Chapter 8 Summary and Analysis
Guitar needs money for explosives to avenge the death of “four little colored girls” who have been “blown out of a church.” Milkman offers Guitar one-third of the gold, if Guitar will help Milkman steal it. While discussing a plan of action, Guitar is ruthless in his conversation with Milkman. Guitar says he will “knock off” Milkman’s relatives if it’s necessary. “What you doin’ with a heart anyway?” he asks Milkman.
Meanwhile, Milkman is preoccupied with the thought that Guitar may have already murdered for his vigilante organization. In spite of Milkman’s moral opposition to the Seven Days, he is mesmerized by the prospect of murder as something “exotic.” Milkman wonders how it must feel; he wonders how it would change a person. He is impressed “with the seriousness and the dread of the work of the Days,” the fear they must inspire.
Milkman is giddy with the romance of him and Guitar “taking risks” again like when they were young “swashbucklers.” Milkman associates the stealing of the gold with the “old times” when they “swaggered, haunched, leaned, straddled, ran all over town trying to pick fights or at least scare somebody….” As they discuss the theft, they see a peacock weighted down by the “jewelry” of its plumage. The image triggers talk of what they will buy with the gold once they collect it. As they approach Pilate’s house on the night of the theft, Milkman and Guitar are immune to the sweet smell of the night air. They can only inhale the smell of money. Pilate observes the two men entering her house and is unable to fathom why they’d want a green sack filled with a dead man’s bones.
Milkman’s sense of self continues to be unstable. While he desperately wants the mobility attaining the gold can give him, he finds it hard to make decisions not only about the gold but in life. To act, in general, is difficult for Milkman. He admits that he is unable to lead anything but a frivolous, lighthearted life because he is overburdened with his family’s secrets. However, he is always quick to distribute blame to someone else for his condition.
When Guitar tells him “You got a life? Live it!” he jars Milkman into believing if he steals the gold, his self-worth will rise. Guitar’s words make Milkman’s Jack in the Beanstalk fantasy “into an act, an important, real and daring thing to do.” (fairy tale allusion)
Milkman envisions himself after stealing the gold as “a self that could join the chorus at Railroad Tommy’s with more than laughter.” Milkman still believes that the way a man impresses another man is to show he can rule people by fear. Sharing this act with Guitar, Milkman believes, will also allow him to regain the irresponsibility and carefree feeling he experienced when he and
Guitar used to terrorize the neighborhood when Milkman was 12 years old.
But Guitar has irrevocably changed from the street-roaming youngster, and subsequently, the free-thinking, caring adult he used to be. He not only makes judgments based solely on skin color, but he is gender-biased, as well. He thinks he can outfox and outslug Pilate, Reba, and Hagar because they are women. He also shows no regard for Milkman’s hesitancy to want to cause bodily harm to his relatives when the two men attempt to take the gold from Pilate’s house.
Two symbols stand out in Chapter 8. The pure white peacock is a metaphor for both material possessions and “emotional baggage.” While the theme of flight continues to structure the text, it is always flight of an unsuccessful nature. When Milkman shows “unrestrained joy” at the precarious flight of the peacock, Guitar tells him that the bird has “too much tail. All that jewelry weighs it down. Like vanity. Can’t nobody fly with all that shit. Wanna fly, you got to give up the shit that weighs you down.” Guitar may give Milkman this advice, but he doesn’t seem to know that there are other forms of vanity besides...
(The entire section is 1,127 words.)