The Characters (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Song of Solomon is the first novel in which Morrison uses a male protagonist. She has said that she chose a man because “he had more to learn than a woman would have,” but she also has noted that she was “amazed at how little men taught one another in the book.” Most of Milkman’s teachers are women, especially Pilate and his mother, but he also learns from Hagar and his two sisters, Lena and Corinthians, who turn on him after enduring years of his indifference. Pilate tells him that “if you take a life, then you own it,” and Milkman eventually accepts his responsibility for Hagar’s death.
Milkman’s moral imperfection is suggested by his shortened left leg, which creates a barely noticeable limp. After the communal hunt, in which he is initiated by the men of Shalimar into comradeship and respect for life and nature, he ceases to limp. The cold, self-centered Milkman matures into a sympathetic, caring man through the discovery of his own past, his ancestors’ suffering, and their struggles against poverty, racism, greed, and pride.
At the same time, Guitar, who is at first wiser and more aware than Milkman, becomes narrower and more fanatical as he immerses himself in the zeal of the Seven Days, a group organized to avenge the murders of blacks with the killing of whites. Guitar loses perspective, locked into a mathematical balance of life that must be maintained without any degree of mercy for either side. However,...
(The entire section is 591 words.)
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Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Macon Dead III
Macon Dead III, also known as Milkman, the protagonist, a black man in his twenties who grows up when he discovers his connection with his ancestors, especially the founder of his family, his great-grandfather, Solomon. At first, Milkman is a spoiled, self-centered, confused, and immature boy affected greatly by the tense atmosphere of his unhappy home and family. Milkman’s family is ruled by his domineering and unsympathetic father, who has no interest in his past and his family heritage. Milkman, however, with the help of his aunt, Pilate, and his friend, Guitar, manages to complete his journey of cultural, historical, and personal discovery with satisfaction even though it puts his life in jeopardy at the conclusion of the novel.
Macon Dead II
Macon Dead II, Milkman’s materialistic and unsympathetic father. He is the richest black man in town and cares nothing for people in general, including his wife, daughters, and sister. He rules his household autocratically. His primary interest is in obtaining money and land, and he admonishes Milkman to make this his primary goal.
Ruth Foster Dead
Ruth Foster Dead, Milkman’s mother. She is dominated first by her father and then by her husband, Macon Dead II, who rejects her and abuses her physically and mentally. She is spiritually frail and weak. She focuses her life on a water mark on her dining room table and clandestine visits to her father’s grave. She is the reason that her son acquired the nickname Milkman—from her extended nursing of him in an attempt to hold...
(The entire section is 660 words.)