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CHAPTER SUMMARY AND NOTES
The first thing Milkman notices about the town he ends up in when his car breaks down is that the women donít carry purses. It is the backwoods of Virginia, close to the Blue Ridge Mountains. He goes to the general store and finds out heís in the town of Shalimar. He has been enjoying his trip so far. He has been amazed at the southern hospitality of the African Americans he has encountered. He is pleased especially by it since he gains it not because of who his father is, but who he is.
When he goes into Solomonís General Store, he asks Solomon about where he can get his car repaired. Solomon tells him the nearest place is some distance but that he can arrange to have someone around town fix it for him. He also tells Milkman that his friend has arrived early and has asked about him. Milkman is surprised that anyone knows where he is. When Solomon tells him his friend left the message "your day has come," he is afraid. He knows itís Guitar and he knows Guitar wouldnít joke about that phrase from the Seven Days. He decides to go outside and rest a moment. Solomon sounds slightly offended when Milkman replies offhandedly to Solomonís question about whether he should begin the process of seeing about getting the car fixed.
Outside, Milkman lies down under a tree and listens to the ring play of the children. They sing "Jay, the only son of Solomon" and words that seem like nonsense words. He remembers back to his own childhood when he never got to play in the ring plays because his mother dressed him in velvet suits. He got beaten up regularly until one day Guitar stepped in and knocked three older boys off him. From then on, Guitar had been his admired friend. Thinking of this, he decides he was wrong to worry that Guitar was after him. He decides Guitar must be in trouble and is trying to give him an urgent message.
He goes back into the store and tells Solomon the town is nice and the women are pretty. He can feel Solomon stiffen and the men who are sitting around in the store turn and look at him. He knows he has said something to offend them, but he canít imagine what it is. He asks Solomon if some of the men in the store could help him with his car. Solomon seems embarrassed by the question and says he guesses he could ask them. The men in the store are indeed insulted by Milkman. He has come into their town dressed in an expensive suit driving a car that has broken down. He has proposed buying a new car instead of dealing with fixing this one as if it were nothing to him to buy a car. They, on the other hand, have to sit around the general store all day hoping someone will come by and hire them for day labor. Now he has referred to their women with lust and he has referred to them without looking at them directly. He is treating them like "faceless laborers," no different from the way white men treat them.
One of the men, Saul, begins to taunt Milkman by making jokes about the small penis size of Northern men. Milkman answers back and they get into a fight. Saul fights with a knife and Milkman with a broken bottle. When itís over, theyíre both bleeding and Milkman is left alone to tend to his wounds. He goes out to his car and lies down in the front seat. Later in the afternoon, an old man named Omar comes out and invites him to go hunting with a group of them that night. Milkman agrees to the offer and meets them at King Walkerís closed down gas station.
Milkman is feeling disappointed in the town. He had thought it would be his real home town where his people had their beginnings. Instead he has been insulted and threatened and rejected. He sleeps and dreams of Guitar bending over him. He wakes up and eats something at Solomonís store and then goes to King Walkerís. On the way there, he realizes he has stopped evading things. He had stayed to let Hagar come to him that last time, and he had let the "nightmare witch catch him and kiss him."
At King Walkerís, he meets the other men who will be on the hunting party. They outfit him from head to foot and give him a gun to carry. As they are driving out to the land, he notices another carís headlights and thinks more people must be joining the party, but no one does. Once they get there, Omar instructs him to follow closely on his heels. Milkman notices the other car speed past them. As they begin walking, Milkman notices a low moaning sound like a woman crying. Omar tells him itís Rynaís Gulch, a rock formation. People say of it that Ryna is crying there.
Suddenly, Omar stops and realizes the dogs have gotten on the track of a bobcat rather than a raccoon. He takes off at a fast pace and Milkman has trouble keeping up with him. He gets more and more weary until he cannot go on any longer. He stops to rest by a tree. As he sits there, he notices the sounds the men and dogs are making and realizes they are speaking an intricate communication with one another. He realizes this is a knowledge he has never had. He remembers Omar stopping along the way to examine tree bark and look at the land and realizes Omar knows how to read the land in a way heís never imagined possible.
As he sits there he thinks of the hostility of the people in Shalimar to him. He canít understand what he did to deserve their hostility. Then he realizes he has been imagining great southern hospitality in people, but he hasnít stayed in one place long enough to get to know anyone. He realizes he always uses the language of "deserve." Heís been saying he doesnít deserve to have to deal with his parentsí misery, he doesnít deserve to have Hagarís strange love, but when he thinks about it, he realizes he does deserve both. If his parents canít talk to their son about their misery, who can they talk to and if Hagar canít become distraught over being discarded like a used piece of chewing gum, who can?
Milkman begins to feel grateful for being where he is. He leans against the sweet gum tree and feels it cradle him. He reaches into the earth to feel its communication and it tells him to move quickly because someone is about to kill him. He reaches his hand up and catches the wire as it goes around his throat. It cuts off his breath and he sees lights. His life passes before his eyes and it crystallizes in one image, the image of Hagar leaning over him with perfect love. He feels an overwhelming sense of sadness that his best friend is trying to kill him and this feeling makes him relax. In relaxing, some play is given the wire and he can take a breath. The breath makes him want to live, so he shoots his rifle two times, making Guitar let go of the wire and run away. When he gets up, he realizes the men and dogs are close by. He runs to where they are and finds they have treed a bobcat. He tells them he dropped his rife and it went off and that he was afraid. They are tickled at this prospect and tease him about it mercilessly.
The men shoot the bobcat and carry it back to the car. The get back to town and have breakfast. As they cut up the bobcat, Milkman thinks of Guitarís words about how "everybody wants a Black manís life." The men give Milkman the heart of the bobcat. He remembers the peacock and thinks of it soaring away and lighting on the hood of a Buick.
Milkman canít eat much of the breakfast. He asks the men about his family and Vernell, Omarís wife, tells him she remembers a woman named Sing who used to play with her grandmother. Singís family didnít like African Americans and Sing had to sneak off to play with her Black friend. Most of the family has moved away so they could pass for white, but one of them, named Susan, still lives there. Their surname is Byrd. They tell him where she lives and Milkman thinks of Guitar when he thinks of the prospect of going out to the house.
Omar tells Milkman there is a woman in town who would likely put him up for the night. Her name is Sweet. She greets Milkman warmly and gives him a bath. He has never felt such pleasure as he does when she soothes his aching body. They have sex and he feels great gratitude to her. For everything she does for him, he does something for her as well from giving her a back massage to cleaning out her bathtub.
Here is the point at which Milkman becomes a man instead of a spoiled thirty year old boy. He encounters several obstacles which give him the final push into adulthood. He comes upon the people of Shalimar and treats them with the aloof distance of a rich man among lowly workers and instead of being respected for it, he is rejected for it. He is given a test of strength by old men whom he comes to respect more deeply than he has yet respected anyone.
He learns to respect them for their physical strength, but more importantly, for their connection to the animals around them and the land they live in. Third, he is given a chance to love as well as to be loved, and he takes the chance and lives it out, reciprocating Sweetís love in a way he has never reciprocated love before.