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The Omnipresent Villain, Guitar

October 9, 2007
I’ve just finished reading Toni Morrison’s third novel, The Song of Solomon. What can I say, Morrison is truly a gifted author. I know the characters she writes about, I grew up with them, all of them! The Song of Solomon is mainly about the protagonist Milkman, having a slow self-discovery from first being introduced in his mother’s womb up until his possible death in his mid thirties.

I am sure I will read this novel again in a few months. I love giving a novel a first read to meet the plot and characters then another read to dive into theories. Unfortunately, I no longer have access to JSTOR or Academic Search Premier, so I will not have the privilege of seeing what has been written about a particular topic of interest. Like how Morrison brings a character or place to life with a name.

Their names. Names they got from yearnings, gestures, flaws, events, mistakes, weaknesses. Names that bore witness. Macon Dead, Sing Byrd, Crowell Byrd, Pilate, Reba, Hagar, Magadalene [called Lena], First Corinthians, Milkman, Guitar, Railroad Tommy, Hospital Tommy, Empire State (he just stood around and swayed), Small Boy, Sweet, Circe, Moon, Nero, Humpty-Dumpty, Blue Boy, Scandinavia, Quack-Quack, Jericho, Spoonbread, Ice Man, Dough Belly, Rocky River, Gray Eye, Cock-a-Doodle-Doo, Cool Breeze, Muddy Waters, Pinetop, JellyRoll, Fats, Leadbelly, Bo Diddley, Cat Iron, Peg-Leg, Son, Shortstuff, Smoky Babe, Funny Papa, Bukka, Pink, Bull Moose, B.B., T-Bone, Black Ace, Lemon, Washboard, Gatemouth, Cleanhead, Tampa Red, Juke Boy, Shine, Staggerlee, Jim the Devil, Fuck-Up, and Dat Nigger. [Chapter 15, p.355]

We had a few in our family and knew a T-Bone, Cotton, Spook, Tiny, Red, Lil’ Red, Big Red, Little Rock, Hard Rock, Rock Bottom, Hopper, Boy, Top Cat, Shay-Shay, Peaches, Doodle, …..

For now, the character Guitar is troubling me, because I hate his type of villain. I have not studied villain types and am tired of reading about Iago. We all know about Iago! It is the Guitars that scared the hell out of me, their omnipresence in particular. Naturally, I hated Guitar the minute he revealed his affiliation with the Days and its justification. Stupid, stupid stupid. However, it was not until he tried to kill Milkman in the Virginia woods that I realized he was unredeemable. Not because of any loyalty or admiration for Milkman but because of Guitar’s Jason Voorhees-ness.

Okay, say I am willing to accept that Guitar knew Milkman was heading toward Virginia because he saw Milkman help the train employee with a crate with Virginia stamped on it. That would explain his reason for believing Milkman was transporting gold, however, how would that explain how Guitar knew exactly what small town to stop in, the very town Milkman would have missed had it not been for his car breaking down. Let’s say Guitar followed Milkman and knew he talked to the woman in the AA office and perhaps she told him what town Milkman was inquiring about. I am willing to accept all of that. But the part in the woods, the impromptu night hunting that Milkman participated in? Come on! Milkman is in the woods with an experienced hunter. A hunter that can talk to the hounds and understand what the whistles of the other hunters mean. The terrain is arduous and it is dark, very dark. They are miles into the woods, off the road from where Milkman saw the suspicious headlights that appeared to be following them. Maybe, just maybe, I am to believe Guitar was able to find Milkman sitting there alone in the cradle of tree roots in the pitch black because Guitar is from the south and was known to be a great hunter when he was ten years old. Just maybe. A big maybe. A scary maybe. When someone can find someone like that, I consider him to very very scary and the worse type of villain imaginable.

Charles Dickens used this type of omnipresent villain too, —Bradley Headstone in Our Mutual Friend. I cannot think of many more because I tend to stay away from the too frightening.

Can you think of any?

  1. Don permalink
    October 10, 2007 5:59 pm

    I am glad that I clicked on this post. From the way you described the book, now I know what novel I am going to buy when I finish the current book.

    Saturday, in the book store, I wondered what book would be next.

  2. archcrone permalink
    October 10, 2007 6:17 pm

    I read this book a few years ago. While I don’t remember any specificity of the individual characters, I do remember that I felt Morrison ended the book to soon. (Some reviews I read later on had expressed this was her intent)

  3. Kitty Glendower permalink
    October 10, 2007 6:30 pm

    Don Yes, by all means read it. If it starts to get slow or looks like it is not heading anywhere, just stick with it you will be glad.

    Archcrone I think it ended too soon as well. And of course we do not know if Milkman lives or dies. I was thinking about that this morning. Guitar is so concerned with the Days , killing white people at the same rate that black people are killed by whites that right before their (him and Guitar) eyes their generation (bloodline) is being wiped out. None of the seven Days are married or have children, and because Guitar is trying to kill Milkman there will be no more Deads. Milkman’s sisters are too old for children and he had no children. So there was a foolishness in the plan, a contradiciton, more like a reason to kill, to vent his anger (rightful anger in most regards, but nothing beneficial to the black community.

  4. Rent Party permalink
    October 11, 2007 2:51 am

    Great post. Very interesting on Guitar. I should reread the book, I read it when it was new.

    – Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom!
    – Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
    – Carpentier, The Kingdom of this World

    and I think more that I have not read yet. But a lot of what is in JSTOR etc. compares these novels. They especially go for the first two but the third is full of the flying to the other shore motif.

    Also related: anything by Michelle Cliff.

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