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Chapter 5 Summary and Analysis

New Characters:
Moon: character who aids Guitar in preventing Hagar from killing Milkman

Preacher: head of family who took in an orphaned Pilate at age 12 when Pilate decided to search for her extended family

Pickers: migrants who Pilate lived and worked with for three years when she lived in New York State. They evicted her from their midst when they found out she had no navel

Father of Reba: Pilate’s lover on the Virginia island where she gave birth to Reba

In this chapter, Milkman conceals himself in Guitar’s room in order to avoid a spurned Hagar, who is intent on killing Milkman. Guitar continues to criticize Milkman’s selfishness, his lack of a social consciousness, and his Northern ways, (ways Guitar equates with white middle-class materialism.) But regardless of Milkman and Guitar’s striking differences, they continue to care about each other.

In spite of their closeness, each of the friends knows the other has a secret. Guitar is afraid because Milkman is indifferent toward the prospect of death, and Guitar fears for Milkman’s life, but Guitar doesn’t know what is at the source of Milkman’s indifference. Milkman has his suspicions about Guitar’s covert activities and is on the verge of discovering that Guitar is a member of the Seven Days.

One early morning Milkman confronts his mother after he’s followed her out to the cemetery where her father is buried. He learns his mother’s version of Macon’s story. Ruth tells Milkman that Macon is responsible for her father’s death and that he also tried to kill Milkman before he was born. Ruth tells Milkman about his parents’ estranged relationship. She denies an incestuous relationship with her father. She tells Milkman the details surrounding his birth: Pilate’s magic concoction enticed Macon to impregnate Ruth. When Macon found out about the pregnancy, he attempted to abort Milkman. Pilate intervened, and gave Ruth a protective girdle to guarantee Milkman’s unobstructed birth.

Ruth admits to nursing Milkman, but she tells him she also prayed for him. “What harm did I do you on my knees?” she asks him, and the question unceasingly repeats itself in Milkman’s mind.

The burden of this additional family information makes Milkman feel “like a garbage pail for the actions and hatred of other people.” As a result, Milkman finds himself attracted to the prospect of death because “afterward there would be no remembrance of who he was or where.” Hagar breaks into Guitar’s room and manages to stab Milkman in the shoulder.

When Ruth discovers Hagar’s intention to kill Milkman, she goes to Pilate’s house to confront Hagar. But Pilate intervenes, telling both women Milkman “wouldn’t give a pile of swan shit for either one of you.” A discussion about death ensues, and Pilate tells Ruth that she still communicates with her dead father. Pilate tells Ruth the history of her life. After separating from Macon, Pilate travels for 20 years. She lives with a preacher’s family, with “pickers” or migrants, and with an island clan in Virginia where she gives birth to Reba. After her daughter’s birth, her father’s ghost appears to Pilate. He tells her to “Sing,” and adds that “You just can’t fly off and leave a body.” Responding to his words, Pilate believes she must return to Pennsylvania to bury the bones of the man she and Macon murdered.

Chapter 5 continues to compare and contrast Milkman and Guitar’s characters. They are divided along class lines—Milkman is rich; Guitar is poor. They disagree on race issues: Milkman is indifferent or “bored” with race issues; Guitar is developing a “black power” mentality, similar to Malcolm X and the Nation of Islam with its radical solutions to racism and belief in black separatism. They are vehement about their distaste for the other’s preferred geographic locale: Milkman stereotypes the South as an unenlightened, poor, and backward community; Guitar stereotypes the...

(The entire section is 1,714 words.)