Summary and Analysis
Milkman tries to persuade his father to support him financially for a year so that he can travel and find his own niche in life. In return, he offers to work for free for one year upon his return. Macon dismisses Milkman's offer, insisting that he needs Milkman to help him run his business.
Later, Macon and Milkman meet for lunch in a park, where Macon, inspired by Milkman's off-handed mention of a green sack, filled with something heavy and hard, hanging from the ceiling in Pilate's house, tells his son the rest of his personal story, which he began recounting in Chapter 2, about his father's murder and his and Pilate's escape from Montour County, Pennsylvania, with the help of Circe, the midwife who had delivered them both. He narrates how his father's ghost led him and Pilate to the shelter of a cave, where they encountered an old white man, whom Macon ended up stabbing. Afterward, he and Pilate argued about the dead man's gold, which they found in the cave. Because they could not agree on what to do with the gold, Pilate threatened to kill Macon, who fled. As Macon ends his story, he pleads with Milkman to steal Pilate's green sack, which he claims contains the gold from the cave. In return, he promises to give Milkman half of the gold so that he can go wherever he wants to go.
The opening paragraph of this chapter universalizes Milkman's personal history and explains his yearning to escape — at least temporarily — the demands placed on him by his family and friends. Of the many reasons Morrison suggests for why people leave home and strike out on their own, one — "a wish to hear the solid click of a door closing behind their backs" — is Milkman's.
Macon's pleading with Milkman to stay and continue to work in the family business is based on money. He tells his son, "You'll own it all. All of it. You'll be free. Money is freedom, Macon [Jr.]." Note that later in the chapter, when young Macon sees the old man's bags of gold nuggets, he characterizes their sparkling colors as representing monetary security. By associating "Life, safety, and luxury" with the vain, ostentatiously bejeweled "tail-spread of a [male] peacock," Macon acknowledges the consuming greed that will envelop his adult life.
As Macon tells Milkman the story of his and Pilate's escape from Montour County, he reveals both his hatred for Pilate and his insatiable greed for the gold she took. Not satisfied with Ruth's inheritance from her father, Macon also wants his sister's gold. Afraid to confront Pilate directly, he convinces Milkman to do his dirty work for him: Macon is not only a coward but a cold and calculating man who has no qualms about pitting his own family members against each other to satisfy his greed.
Macon's story also reveals his attitude toward the supernatural. Although he admits that he and Pilate were initially afraid of the "man who looked like their father," he refers to his father's ghost as a physical presence. In doing so, he unknowingly connects himself to his African ancestors, who believed that ghosts often walked the earth and accepted these spirits as a natural part of their world.
St. Lawrence the major river that defines the boundary between southeast Canada and the northeast United States. The St. Lawrence River stretches from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Ontario.
stake here, to offer monetary support.
hickey here, a bump on the head.
slop jar a container used to collect body wastes.
scrapple a boiled mixture of ground pork and cornmeal, which is poured into a mold, chilled and left to gel, and then sliced and fried.
Susquehanna a river that begins in central New York, runs through Pennsylvania to the northeast corner of Maryland, and empties into Chesapeake Bay, which contains the body of water between the east coast of Virginia and the Maryland peninsula.
lip here, the edge of a cave.
tarpaulin a protective canvas against moisture.
placidly calmly, or complacently and without emotion.