Chapter 9 Summary and Analysis
Michael-Mary Graham: the hack-poetess who hires Corinthians to work as a maid in her house
Mr. Solomon: the name Pilate gives to her imaginary husband, whose bones, she tells the police, are in the green sack that Milkman and Guitar steal from her house
Nero: member of the Seven Days that Milkman sees in Porter’s Oldsmobile
At the age of 42, Corinthians gets her first job outside the house, as a maid to an affected, hack-poetess. In spite of Corinthians refined upper middle-class upbringing and her college education, she had led a dead-end life with no prospects for marrying. Refusing to be resigned to a home-life of making artificial roses, Corinthians finally acquires her own money and independence through her new job, but she lies to her family about her work.
On the bus to work, she meets Henry Porter, a yardman who is a member of the Seven Days, and a man who isn’t her social equal. While Corinthians is ashamed of him, she comes to love him anyway. When Henry finally makes Corinthians choose between ¬being a “doll baby” (like her mother) or being a “woman,” Corinthians chooses the latter. After spending the night with Henry, her “vanity” is transformed into “self-esteem.”
After Milkman and Guitar are picked up by the police for stealing a sack of human bones, Pilate plays the role of “Aunt Jemima” to get the two men out of jail. Pilate tells the police the bones in the green sack belong to Mr. Solomon, her husband. She tells the police, she had been too poor to bury the bones. Guitar, sickened by Pilate’s groveling and incensed that there is no gold, looks at Pilate “with jeweled hatred in his eyes.”
At home in his bathtub, Milkman reexperiences the shame of having been arrested and handcuffed. He feels remorse for his betrayal of Pilate, the woman who has loved and nurtured him throughout his life. As Milkman reflects on his disgraceful actions, he notices his legs are both the same length.
Milkman has a conversation with Lena in which his sister accuses him of having “peed” on everyone his entire life. Lena ascribes his behavior to “that hog’s gut that hangs down between your legs.” Lena is infuriated that Milkman betrayed Corinthians by telling Macon that Henry Porter was her lover. Lena denounces Milkman for being “exactly like (their father).”
The highly ironic portrayal of Corinthians and the poetess who has hired her as a maid has many humorous touches and is replete with examples of an appearance vs. reality conflict. Corinthians may be a maid, but she euphemistically refers to herself as an “amaneuensis,” a “rickety Latin word” that meets with the approval of her mother and gives the appearance of a job
that is “intricate, demanding, and totally in keeping with her education.”
Corinthians keeps up social appearances by dressing in high heels, and only dons the necessary pair of loafers and dress once she arrives at the home of her employer.
Corinthians, like her mother, has all the qualities of the ideal Southern white woman. She is light in skin color, and has no real skills. She is a delicate-appearing ornament. She is “enlightened in education” so that she is “able to contribute to the civilization” or “civilizing of her (backward) community.” In this ironic tone, the narrator equates a liberal arts education at what she considers to be an uppity rich white woman’s college (Bryn Mawr) to an act of futility where one develops no useful skills to function in the practical world.
Corinthian’s employer, Michael-Mary Graham, is a parody of a poet. She is characterized by all the worst stereotypes of a creative person: she can’t do domestic work because of the “heavy demand of artistic responsibility.” She selects “colors and furnishings” for their “inspirational value.” Michael-Mary Graham speaks and thinks in clichés: concerned with hiring a frail-figured woman such as Corinthians as a maid, Michael-Mary hires...
(The entire section is 1,574 words.)