Chapter 13 Summary and Analysis
Lilly: the owner of Lilly’s Beauty Parlor
Marcelline: an employee of Lilly’s Beauty Parlor
Chapter 13 is a flashback to Michigan, and opens with Guitar finding Hagar after she’s made her final attempt on Milkman’s life. Guitar lectures Hagar on love, telling her “you can’t own a human being,” and a person “can’t value you more than you value yourself.” Hagar’s love is described as a “stingy little love that ate everything in sight.” He blames Pilate and Reba for spoiling her and not giving her the necessary tools to cope in the world outside the home.
Hagar is no longer a functioning human being, and lies comatose in her little “Goldilocks-choice” bed. Finally, when Pilate holds a mirror to her face, Hagar responds with “No wonder.” She condemns the face in the mirror that looks back at her. Reba pawns her diamond ring to supply money to buy Hagar all the beauty products she requires to beautify herself. None of the products can make Hagar look “white” enough—the only acceptable standard of beauty she believes will give her the opportunity to lure Milkman back to her. Crushed by this knowledge, Hagar dies of a broken heart.
Ruth shames Macon into giving her money to pay for Hagar’s funeral. She is the only family member that attends the service at first. Halfway through the mass, Pilate enters the church singing “Mercy....Mercy?” In singing response, Reba joins her mother as they express the loss of “(their) baby girl.”
Hagar is representative of the women who “kill for love, die for love.” They are women who were “spoiled children,” whose every “whim had been taken seriously.” They have lacked discipline or any sense of restriction from parents; they’ve never had to live by the rules imposed by society.
Pilate and Reba are able to create their own worlds and values: Pilate because she is “strong enough,” and Reba because she is “simple enough.” But Hagar, brought up in a household of unimpeachable freedom that made up its own rules as it went along is ill-equipped to cope in the real world.
Hagar “needed what most colored girls needed: a chorus of mamas, grandmamas, aunts, cousins, sisters, neighbors, Sunday school teachers, best girl friends, and what all to give her the strength life demanded of her—and the humor with which to live it.” Pilate and Reba can only love her; they cannot help her to better arm herself to function in the outside world. Both Pilate and Reba are immune to and choose not to live in that world; both wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to help Hagar because they are isolated and only function in a limited world.
Without a large enough support group to dispel the corrupt values of the outside world, Hagar is seduced by the rhetoric of advertising ads about beauty. She believes she must look and behave a certain way in order to be loved. Since she perceives Milkman’s preference for white features, she strives to achieve such features. Hagar is the ultimate consumer. Hagar purchases cosmetic commodities, and buys into the slogans of her purchases, “read(ing) hungrily the labels and the promises,” so that she, too, could “(create) for him a world of tender privacy where the only occupant is you.”
Driven by white standards of beauty in society, Hagar is “set up” for failure even before she attempts to change the face she has with “Sunny glow” and “Mango tango.” She cannot change her African features into “white” ones. She cannot have “silky hair the...
(The entire section is 935 words.)