Summary of Chapter Eight
The chapter begins after the September 15, 1963, bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, where four young black girls were killed during a church service. Guitar is the Sunday man for the Seven Days and must avenge their killing in a similar way. He plans to do this but knows he will need money for explosives and materials. Milkman asks him to help rob Pilate's house for the bag of gold and says he will split it with him. Guitar is happy to join for his own reasons. They think about what they will spend this gold on, and Guitar thinks of using it for others, while Milkman thinks of his own needs. When Milkman feels guilt for robbing his aunt, Guitar gives him a speech about having courage to embrace his own life. The two go to Pilate's house at night. They cut down and take the sack. They do not know Pilate is watching them in the dark. She wonders why they want that old sack.
Commentary on Chapter Eight
The bombing of the Birmingham Baptist Church was a turning point in the civil rights movement. Birmingham had agreed to limited integration of public facilities, but some conservatives were upset by this direction. Four Ku Klux Klan men set the timed dynamite in the church but were not prosecuted for the murders. Pictures of the four martyred girls in the press mobilized even apathetic Americans to the cause. A year later, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was signed into law, ensuring black Americans equal rights before the law. The Birmingham bombing case was reopened in 1977, the year Morrison published Song of Solomon, and one of the guilty men was sentenced to the rest of his life in prison. Two others were convicted in 2000.
The two friends are again contrasted in personality, desire, and morality. Both Milkman and Guitar have a conscience but focused in different ways and not strong enough to keep them from getting into trouble. Guitar has the least material possessions but wants to serve and give, even if he is misguided in the means to do good. Though Milkman has what he needs, he wants more material possessions and the lifestyle it can buy; he does not think about using resources for a higher goal. The incident also highlights the naïveté of the two young men who do not know how to make things happen successfully in the adult world. Guitar joins a group and lets their agenda guide him, while Milkman is still letting his father direct his life. They do not have a large enough view of what they are doing or the consequences.