Summary of Chapter Fifteen
Milkman returns to his home in Michigan to tell his family what he has learned of their history. He goes to Pilate's house first, but she hits him over the head with a bottle, knocking him out. He comes to in the basement and realizes something must be wrong with Hagar. He learns of her death, and Pilate gives him some of Hagar's hair to carry with him as a penance. Milkman tells her the mysteries he has solved. She does not carry the bones of the white man, but of her own father. The messages of her father's ghost are finally deciphered. He said “Sing” because that was his wife's name, and he wanted his bones returned to Shalimar for burial. After Milkman tells these stories to his parents, he and his Aunt Pilate return to Shalimar with Jake's bones to bury him. He knows that Guitar will find him one day, but vaguely hopes he can defuse his hatred.
In the evening, Milkman and Pilate take the bones to Solomon's Leap outside Shalimar where Solomon apparently jumped off in flight back to Africa. They bury the bones, and Pilate rips off her earring for a grave marker. There is a shot, and Pilate crumples. Milkman holds her as she dies. She asks him to look after her daughter, Reba. She asks Milkman to sing for her. He sings, “Sugargirl don't leave me here” (p. 336). As Pilate dies, a bird swoops down and picks up her earring and flies off with it.
Milkman knows from this omen that Pilate too can fly. He knows how much he loves her and wishes there were another woman like her. He stands up and yells for Guitar, saying he is here. He yells echoing in the gulch, offering his life. When Guitar shows up with his rifle, Milkman leaps off the cliff towards Guitar in the revelation that it does not matter which brother gives up his life to the other. He knows the secret of Shalimar: “If you surrendered to the air, you could ride it” (p. 337).
Commentary on Chapter Fifteen
Milkman triumphs in his quest, though Morrison leaves the ending open as to the details. It does not matter whether Milkman lives or dies, for he has learned what he came to learn. He surrenders to his fate, knowing who he is and what is his relationship to others. As Pilate dies, she says she wishes she had known more people and had loved more. Milkman takes her lesson as well, for it is clear he loves Guitar and holds no grudges toward anyone. He leaves his parents and family as he found them. Nothing has changed but his own awareness of what his life has been and meant. There were only two people who ever wanted him in the world and fought for him: his mother and Aunt Pilate, he finally appreciates. He regrets the way he treated Hagar; he did not really love her.
There are a few glimpses of what happened to the other characters at the end. Corinthians moves in with Porter. Porter and Guitar and a few other people Milkman knew are members of the Seven Days whose revenge goes on and had been a tradition in the black community for a long time. Near the end of the book it is revealed that the opening suicide of Robert Smith, the insurance agent who jumps off the roof of the hospital, took place because he was a member of the Seven Days, and obviously, the burden was too great. The members take their vows seriously and do not have children. Though Milkman does not agree with them, he can feel pity. In his last days, he attains to a wisdom somewhat like Pilate's, accepting life with grace instead of fighting it. Life may not be fair, but one can still fly above it, like Solomon and the flying Africans.