Download Song of Solomon Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Feather: he is the pool hall owner in the crime-riddled section of town called the Blood Bank

Railroad Tommy: one of two owners of Tommy’s Barbershop on Tenth Street. He is a member of the Seven Days

Hospital Tommy: one of two owners of Tommy’s Barbershop and a member of the Seven Days

Anna Djvorak: the Hungarian woman who credits Dr. Foster with saving her son’s life in 1903. Ruth Dead comes to her granddaughter’s wedding

Father Padrew: the Catholic priest who presides over Mrs. Djvorak’s granddaughter’s marriage, and who gives communion to Ruth Dead

Empire State: he is a Seven Days member who kills a white boy in a school yard after the historic figure Emmett Till is lynched

Emmett Till: historic figure; a 14-year-old black boy who is lynched by whites after whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955

Milkman continues to form an identity separate from Macon, but he is kicked out of Feather’s pool hall because Macon is his father. Railroad Tommy, one of the barbershop owners, lectures Milkman and Guitar about all the things they will never have or experience because they are black men.

When Milkman is 14, he discovers that one of his legs is shorter than the other. This imperfection assures Milkman that he could never emulate his father. Because of his limp, Milkman relates to President Franklin Roosevelt, who had polio.

Chapter 3 begins in 1934 and ends in 1955. In 1943, in the midst of World War Two, Milkman is 22 years old. He has been dating Hagar and other girls for six years. Because of his relationships with the opposite sex, he sees his mother Ruth in a new light. Rather than just being the woman who cared for him, Milkman sees the smallness and limits of his mother’s pathetic world.

One day, Macon and Ruth’s antagonistic relationship explodes. Ruth tells a self-deprecating story which enrages Macon when she ends it by saying she is “her daddy’s daughter.” Milkman defends her by pulling Macon off her and threatening Macon. Milkman is both ashamed and exhilarated by his action, but not one family member shows gratitude for his good deed. Confused, Milkman reflects on his identity and his place in the world.

Macon explains the reasons behind his actions to Milkman. In spite of Milkman’s resistance, he is forced to hear Macon’s version of the history of Ruth and Macon’s relationship. Macon tells Milkman that his maternal grandfather was a racist snob and that he and Ruth considered Macon a “hick” from the South. They flaunted their upper middle-class Northern upbringing in Macon’s face. Macon severed all sexual relations with Ruth, when in 1921, at the time of Dr. Foster’s death, Macon discovered Ruth lying naked next to the dead man with his fingers in her mouth.

Unable to bear Macon’s “truths,” Milkman leaves the house and searches for Guitar, to get his best friend’s sympathy and “read” on everything Milkman has just been burdened with. As he walks along the street, the incestuous image of his mother lying with her own father triggers a deeply buried memory of Ruth nursing Milkman. Gradually, the vague, piecemeal memory comes more sharply into focus. Ashamed and repulsed by his recollection, Milkman questions his self-worth and the value of his life. While he is walking he puzzles over an enormous flow of people passing him in the opposite direction at a time in the evening when the streets are usually empty.

Milkman finds Guitar at Tommy’s Barbershop, where a group of men are gathered, listening to a radio report about the lynching of Emmett Till in Mississippi. Guitar is incensed by the Till tragedy, but Milkman, lacking any degree of social consciousness, is indifferent to it. At the end of the chapter, Milkman tells Guitar about his defense of Ruth and the origin of his family name. Guitar tells Milkman he can empathize with him. Guitar makes an analogy between Milkman’s act and Guitar’s accidental killing of a doe on a hunting trip, hoping it...

(The entire section is 1,879 words.)