Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon Summary and Analysis of Chapter 4


Milkman once again does his Christmas shopping at a Rexell drugstore, selecting a compact for Corinthians, dusting powder and cologne for Lena, chocolates for his mother, and some shaving tools for his father. Milkman is only puzzled as to what he should buy for Hagar, having decided that he no longer wants to keep up the business of seeing her. She still deserves a gift, and Milkman soon comes to the decision to instead give her a nice lump sum of money, along with a carefully written letter explaining his reluctance to see her because they are cousins. Milkman signs the letter with love and gratitude, and a thank you, which sends Hagar into a frenzied state of mind in which she at times loses control over her actions and emotions.

Milkman then sits for a while at his father's desk going over the account books. He is distracted and on edge, only partially because of Hagar, and he recalls a conversation he had with Guitar. Some time ago, a white boy of about sixteen, had been found strangled with his head bashed in. Rumors as to who committed the murder were floating around, and although some joked that it was Winnie Ruth, a white asylum escapee, there was an unspoken feeling of dread and terror in the Southside. The police said that a witness saw a bushy-haired Negro escaping the scene of the schoolyard, where the crime was committed. As Milkman and Guitar walked down Tenth Street, Milkman suggested that some men in Tommy's were aware of too many details surrounding the killing, and that maybe one of them did it. Guitar says that he and Milkman are too different to talk about the same things. Upset, Milkman informs Guitar that they aren't living in Montgomery, Alabama, and he needn't be angry at every Negro who isn't scrubbing floors or picking cotton. Guitar then asks Milkman hypothetically, what if they were living in Montgomery, to which Milkman replies that he would buy a plane ticket.

Milkman describes a dream to Guitar; he is standing at his kitchen sink, looking out the window, and seeing Ruth planting bulbs in the garden. These bulbs sprout tulips that seem to smother her, leaving her kicking against the entangled mass of flowers. Guitar listens to the story, and then asks Milkman why he didn't help her, but Milkman responds that she liked it. Their conversation ends on a sour note as Guitar tells Milkman that it looks like everyone is going down the wrong side of the street but him.

Milkman recalls the aforementioned conversation, and decides that he is unable to finish calculating the account books. He thinks about his life, deciding that he has few meaningful interests, and realizes that he finds money, politics, and racial problems boring. Still debating on how to tackle his future, Freddie stops by the office, badly in need of something hot to drink. Freddie sits down, eager to relax, because he has been running around delivering packages for the department store he works at. Both men are sitting at the desk, indulging in idle chatter, when Freddie makes a comment about being an orphan. Intrigued, Milkman pushes the man to divulge what happened to him in childhood. Freddie responds that on account of how his mother died, no one had wanted to take him in, and he had to be raised in jail as there were no orphanages for colored babies back then.

Freddie then tells Milkman he believes in ghosts, and that his mother was actually killed by a ghost. Freddie claims that as his mother was in the final stages of pregnancy, she was walking down the street with a neighbor when they saw a woman coming down the road. As soon as the neighbor greeted this woman, the woman became a white bull. As a result, Freddie mother fell to the floor and gave birth to him right then and there. When he was delivered, and his mother saw him, she screamed and passed out to never regain consciousness. And so, no one had wanted to take Freddie into their home as a child, because he came into this world brought by a white bull. Freddie's tale of his birth makes Milkman laugh hilariously, however, instead of looking hurt, Freddie only looks surprised.

He and Milkman begin a new topic and Freddie suggests that Guitar has been hiding Empire State, a mute Negro who may be accused of strangling the white boy. Not wanting to believe Freddie, Milkman assures himself Freddie is only trying to get back at him for laughing at his white bull story. Freddie seems quite genial, though, and after wishing Milkman and his parents a Merry Christmas and a New Year, he tells Milkman that Corinthians also knows about the strange things that have been occurring.


In Chapter Four, magical realism is entwined into historical settings of the novel. Magical realism is a literary form in which magical elements appear in a setting that is otherwise realistic. Freddie's description of the white bull that killed his mother is an example of using magical realism to denote racial oppression, specifically the domination of whites over blacks. Milkman's vision of seeing Ruth overtaken by tulips is another example of magical realism, in which Ruth's submission is clear as she welcomes the terrorizing tulips that will eventually strangle her.

Milkman's rejection of Hagar's love is an example of his self-centered and callous behavior. Unable to relate to others, Milkman is unable to put himself in Hagar's shoes. Moreover, he does not realize that the impersonal tone he undertakes in the letter is what drove Hagar mad. Hagar, as the other characters in the novel, relates to her biblical namesake. In the Bible, Abraham banishes his concubine Hagar after she bears him a child. Milkman also abandons his lover Hagar once he no longer has any use for her body.

Once again, Milkman and Guitar undergo an unfriendly verbal discussion in which Guitar states that he and Milkman are different. Guitar's continuing emphasis on their differences begins an emotional and physical separation of their friendship. Milkman is reminded of his individuality in a town where everyone appears to be very similar. This is reflected in his reminiscing about the time he was walking against pedestrian traffic. Guitar's then states that he knows where he is going, as if to underline the fact that Milkman is lost both spiritually and emotionally.

Milkman is the only character in the novel reluctant to believe in supernatural events. He tends to refer to such events as dreams, as he does when he is telling Guitar about the killer tulips. Milkman also thinks that his struggle against the people-filled street was also a dream, a dream in which Guitar was walking against him. Milkman's lack of desire to believe in anything but the physical world is a sign that he is lacking in the emotional and spiritual worlds. It is also signifies that he is unable to create bonds with anything other than the physical.