Song of Solomon : Chapter 10

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Part II


Summary of Chapter Ten


Milkman takes a plane and bus to the hometown, Danville, Pennsylvania, where Macon and Pilate grew up. He is suddenly immersed in a community that knows his family, feeling belonging and connection for the first time. He tells these people about his father's success, and finds that they rejoice in one of their own making it in the big world. His father is a hero to them. They are poor and have witnessed injustice, but now they feel Macon Dead II's triumph as their own.


He visits the old farm and the great mansion next to it where Circe lived. In the great house, he is surprised to see Circe, over one hundred years old and still alive (or perhaps a ghost?), living amidst the ruins. The white people (the Butlers) who owned it were the ones who killed Macon Dead, Sr. but they did not profit by it. They are all dead now, and Circe presides over their remains. She breeds the Butler's Weimeraner dogs to make enough to live on and knows when she drops down dead at last, the dogs will eat her. Circe tells him more of the family history. The men who killed his grandfather took his body to the cave to hide it after it floated out of the shallow grave dug by young Macon. His grandfather's real name was Jake. With these puzzle pieces, and having visited the cave to see there is no gold there, Milkman leaves on a bus for Virginia where his grandmother came from to see if he can find out more about the gold.


Commentary on Chapter Ten


Now we are in mythic territory as Milkman's journey takes him into the past. In Danville, he receives a shock as he learns that the downtrodden men there are suddenly elevated to hear of his father's success, for the whole community was devastated by his grandfather's unpunished murder. It meant none of them could be anyone or dare to try. Milkman has only looked at his father as a tyrant and never as a hero, as these men do. Macon Jr. has regained the family honor by doing what his father could not. Milkman gains some of the family glory and a sense of belonging.


The scene with Circe seems like a cross between Faulkner's ironic gothic tales of the old South and Dickens's Victorian gothic tales. Circe has been the maid, but now over a hundred years old, she reigns like a queen over the dark and ruined house. She watched the demise of the Butlers. She describes how the last one, Elizabeth, the mistress of the house, was too proud to lift a finger to wait on herself, and Circe just watched her suicide without helping. The dogs she breeds now are vicious, and if they are not fed their meat on time will tear her to pieces. She rules over the house like Dickens's Miss Havisham over decayed luxury. The dogs are symbolic of the men the witch Circe turned into animals by tempting them with sensual enjoyments. The Butlers are no more than animals who would kill to get what they want, but it got them nowhere. These two scenes in Danville are part of Milkman's education though he still has not digested the meaning, for he continues to look for gold.

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