Chapter 1 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Mercy Hospital have an unofficial name, and what is that name?

2. What is the name of the poor section of town?

3. What does Robert Smith wear to help him fly?

4. What does the narrator say Milkman thinks of himself after he learns he can’t fly?

5. Why does Dr. Foster want a centerpiece on his dining room table, and what does it signify?

6. What fairy tale does Ruth compare nursing her son to? What is the significance of it?

7. What are the two names of Macon Dead’s office?

8. How is Pilate named?

9. How are pine needles significant in Pilate’s life? What do they symbolize?

10. Why does Macon go to Pilate’s house?

1. Mercy Hospital is called “No Mercy” Hospital by the black residents because they are not permitted to enter the hospital.

2. The name of the poor part of town is Southside.

3. Robert Smith wears “wide blue silk wings.”

4. Milkman “lost all interest in himself” when he learned he couldn’t fly. “To have to live without that single gift saddened him and left his imagination so bereft that he appeared dull even to the women who did not hate his mother.”

5. Dr. Foster sees the centerpiece as a symbol of wealth and refinement to distinguish his family from “the people among whom they lived.” He wants to show his superiority over the lower classes.

6. Ruth compares the nursing of Milkman to the spinning of gold in Rumpelstiltskin because it gives Ruth a feeling of possessing a magical form of power.

7. The names of Macon Dead’s office are “Office” and “Sonny’s Shop.”

8. Pilate’s father chooses her name randomly from the Bible, based on the shape of the word’s letters, because he is unable to read.

9. Pilate sleeps on pine needles in her mattress, and she likes to chew them. Pine needles symbolize nature.

10. Macon goes to Pilate’s house because there is no music in his own home. Macon says “he wanted just a bit of music—from the person who had been his first caring for.”

Chapter 2 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What meaning did the Sunday afternoon rides have for Macon and Ruth?

2. Which direction does Milkman ultimately face in the car What does he see when he faces forward?

3. Why is the car called Macon Dead’s hearse?

4. How does Guitar describe Pilate’s house?

5. Does Milkman feel differently about his last name (Dead) after he visits Pilate? How?

6. What does Pilate say about the color black and the color green?

7. What does Pilate know about her mother’s bonnet? What doesn’t she know about her mother?

8. Why does Pilate say a brother and a cousin are the “same thing,” even if they don’t have the same mother?

9. What does Pilate think of being scared of something that isn’t real?

10. Why doesn’t Macon want Milkman to visit Pilate?

1. For Macon, the Sunday afternoon drives were a way to show off his wealth and look for new real estate markets. For Ruth, the drives were a way to display her family.

2. Milkman faces backward in the car. When he faces forward, he can only see “the laps, feet, and hands of his parents, the dashboard, or the silver winged woman poised at the tip of the Packard.”

3. The car is called Macon Dead’s hearse because with the exception of Lena and Corinthians, the car has “no real lived life at all.”

4. Guitar describes Pilate’s house as “Shiny and brown. With a smell.”

5. Milkman always disliked his name, but with Pilate he acts as if “having the name was a matter of deep personal pride.”

6. Pilate says there are five or six kinds of black and green, like the colors of bottles, a grasshopper, a cucumber, lettuce, or “green like the sky is just before it breaks loose to storm.”

7. She knows her mother’s bonnet is blue like the sky, but she doesn’t know her mother’s name.

8. Pilate says they are the same because you have to treat them both the same.

9. Pilate believes that believing something is real is enough to make it real. Belief is reality.

10. Macon doesn’t want Milkman to visit Pilate because Pilate “can’t teach (Milkman) a thing (he) can use in this world.”

Chapter 3 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Milkman feel closer to President Franklin Roosevelt than to his father?

2. Why is Ruth jealous of death?

3. What does Ruth say to Macon that precipitates Macon smacking her in the jaw?

4. What word did Dr. Foster use to refer to the “Negroes” in the town? What was he most interested in when he delivered Milkman’s sisters?

