This comparatively short chapter opens with a vivid description of springtime in New York City, as the natural landscape seeks to show the humans "the range of what an artful City can do." It is a rainy afternoon, in the Spring of 1926, and Joe Trace is crying to himself as he looks outside of his window. Meanwhile, citylife continues its brisk pace in the streets. Blind men and beggars are singing on the street corners. Evaluating the scene as a whole, the narrator says that she was never deceived by Joe Trace's seemingly quiet and considerate demeanor. After being faithful to his wife for over twenty years, he is feeling sorry for himself because his one stray act has resulted in helpless calamity. After the storyteller's final commentary, that Joe sought Dorcas because he is only sixteen years on the inside, the narrative responsibilities shift to Joe.
Joe immediately distinguishes himself from other people who "put all their business in the street." In contrast, he says, he kept his relationship with Dorcas as a secret. He thought to tell his friends Stuck and Gistan, but they would have offered little assistance and anyway, they would not have wanted the burden of knowing. Joe remembers his childhood friend, Victory Williams, the only person who merits this level of trust. Joe recounts the simple beginnings of his affair with Dorcas; he had noticed her on the street, well before he met her in the doorway of Alice Manfred's apartment. Joe admits that his desire to start a "new" relationship was fueled by the fact that he "never got close to anybody" in Harlem. Dorcas became Joe's confidante, even as he was troubled that a significant and increasing portion of his life was being lived in secret.
Joe Trace dates his birth in 1873, and he gives an extensive description of his childhood in Vienna, Virginia, beginning with his life in the home of Rhoda and Frank Williams. The Williams' raised Joe along with six of their own children. While the Williams couple cares for Joe as well as they care for their natural children, they are honest with Joe, informing him that he is not their natural child. When a younger Joe asks Rhoda about his parents she replies, "O honey, they disappeared without a trace." Joe misinterprets the comment and changes his last name after he identifies himself as "the trace'" without which his parents disappeared. Joe identifies "the best man in Vesper County," a man he calls "hunters hunter" as another parental figure in his life as a young orphan.
Joe Trace's narrative segue from his life in Virginia to his life in New York, is carried about in the seven "changes" that he says he has experienced. During the period of his seven changes, the small black community of Vienna, Virginia is attacked by "red fire" and "white sheets." Years later, during the summer of 1917, Joe recounts the frenzy of the Harlem riots. Joe awoke to find a white man removing his compatriot's metal pipe from around Joe's head, a sympathetic act that rescued Trace from certain death in the streets. He remembers struggling with Violet in their early years in Harlem, marching in the Armistice parade for the colored regiments, and overcoming the "lighter-skinned renters" who sought to keep him out of Lenox Avenue's nicer apartments. Having traced his journey from Virginia to New York, Joe focuses on his relationship with Dorcas. Joe was and remains in love with Dorcas and he regrets shooting her. After she ended the relationship, a disconsolate Trace spent five days "rambling" through the streets, before he found her. Despite his regrets, Joe remains fixed in two beliefs: that Dorcas did not mean the harsh words that she said, and that the brief "taste" of happiness is well worth the consequential sadness.
This chapter's primary effort is the presentation of Joe Trace and the opening narrator announces that she "was never deceived" as she sought to resolve Joe's placid exterior with his recent criminal act. Indeed, just as the chapter's opening argues that "the City urges contradiction," the composite of Joe Trace's character is simply a compilation of juxtapositions. The narrator notes that the stream of Joe Trace's tears parallels the rain, but this contrasted with the "streetlife" of "roosters" (young men) in competition and "old uncles," who are playing the "six-string guitar." The narrator presents Trace as a "faithful man" who removes trash and manure from the front of the buildingright before "sauntering off to his swank hotel." The narrator continues: "the sweater would be buttoned all the way up, but I know his thoughts are notthey are loose." Joe Trace appears to be "a faithful man near fifty," but inside, he has "[stopped] somewhere around sixteen." Toni Morrison depicts Joe Trace's sixteen-year-old inside, when she uses his voice to continue the chapter's narration. The structure of Joe's account is presented in the literary tradition of the "bildungsroman," (a German word, defined as a coming-of-age story) even as Joe's changes start rather late in his childhood and never culminate in emotional maturity. Joe's fifty-year old youth sustains several of the motifs of the previous chapters and adds to Morrison thematic commentary on "Memory."
