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Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

New Character:
Mary: the barmaid and part-time owner of a bar in the Blood Bank, where Milkman and Guitar often go to drink

Macon Dead’s Sunday afternoon ritual is to show off his success by driving his well-heeled family across town to the wealthy, white neighborhoods in his expensive automobile. On these trips, Dead investigates new real estate markets. The year is 1936, and Macon contemplates the idea of an all-black vacation community in Honoré, similar to the summer resorts for white people.

A young Milkman is forced to sit backwards in the car in order to be able to see out the window. No one gets pleasure from the ride except Lena and Corinthians who pretend they’re fairy princesses being driven by a prince. When Milkman has to relieve himself in the woods, Lena is elected to go with him. While relieving himself, Milkman accidently sprays Lena with urine.

The black people who see the car pass by make fun of the severe and passionless Dead family, which rides joylessly in its “hearse” without exhibiting any “real lived life” in the car.

When Milkman is 12 years old, his friend Guitar takes him to his Aunt Pilate’s house for the first time. There, Milkman learns that the image of Pilate portrayed by his father is untrue; she is neither dirty nor drunk. Instead, Milkman is entranced by this remarkable woman and the sights, sounds, and smells of the mythic Pilate’s world. The atmosphere and Milkman’s conversations with Pilate arouse deep feelings in him. Pilate tells Milkman about his grandfather’s death at the hands of white men. Milkman meets Pilate’s daughter, Reba, who repeatedly wins prizes without even trying and Pilate’s granddaughter Hagar, with whom he falls helplessly in love. Milkman believes that he is completely happy for the first time in his life.

When Macon finds out that Milkman has been at Pilate’s, he scolds him, but he grows sentimental. Macon tells Milkman stories of his Pennsylvania childhood, farming side-by-side with his father on the land they called “Lincoln’s Heaven.” Macon explains how his father, Macon Dead I, got his name from a drunken, white Yankee when he registered as a freedman in 1869. His light-skinned mother, who looked white, told Macon I to keep his new name to wipe out the past. Macon Jr. confirms Pilate’s story of how their father was killed. In spite of Macon’s fond remembrances of his childhood, when he carried his baby sister Pilate to another farm in his arms every morning, Macon forbids Milkman’s return
to Pilate’s house. Instead, Macon gives Milkman a job as Macon’s assistant.

Macon Dead lacks any joy in his life, even when driving his big, flashy car. The townpeople refer to it as a “hearse” because Macon Dead is characterized as “life denying.” Macon Dead’s Sunday trips are both a way to display his wealth and to seek new real estate markets. Embracing the worst values of white middle-class capitalism, Macon worships a “god” of money and material possessions. By capitalizing on the new black bourgeoisie and the rise of land ownership among them, Macon is exploiting his own people. Additionally, by contemplating the creation of a separate black community, Macon is indirectly sanctioning segregation. His Sunday drives, which for another family might be pleasurable family outings are, instead, “too important to enjoy.”

In the traditional patriarchal or male-headed family, men, work outside the home, while the female sphere is the home, and not the world outside. While Macon functions in the public realm—the world outside is his reality—Ruth functions in the private realm.

Much evidence was given in the first chapter to reveal that Ruth is not very successful at domestic tasks. She cannot cook and she is not a traditional nurturing mother-figure. Therefore, Ruth doesn’t perceive her family members as subjects, but as objects of her domestic world which she is proud to show off: she wants to display her family.

(The entire section is 1,927 words.)