5. How were Lena and Corinthians’ names chosen? Who else’s name was chosen by this method?

6. Why does Macon tell Milkman the story about his mother?

7. Does Milkman love his mother? Why or why not?

8. What horrible secret does Macon tell Milkman?

9. What does Macon’s story compel Milkman to remember?

10. What news is being broadcast over the radio when Milkman arrives at Tommy’s Barber Shop?

1. Milkman feels closer to the late FDR because FDR had polio and Milkman believes one of his legs is shorter than the other. Milkman’s father is too perfect for Milkman to be like him.

2. Ruth is jealous of death because when her father died, she felt he purposely chose death because it was “a more provocative companion” than she was. Ruth felt “personal failure” and “rejection.”

3. Ruth tells Macon, “I certainly am my daddy’s daughter.”

4. Dr. Foster called the “Negroes” in the town “cannibals,” and wanted to know if Milkman’s sisters’ skin color was light or dark.

5. Lena and Corinthians’ names were picked randomly from the Bible. Pilate, Reba, and Hagar’s names were also chosen from the Bible.

6. Macon wants Milkman to understand his actions and to explain why he hit Macon’s mother.

7. Milkman doesn’t love his mother because “she was too insubstantial, too shadowy for love.”

8. Macon tells Milkman that Ruth had some kind of sexual relationship with her father.

9. Macon’s story compels Milkman to remember that Ruth nursed Milkman when he was too old to be nursed.

10. The news broadcast at Tommy’s Barber Shop is that (Emmett) Till, a young “Negro,” was “stomped to death” in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman.

Chapter 4 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What are some of the metaphors Milkman uses to describe Hagar?

2. What one gift that Hagar receives is especially out of place in her house?

3. What book does Pilate read?

4. What happens to Pilate’s mouth when she is upset?

5. Why does Reba want to be a patient in a hospital?

6. Does Guitar like Honoré? What does he call it?

7. What does Milkman equate being serious with?

8. What are some of the violent flower images the narrator uses to describe the garden in Milkman’s dream?

9. Who does Freddy say killed his mother?

10. Who else besides Guitar does Freddy say should know about the “strange things” going on in town?

1. Milkman refers to Hagar as “his private honey pot” and “the third beer.”

2. The one gift Hagar receives that is especially out of place in her household is a bathrobe, because she has no bathroom.

3. Pilate reads a fourth-grade geography book.

4. When Pilate is upset, her mobile mouth becomes still.

5. Reba wants to go to the hospital because she thinks it’s a “nice hotel.”

6. Guitar doesn’t like Honoré. He refers to it as a “nigger heaven.”

7. Milkman equates being serious with being “miserable.”

8. Some of the violent flower images the narrator uses to describe Ruth’s garden are the “bloody red heads,” and “the bobbing snapping heads” of the flowers with “their soft jagged lips.”

9. Freddy says that ghosts killed his mother.

10. Freddy tells Milkman that besides Guitar, he should ask Corinthians about the “strange things” going on in town.

Chapter 5 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Do Guitar and Milkman get along better or worse after their quarrel about Honoré versus Alabama? Why?

2. Why does Guitar say Southerners can relate to Jesus?

3. Why does Guitar tell Milkman that a “Negro” can’t be an egg?

4. How often does Hagar attempt to kill Milkman?

5. Where does Milkman follow Ruth to?

6. What words does Ruth use to describe her father’s moral character?

7. Who aided Ruth in saving Milkman when Macon tried to abort him?

8. When was the last time Ruth and Macon had physical relations before they conceived Milkman? How many years elapsed between then and when Milkman was conceived?

9. What did Pilate give Ruth to entice Macon into sleeping with her?

10. What piece of fruit does Pilate offer Ruth both times that she visits? Why can’t Ruth eat it?

1. Guitar and Milkman get along better after their quarrel because of its cleansing effect on their relationship: “They were easy with each other now that they didn’t have to pretend.”

2. Guitar says Southerners can relate to Jesus because they can relate to his being “strung up on a tree.”

3. Guitar says a “Negro” can’t be an egg because his genes won’t allow it: “Nature says no.”

4. Hagar attempts to kill Milkman at least once every month.

5. Milkman follows Ruth to the Fairfield Cemetery where her father is buried.

6. Ruth describes her father’s moral character by saying he “was not a good man,” and that he was “arrogant,” “foolish,” and “destructive.”

