corinthians makes a bold attempt to find her true self. She secretly gets a job as a maid and gets involved in a love affair with a common worker named Porter. In both situations Corinthians has to swallow her pride and lower her status. However, Corinthians endures this because she knows she is addressing some basic needs of her true self; namely finding self-esteem through earning a living and satisfying her desire for intimacy with a man. Corinthians has begun the process of finding her true identity.

Lena has also suffered from Macon's attempts to make his family better than other black families. For example, when Lena and Corinthians were children, Macon showed them off to other African American kids to make them envious but did not allow his daughters to interact with these children. Living in this sterile environment, Lena fails to form her own identity. Lena exposes part of her true self to Milkman when she reveals her bitterness and resentment to him. Throughout her life Lena has felt put upon for having to take care of her baby brother, who treats her and Corinthians like inferiors or, as Lena puts it, pees on them. Through her bitter rage Lena finally is honest. She makes a first stab at carving her own identity by refusing to make any more velvet flowers and not allowing Milkman to take advantage of her.

In contrast to Corinthians and Lena, who are finding their true identity, Pilate intentionally puts on a false identity to help Milkman. After Milkman and Guitar are arrested, Pilate plays the "Aunt Jemima" role to get the police to release them. The slang term Aunt Jemima refers to a friendly black woman who acts in an obedient, servile manner to support the interests of whites. Pilate's transformation into this role is so complete that she even looks and talks differently. Pilate is willing to humiliate herself because she loves Milkman. Through this situation Morrison shows the roles African Americans have to play to deal with white racism. Some black people have developed two selves. One they show to white people; the other, their true self, they show to black people. For others such as Macon's children, however, that true identity may be lost, nonexistent, or impossible to maintain as a result of the complexities of navigating a racist society.

Morrison also explores the theme of racism through Corinthians's relationship with her employer, Michael-Mary Graham. Miss Graham is a person who has deluded herself. She acts as if she is great poet, but apparently her view of her talent is overblown, as demonstrated by publishers' hesitancy to publish her collected works. Graham has also deluded herself about being enlightened toward black people. She views herself as being liberally open minded for having an educated, cultured black maid. However, this relationship is based on Graham being superior and Corinthians being inferior. Because of this Corinthians does not tell Graham that she went to France or to college. Also even though Corinthians speaks French, she does not admit to knowing "one word of French that Miss Graham had not taught her." In other words Corinthians has to make sure Graham views her as inferior in order to allow Graham to maintain her racist worldview.

Also Morrison suggests the theme of abandonment of women through the attitude of Macon and Milkman toward Lena and Corinthians. Macon has completely denied his daughters any opportunity to develop their true selves. In this way Macon has abandoned his role as their father. Milkman has also abandoned Lena and Corinthians through his superior attitude. He has been raised with the belief that the sons in a family, especially the oldest or only son, should be pampered and treated as special. Milkman has been raised with a sense of male entitlement but is completely unaware of this. He sees himself as being easygoing toward his sisters when in fact he has taken advantage of them. Milkman has abandoned his role of being a caring brother.

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