The Eden motif, is made explicit when Joe apostrophizes his dead lover: "you were the reason Adam ate the apple and its core." Joe positions himself as the most recent Adam as he "let the red peeling [of the apple] break his heart." While Joe distinguishes himself from the "roosters," the Eden motif affirms his youth and the original narrator's confirmation ("he's a kid, a strapling") is a revealing pun. A stripling is a "kid," a young man; a strapling, is a young tree. As he admits, "I thought it was really Eden," Joe plays the roles of Adam and the tree, before returning to his originally cast role as the serpent. Reminiscing on his final "taste" of youth, Joe remarks "They say snakes go blind for a while before they shed skin for the last time." The return of the snake imagery, deflates Joe's youth and the "shed skin" parallels the "red peeling" of his broken heart.
Much of Joe Trace's history is a "trace" and the word "trace" has several significant connotations in the chapter. Joe's efforts to track down Dorcas, as he traces and rambles through the City, recall his experiences with Hunters Hunter. More significant than this, Joe's memory is only a trace. His commentary is among the novel's shortest and most of the details of his life are only foreshadowed herethey are revealed in subsequent chapters. The theme of memory is collectivized in this chapter and this is in part, because Joe does not have an extensive personal history to rely upon. The riots, evictions by fire, Jim Crow laws and victory parades that he discusses are all independently significant events of African-American history, even if he did suffer personal consequences. Unsurprisingly, Joe Trace's commentary focuses more on historical events and socio-economic realities than on the non-entities of his parents.
The narrator begins the chapter intending to understand True Belle's "state of mind when she moved from Baltimore back to Vesper County," to take care of her evicted daughter, Rose Dear, who was purportedly living in an abandoned shack. True Belle was a slave when she left Vesper County for Baltimore, but she was a free woman when she returned in 1888. True Belle convinced her employer (and former master), Vera Louise Gray, that she was dying and wanted to return to Vesper County to live her final days with her family. True Belle lived with Vera Louise Gray in a large house in a sophisticated Baltimore neighborhood. The third occupant, Golden Gray, was Vera's son, named at birth for his radiant golden color. Vera had lived in Vesper County, on the plantation owned by her father, Colonel Wordsworth Gray. In a small community where "nobody could hide much," Vera Louise enjoyed a romantic affair with one of her slaves and after she revealed herself to be pregnant, her parents disowned her. Offering her a "lingerie case full of money" and the slave of her choice (True Belle). In her years of service to Vera Louise, True Belle considers the child, Golden Gray, to be the "light of her life" and she returns to Virginia with two decades of wages ("ten eagle dollars") and eighteen years of Golden Gray stories. His pampered, princely life of "embroidered underwear" and "honeysuckle" baths, ends when his mother finally admits that his father was a black slave. It is True Belle, however, who offers Golden Gray the needed information of his father's whereabouts.
The narrative continues with Golden Gray's journey to Vienna, Virginia to find his father, Henry LesTroy(or Lestory). Towards the end of his journey by horse and carriage, Golden Gray's concerns that he has lost his way are interrupted by a rustling in the bushes and the startling sight of "a naked berry-black woman." Startled by the presence of Golden Gray's carriage, the woman turns to run away but moves too quickly and without rhythm, banging her head against a tree trunk and falling into unconsciousness. The young man tries to convince himself that the woman was "a vision," but he overcomes his feelings of nausea and approaches the side of the road. The woman is naked, bloody and dirty; she is also extremely pregnant. Wrestling with himself, Golden Gray eventually decides to bring the woman along with him, because the heroic act will be an anecdote.
After his sixth hour of travel, Golden Gray arrives at an empty cabin where he decides to rest, suspecting that this is the cabin where his father lives. He sets his trunk on the dirt floor, finds water for his horse and then tends to the woman in carriage, setting her on the bed in the cabin's second bedroom. After surveying the cabin, Golden Gray struggles to set a fire and later gets drunk from the contents of a jug of liquor. A young black boy arrives at the cabin and indicates that Mr. Henry has asked him to tend the animals while he was away. After Golden Gray asks, the boy explains that Henry has been away for several days though he will be returning in the near future. Golden Gray searches his trunk for his finest clothes and feels suddenly overwhelmed by the proximity of his father, a man whom he has never known. As Golden Gray considers his pain, the narrator expresses her desire to bestow "some brief benevolent love" that might temper the young man's suffering and enable him to complete his mission.
The story of Golden Gray supplies the central motifs of the chapter. Certainly, Golden Gray is only the newest addition to a sizeable collection of orphans in the novel. Still, the phrase "adoration of the orphan" suggests that Golden is set aside. Indeed, the young man's name as well as the reference to "the Prince of Wales" raise suspicions regarding Golden's auspicious birth, namely, that the words "Prince" and "adoration" suggest that Golden Gray is divine offspring. These suspicions are confirmed when Morrison makes her intentions more explicit. After we see Golden Gray seated "in a two-seat phaeton," his story increasingly bears an allusion to the Greek mythological story of Phaeton, the "orphaned" son of the sun god, Apollo. Ironically, Golden Gray's mysterious father is an unimpressive ex-slave"a man of no consequence"but this does not deflate the intense "Phaeton" imagery that surrounds the character. If his "golden" and "radiant" do not hint at the allusion, the phrase "sunlight color" and the metaphors of Golden Gray as a "light" and a "lamp" are far more explicit.
