Summary of Chapter Three
Milkman is also influenced as a teenager by his friend Guitar who shares his history. Guitar cannot eat sweets, he tells Milkman, because they bring back his boyhood memory of his father's death at a sawmill. His father was brutally cut to pieces by a saw, and the owner's wife gave the children a candy called Divinity as a sort of consolation that made Guitar throw up. Guitar's experience and acquaintances in the poorer part of town show Milkman the lives of the black people around him that he is missing because of his isolation.
Milkman sees that one of his legs is shorter than the other and begins to feel he is deformed. He is so conscious of this that his movements become concerned with trying to hide this defect. Milkman becomes taken up with his appearance and superficial traits. One evening at home, he ends up hitting his father, trying to protect his mother from his verbal abuse. This act makes his father take him aside and tell him what he believes about his wife, Ruth. She is disgusting to him because he thinks she had an unnatural relationship with her father, Dr. Foster, whom she worshiped. He claims he founds his wife naked in bed with the corpse of her dead father, sucking on his fingers. Milkman remembers what he has been told about how he got his name from his mother nursing him too long. He thinks his father may be right.
When Milkman goes to Tommy's Barbershop, he hears the men listening to the radio about the murder of Emmett Till. The men argue over the current hot issues of racism in the country. They do not believe justice will be done. Milkman and Guitar go to Mary's Bar where Milkman confides about the fight with his father. The story reminds Guitar of accidentally killing a doe when he was hunting and his guilt about it. The killing of the doe and the fight with his father, become merged in some emotional way with the killing of Emmett Till.
Commentary on Chapter Three
The murder of fourteen-year-old Emmett Till on August 28, 1955, in Mississippi was one of the events that galvanized the civil rights movement. The boy was from Chicago, visiting relatives in Mississippi. After he spoke to a white woman in public, four white men tortured him, killed him, and threw his body in the Tallahatchie River. The men were not found guilty in court but admitted to the killing later. The boy's mother made the funeral into a media event and public opinion was turned against the violent racism that was excused in Mississippi. Milkman and Guitar indirectly connect their own pain, present and past, with this event. Guitar's father was killed by exploitation in a southern factory, and Milkman's grandfather was murdered in an unpunished event like the Till case when whites wanted his land. The murder of Emmett Till connects the stories of all African-Americans. The men in the barbershop recite their own humiliations and all the violent incidents against blacks they can remember.
Milkman is also beginning to feel the conflict at home, first taking his mother's side, and then his father's. The reader begins to see with this chapter that the Dead family history that is slowly being uncovered is told from the limited points of view of its various members. It parallels the larger history of the African-Americans that is also coming to light with small puzzle pieces and individual stories that will eventually fit together into a larger picture.