7. Pilate aided Ruth in the preservation of Milkman’s life.

8. The last time Ruth and Macon had physical relations was before Dr. Foster died. Therefore, they didn’t have relations for ten years.

9. Pilate gives Ruth “some greenish-gray grassy-looking stuff” that has to be mixed with rain water, and then put in Macon’s food in order to entice Macon to sleep with her.

10. Pilate offers Ruth a peach both times she visits, but Ruth can’t eat peaches because the fuzz tickles her nose.

Chapter 6 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. According to Milkman, what vices has Guitar given up?

2. What does Guitar say about white people as a race? Does he believe all white people have the potential to kill?

3. Does Milkman “buy into” Guitar’s views of white people? Why or why not?

4. What does Guitar say about the Mafia and the Klan?

5. What historic names does Guitar cite as potential killers?

6. Why did Robert Smith commit suicide and why did Henry Porter try to?

7. What does Guitar mean when he says of Robert Smith, “we do that rather than crack and tell somebody?”

8. Can Guitar have a family life as a member of the Seven Days?

9. What does Guitar say when Milkman says that there’s “no love in it,” referring to the Seven Days?

10. Why does Milkman “take Guitar to task” when Guitar says “we don’t off Negroes”?

1. According to Milkman, Guitar has given up “smoking,” “fucking,” and “drinking.”

2. Guitar says that as a race, white people are “unnatural.” He believes because they’re “unnatural” that any one of them has the potential to kill.

3. No, Milkman does not agree with Guitar. He thinks Guitar is unfairly stereotyping white people.

4. Guitar says the Mafia “kills for money,” and the Klan “kills for fun.”

5. Guitar cites the names of John F. Kennedy, Albert Schweitzer, and Eleanor Roosevelt as historic figures who would kill black people if the opportunity arose.

6. Robert Smith and Henry Porter tried to commit suicide because they were Seven Days’ members, and the responsibility got to be too much for them.

7. When referring to Robert Smith, Guitar means that Seven Days’ members would take their own lives before betraying their cause.

8. No, as a member of the Seven Days , Guitar cannot marry or have children.

9. Guitar tells Milkman that the Seven Days is about love. Guitar says, “It’s about loving us. About loving you. My whole life is love.”

10. Milkman criticizes Guitar when Guitar says, “We don’t off Negroes” because Milkman has said to him, “You can off me.” Rather than think of Milkman as an individual, Guitar categorizes him first by what race Milkman is.

Chapter 7 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What does Macon tell Milkman that freedom is?

2. Why doesn’t Macon know that Pilate has a green sack hanging from her ceiling?

3. Where do Pilate and Macon go after their father is killed?

4. Who buries Macon’s father, and where?

5. Why did the “slavemaster’s” house where Circe hid the children repulse Pilate and Macon?

6. What two possessions did Pilate have that belonged to her mother? What possession of her father’s did she have?

7. What happened to Pilate’s ear after she put on her earring? What did Circe do to help her?

8. Where were Macon and Pilate originally headed once they left Circe’s house?...

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Chapter 8 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does the narrator say Milkman includes Guitar in the plan to steal the gold?

2. Why does Milkman suddenly start buying newspapers? What kind of reports is Milkman looking for?

3. As Milkman and Guitar discuss their plan for stealing the gold, what image does Milkman see as he stares “off into the sky for inspiration”?

4. Why is Milkman aware of a falseness in his voice when he talks to Guitar about what he will buy with the gold? Why does he really want the gold?

5. What does Milkman say about the way Pilate’s household tells time?

6. Where does Milkman tell Guitar are the only places Pilate, Reba, and Hagar go together?


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Chapter 9 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Corinthians’ mother approve of the title “amanuensis”?