Like Phaeton, the son of Apollo, Golden Gray embarks upon a journey to find his father. The "hubris" (Greek word for excessive, often youthful pride) of Phaeton, a son of a god, makes Golden Gray all the more tragic; his father is less impressive than most. The "phaeton" images are strongest during Golden Gray's journey to his father's house. The "two-seat phaeton" and horse bear references to Apollo's role as a charioteer, and after Golden Gray finds his father's house, he immediately goes to the stable and tends to his horse. He is initially struck by the "golden" color of the August sky and when he arrives at the cabin, later in the evening, he sets a fire in a fireplace which is "the grandest thing in the room."
Even as Golden Gray seeks to juxtapose his princely manners with the visceral horror of the "wild woman" he has found, he is not immune to the pained memories that stalk the novel's other characters. For all of the images of the wild woman's matted blood and distended skin, the most severe images regard Golden Gray, again fusing the themes of memory and the physical body. When Golden realizes that the meeting with his father is imminent, he finds himself crying, admitting: "now that I know I have a father, do I feel his absence." The meeting with his father, will erase Golden Gray's memory of the father's absence, replacing it with something physical and tangible. This is dramatically presented in his thoughts of a "surgery," as a metaphor for his soon to be erased orphanhood. "I thought everybody was one-armed, like me," begins, but the surgery is not a surgery of re-attachment but the "sundering" of when the father was taken. Before he can erase his memory of absence, he has to realize that there was an absence. Hence, the "one-armed" orphan feels the arm/father being taken away, and is to absorbed in that pain to make the most of the presentation of the arm/father: "I feel the surgerythe crunch of bonesliced flesh and the tubes of blood cut throughsinging pain." In meeting his father, Golden Gray realizes that he never had one.
When Golden Gray considers his memory, "this part of me that does not know me," he suffers the concomitant stresses of reconciling new revelations with old memories, while still retaining the old, false memories that define him. The narrator takes a more personal role in the story, looking for an emollient that might both "diminish" the young man's "singing pain" and provide it with "language that wishes him well." To do this, a flashback is employed, and the image of the well is resurrected from the scenes of Rose Dear's death, linking Golden Gray to Violet Trace. Additionally, the subtleties of Vesper County, the description of the hunter's cabin and the appearance of a "wild woman" foreshadows the revealing portions of the next chapter. Joe Trace will reconstitute the painful memories that he buried behind his evasive comments in the last chapter: "I tracked my mother in Virginia and it led me right to herI wasn't looking for the trail. It was looking for me" The seventh chapter reveals much about the Traces' separate histories, utilizing Golden Gray's "Phaeton" escapade as a seemingly unlikely connection between the two. In the convolutions of the next chapter, the "phantom" of the "wild woman" will emerge as "more than likely to be" Joe Trace's mother and the cabin's owner will emerge as "more than likely to be" Golden Gray's father. The thematic relationship between the body and memory is built upon the juxtapositions of this chapter and in some ways, the common phrase "no pain, no gain" resembles the novel's central thesis. Certainly, Morrison doesn't suggest that one self-inflict "pain" for "gain;" rather, the question is: once the pain is there, how can it be transformed into something "singing," into an "enabling, serene power" or a "brief benevolent love."
In the mechanics of Morrison's narrative "benevolence" and "singing pain," it is well worth noting that none of the orphans have the whole story. Joe Trace is unaware of the suffering orphan, Golden Gray, who saves his wild, pregnant mother. Golden Gray is unaware of the suicidal maid, Rose Dear, whose "leftover smiles" pay the pain for his "brief, benevolent love." Morrison's decision to transport the "well" as a metaphor to benefit Golden Gray could be interpreted as deus ex machina (translates to, "God is in the machine). When classical Greek dramas became convoluted, only a divine presence could restore the necessary balance of justice, and the restoration was automatic. Morrison does thematically establish memory as a potential force of restoration, but for all the story's convolutions, restoration is never guaranteed and restoration itself is painfulboth for the restored and the restorers. After Golden Gray's "surgery," the "benevolent love" vaporizes into "nothing" and Golden Gray can only carry its "memory." The presence of the well becomes suicidal for a second time, when "love" restores at its own expense, extinguished by its own "enabling, serene power that flicks like a razor and then hides."