Chapter 12 Summary and Analysis
Grace Long: a local school teacher in Shalimar and a friend of Susan Byrd’s. She flirts with Milkman and steals his watch
Lilah: cousin of Susan Byrd’s who “passes” for white
John: cousin of Susan Byrd’s who “passes” for white
Having absorbed the lessons of nature, Milkman forges his identity by pursuing his family history and the origins of his family name.
Milkman goes to see Susan Byrd and finds out that Susan’s grandmother, Heddy, is Sing’s mother.
Milkman continues to be puzzled over Guitar’s attempt on his life.
He marvels over his feeling of “connectedness” with the people of Shalimar: “as though there was some cord or pulse of information they shared.” In Michigan, with the exception of Pilate, Milkman felt as if he didn’t belong “to any place or anybody.”
Guitar confronts Milkman and accuses him of hoarding the gold the two men had agreed to share by secretly shipping it in a crate to Virginia. Guitar compares Milkman to his father because of his greed. Milkman realizes it is useless to try to convince Guitar that the crate Guitar saw Milkman helping a man move at the bus station wasn’t a crate of gold. Milkman realizes Guitar will never believe that Milkman was helping a fellow human being because “Guitar had never seen Milkman give anybody a hand, especially a stranger.”
Milkman continues to dream about flying, but now the manner of flying is less ostentatious. The flying does not resemble the wings and structure of a powerful airplane, but is the “floating” or “cruising” pose of a man “lying on a couch.” Flying is not a man-made form, an airplane, a symbol of modernization, but a form of human transcendence or transformation.
Milkman continues to see the children play the circle-game and sing the song they always sing, but this time he hears a different part of the song. The melody and words of the song are the same as the song that Pilate always sings, but instead of the name “Sugarman,” the children sing the name “Solomon.”
Milkman is reflective about his relationship with his family members. He experiences a new tenderness for and understanding of his parents. He regrets the feelings of hatred he felt in the past for his sisters. He is especially remorseful about his betrayal of Pilate and his mistreatment of and indifference toward Hagar.
At the end of the chapter, when Milkman determines from the children’s song that the “Solomon” they are singing about is his paternal great-grandfather, Milkman “was as eager and as happy as he had ever been in his life.”
The sense of community Milkman feels for the people of Shalimar triggers an even deeper interest in Milkman’s own family history than he had felt in Danville. Armed with “the sense of lightness and power” his dream about flying has given him, and the fact that “Pilate did not have a navel,” Milkman eagerly pursues the answers to his questions: “…why did (Sing) want her husband to keep that awful name? …To wipe out…his slave past?…And why didn’t his own father and Pilate know any of their relatives?”
As Milkman hears the old blues song Pilate always sings about “Sugarman,” he is filled with homesickness. Repulsed by his mother in the past, Milkman grows sentimental about her “quiet, crooked, apologetic smile” and sympathizes with her “sexual deprivation.” Milkman now possesses the knowledge to be able to understand his father’s perversion of Macon Dead I’s love for the land: Macon “distorted life, bent it for the sake of gain” because of Macon’s profound loss “at his father’s death.”
Most of all, Milkman is shamed by his...
(The entire section is 962 words.)