2. What is the actual work Corinthians does?

3. What work had Corinthians done up until this point?

4. Why don’t the men of the community want to marry Corinthians?

5. What college did Corinthians attend? What colleges would the men have preferred?

6. According to the narrator what did a “four-year dose of liberal education” do to Corinthians?

7. What kind of shoes did Corinthians wear to and from work?

8. How does Henry Porter introduce himself to Corinthians?

9. What covers Henry Porter’s walls? What do the dates signify?


(The entire section is 301 words.)

Chapter 10 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why does Milkman tell Guitar he intends to go to Danville on his own?

2. What does Guitar answer when Milkman tells him “Everybody wants something from me...”?

3. What does Guitar tell Milkman about his father?

4. What does Guitar see in the eyes of his mother after the “white man” gives her $40?

5. When Guitar says “just recently one of us was put out on the street,” who is he referring to? Who is the “us” in the phrase? Who is responsible?

6. What are some of the things that indicate Milkman is wealthy when he goes to Danville?

7. When Milkman meets Reverend Cooper, why does the Reverend become extremely...

(The entire section is 385 words.)

Chapter 11 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What do the Shalimar women carry in their hands? What does Milkman expect to see them carrying?

2. Why does Milkman end up buying a car to travel to Shalimar?

3. What does Milkman say about “southern hospitality”?

4. How does Mr. Solomon pronounce Shalimar?

5. What message does Guitar leave with Mr. Solomon for Milkman? What does it mean?

6. Why didn’t Milkman play as a child the way the children of Shalimar do?

7. How did Milkman and Guitar originally meet?

8. What are the two major things Milkman does wrong to incite the men of Shalimar?

9. What is the name of the place where the wind sounds like a...

(The entire section is 386 words.)

Chapter 12 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Who does Milkman specifically go to see in Chapter 12 to find out more information about his family? What specifically does he want to know?

2. What is Sing’s relationship to Susan Byrd and her father?

3. What is Susan Byrd’s grandmother’s name?

4. Is it true that it isn’t important for Milkman to find his people?

5. What does Milkman realize the ghost is telling Pilate when it says, “Sing”?

6. Since Pilate doesn’t have a navel, what else does Milkman figure can also be true?

7. What does Milkman realize he’s left behind at Susan Byrd’s house?

8. Why does Guitar try to kill Milkman? Why doesn’t...

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Chapter 13 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. What metaphor does Guitar use to symbolize what love should be like?

2. Pilate and Reba are credited with being able to “make up (their lives)” each because they have a quality Hagar lacks. What are those qualities?

3. What happens now when Reba tries to win things?

4. What facial descriptions are used to describe Pilate and Reba’s anxiety over Hagar’s condition?

5. What does Reba pawn in order to get Hagar the necessary money for her shopping trip? How much money does Hagar take with her to shop?

6. Why does Marcelline of Lilly’s Beauty Parlor agree to take Hagar as a customer in spite of the late hour?

7. What happens...

(The entire section is 345 words.)

Chapter 14 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Why doesn’t Susan Byrd tell Milkman the truth about his family in front of Grace Long?

2. According to Susan Byrd, what is Jake’s last name?

3.Who did Solomon leave behind when he flew back to Africa?

4. Approximately how many families consider themselves the kin of Solomon in the town of Shalimar?

5. What place besides the town is named after Solomon? What is its significance?

6. What other reason does Susan Byrd give to explain why Ryna lost her mind besides the reason of “love”?

7. How does Susan Byrd explain to Milkman why the children’s song says, “Jake the only son of Solomon?

8. Who took care of...

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Chapter 15 Questions and Answers

Study Questions
1. Where does Milkman want to swim?

2. Once Sweet learns that Solomon flew back to Africa, what is her next question? Why?

3. Why does Milkman read the road signs “with interest” on his ride back to Michigan?

4. What is the official name of “Not Doctor” street? Why isn’t it used?

5. Why doesn’t the narrator include a list of names in the last chapter?

6. What does Milkman conclude that all human relationships “boil down to”?

7. What does Pilate do when, upon Milkman’s return, he tries to embrace her?

8. Where is the “something of Hagar’s” that Pilate has put near Milkman in the cellar?


(The entire section is 358 words.)