Chapter 15 Summary and Analysis
Elated by his discovery of the story of the flying African, Milkman shares his exultation with Sweet by frolicking joyfully in the waters of Shalimar while yelling at the top of his lungs “my great-granddaddy could flyyyyyy and the whole damn town is named after him.”
On his return trip to Michigan, Milkman reads the road signs with interest and wonders “what lay beneath the names.” Milkman knows that “under the recorded names were other names, just as ‘Macon Dead,’ recorded for all time in some dusty file, hid from view the real names of people, places, and things. Names that had meaning”—names whose history was lost with their erasure.
Upon arriving in Michigan, Milkman hastens off to Pilate’s house to tell her that the green sack she’s been carrying is filled with the bones of her father. Milkman also wants to tell her that the ghost of her father wasn’t telling her to sing; he was calling out her mother’s name. Instead, when Milkman arrives, Pilate “knocks him out” and puts him in the basement next to a shoe box filled with Hagar’s hair. Milkman realizes that “while he dreamt of flying, Hagar was dying.” It reminds him of his great-grandfather Solomon, leaving Ryna behind. Milkman explains to Pilate the meaning of the words “You just can’t fly on off and leave a body.” Milkman tells Pilate that her father wants her to bury him in Virginia, at Solomon’s Leap “where he belongs.”
As Pilate and Milkman prepare to bury Macon Dead I (or Jake), the smell of ginger permeates the air. Instead of putting a rock or cross on the grave, Pilate yanks off her earring “with the single word Jake ever wrote” on it and puts it in his grave. A concealed Guitar shoots Pilate, and she dies as Milkman, at her request, sings her into death. Milkman realizes he loves her because “she could fly…without ever leaving the ground.” Yelling to Guitar, “You want my life? You need it?” Milkman turns toward Guitar and leaps into the air, surrendering to “the killing arms of his brother.” Like the mythic Greek hero, Milkman returns to the bosom of his family to share his new-found knowledge.
As Song of Solomon concludes, the themes of the novel resurface to frame the text, as they did in the beginning of the novel. At the onset of Chapter 1, Pilate sings to soothe Ruth, as pregnant with Milkman, she goes into premature labor. As the novel ends, Milkman sings, sending Pilate off into the final phase of the life cycle—the death phase. But Pilate’s death is a form of rebirth because in cyclical time, as one phase ends, another begins.
As Milkman speaks the words to the old blues song Pilate sang at his birth, he links the past—the song of Solomon, and the song of Sugarman—with the present, the song of Sugargirl. The song embraces both the oral tradition of song as memory and history, and naming. And once again, the song is accompanied by flight. First, as Pilate is lain to rest, a bird flies off with her earring, carrying her name and her spirit back to Africa. Then Milkman, who has acquired the knowledge to “sing his...
(The entire section is 836 words.)