Happy Endings, Sort Of…
November 13, 2012
Guitar Bains is one of the pivotal characters in Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison. As he ages throughout the novel, his character traits evolve--sometimes in unexpected ways. He begins as a watchful and passionate boy who understands the world around him better than most. However, as he ages, he finds that he seems to be among the minority of people who care about the social plight of African Americans. Throughout the book, he grows more and more radical, until his passion escalates to the point that he starts killing innocent people in order to keep the status quo. Despite a promising start, Guitar’s moral journey leads him to a fate as a misguided but well-meaning and self-justified killer.
From the very moment he appears in the story, it is clear that Guitar Bains is no ordinary boy. Even as a child, he notices much more than the adults around him. The first few times Guitar appears, almost every reference to him focuses on his eyes, and the life within them. The use of the phrase “cat-eyed boy” (7) is important because it is the reader’s first impression of Guitar and conveys the sense that nothing gets past him. Later, his eyes are described as “gashes of gold” (22) and “glittering with lights” (42). Each instance reveals another aspect of Guitar’s attentiveness and passion for life. The eyes are the windows to the soul (as the saying goes), and Guitar’s soul is complicated and perceptive.
From the beginning, Guitar is a good friend and mentor to Milkman. This friendship is essential to Milkman’s development because of his lack of a stable role model (his father does not fill this role). Guitar is the first person to help Milkman become aware of himsel...
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...s comin or was already here” (262). After all he and Milkman have been through, the extent of Guitar’s caring is to let Milkman know that he is hunting him, and when asked about it he justifies it by saying: “You’re my friend. It’s the least I could do for a friend“ (298). Guitar’s role as hunter of Milkman is ironic; Guitar hunts Milkman as though he is a bird, even though he was the first person to liberate Milkman (“free his wings”, etc.).
Despite Guitar’s moral shortcomings, it is nearly impossible to hate him. He has so much passion and so much love to give; it is just dissatisfying that he channels his feelings into death, rather than life. Although he becomes more radical as the book progresses, it is still admirable to see how much he cares about his race; his emotions are all so powerfully strong that he must take drastic action or he will lose his mind.
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