Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon Summary and Analysis of Chapter 11


After several unsuccessful attempts to locate the town of Charlemagne, Milkman discovers it is actually called Shalimar. Milkman arrives in Shalimar, Virginia, and is astounded by the hospitable attitude in the South. He stops his car in front of Solomon's General Store, not out of choice but only because his fan belt broke, and purchases cherry-flavored soda inside. Inside, the owner informs Milkman that his friend had just been there looking for him. Milkman is surprised, even more so when he hears that Guitar left him a message of "your day is here." He soon comes to believe that Guitar is searching for him for professional reasons, as part of his Seven Days persona.

In order to clear his mind of the ominous threat left behind by Guitar, Milkman steps outside to rest on the store porch. Looking around, his eyes come to rest on a group of children standing in a circle and singing, "Jay the only son of Solomon..." He is drearily reminded of his childhood, and walks back inside in hopes of having his car fixed. Inside, he finds himself greeted by icy stares, and after a few heated words among the men, including one local named Saul, a fight breaks out. Milkman attempts to protect himself with a broken bottle but still endures a slashed wrist and a ripped suit.

Older men approach Milkman in order to challenge him to a new type of duel, one that would not involve fighting or knives. Instead, the chosen weapons are rifles, and the men all head out to Ryna's Gulch on a hunting trip. The men dress Milkman in military gear, stripping him of his nice suit. Milkman, a poor shot, hides his weakness and puts up a pretense of courage. The dark woods are intimidating, and it takes Milkman a while to fissure out how to differentiate between shadows and climb over rocks. Soon, Milkman hears a wailing sound similar to that of a woman crying. One of the men, Calvin, explains that it is only an echo and legend has it that a woman by the name of Ryna is crying in a nearby gulch, hence the name.

Soon, after what seems like miles and hours of walking, Milkman sits down to rest against a tree. Leaning back with his eyes closed, Milkman comes to the realization that he does not have endurance. His money and influential lineage are of no help to him in the forest. He then acknowledges that he has emotionally abused Hagar, his mother and father, and Pilate, solely for his own egocentric reasons.

Milkman snaps back into reality with the crackle of a wire in his ear. Guitar has found him and is repeatedly strangling him with a cord, chanting "your day has come". In the midst of struggling to catch a last dying breath, Milkman relaxes his body enough to give Guitar reason enough to believe he is dead. At that moment, he sees an image of Hagar bending over him "in perfect love." As Guitar loosens the cord, Milkman takes advantage of the situation long enough to shoot off his rifle into the trees ahead of him. Startled, Guitar loses his grasp on the wire and runs away into the woods.

Milkman finds the men just as they locate and shoot a bobcat. They finally remember to ask Milkman what he was shooting at earlier. Milkman lies and says he accidentally tripped and the gun went off. The men find Milkman's supposed lack of skill hilarious, and tease him about it all the way back to the car. Although having just escaped death, Milkman feels exhilarated and walks on the earth, without limping, like "he belonged on it."

The following day, the men meet in King Walker's gas station to discuss the events of the previous night. Over breakfast, Milkman discovers that his grandmother Sing's descendants still live in town. He also learns that Sing was an Indian, and that her mother's name was Heddy. Milkman decides to visit one of his family members who still lives in town, Susan Byrd. On his way to Susan's, Milkman stops and visits Sweet, a local prostitute, who bathes and makes love to him. Milkman returns her generosity by bathing her, making her bed and scouring her tub. Milkman gives her fifty dollars and tells her that he will come back again.


In Chapter Eleven, Milkman undergoes a spiritual transformation. He is forced to reevaluate his life, and realizes he has been selfish in his treatment of Hagar and his parents. It then becomes clear to him that he has no endurance, and has relied on his money and impressive lineage for an edge. In the woods, his wealth and family background hinder him instead of help him. Also, whereas his money arouses respect in his home town, in Shalimar it inspires the locals to dislike him. The act of the men dressing Milkman up in military gear yet again signifies his transformation. Milkman is no longer a child spoiled by his luxurious upbringing but rather a man who can now fend for himself.

Milkman's metaphorical change goes hand in hand with his rebirth at the hands of his best friend, Guitar. As Guitar wrings the life out of Milkman through a wire, Milkman sees dancing lights and hears music, all the while he "had just drawn the last sweet air just left for him in the world." This suggestion that that Milkman dies is emphasized through his transformation. At that point in time, Milkman undergoes a rebirth because he survives his death to come back a changed man.

After his resurrection, Milkman acts like a different person. He now laughs with the rest of the men, and develops a camaraderie with them. As Chapter Eleven draws to a close, Milkman feels exhilarated to be walking the earth, and for the first time ever, he walks without a limp and feels as though he belongs. The limp, although imagined, acted as an emotional handicap for Milkman because he differentiated him from others. After his rebirth, Milkman no longer has the limp and now can join the rest of humanity.

Milkman first exhibits his compassionate side with Sweet, the local prostitute. Milkman's other acts of love were callous and egocentric, as he previously demonstrated with Hagar. Before, Milkman threw away Hagar's overwhelming love; now, accepts Sweet's passion and returns it by bathing her, making her bed, and scouring her tub. At the time of his metaphorical death, Milkman sees an image of Hagar bestowing upon him a perfect love. This image that flashes before his eyes represents Hagar's undying love and his rejection of it. This rejection, however, is overturned through his caring actions towards Sweet. Milkman has matured and understands now the importance of integrity and respect.

Throughout the novel, there has been an emphasis placed upon Milkman's last name, Dead. As Milkman often says himself, he can't die because he is already Dead. This wordplay is suggestive of his character and spiritual well-being. Prior to his rebirth, Milkman was dead in character. He has no endurance and no compassion. As he "dies" and is reborn, he is no longer Dead.