In Song of Solomon, how does Pilate change Milkman?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Pilate became essential to Milkman’s life even before it began. As a magically gifted healer, she provided the powder that helped Ruth conceive him and then get through pregnancy. As a spiritual influence, when she later gets to know her nephew, she helps him understand the meaning of self-sufficiency, which...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Pilate became essential to Milkman’s life even before it began. As a magically gifted healer, she provided the powder that helped Ruth conceive him and then get through pregnancy. As a spiritual influence, when she later gets to know her nephew, she helps him understand the meaning of self-sufficiency, which she represents by having been responsible for her own birth after her mother’s death. For the young man Macon III, this means growth into adulthood, as contrasted to the extended childhood his own mother had imposed. Although Pilate is connected with the past, she also enables passage into the future: she represents continuity with family and with African heritage, which Macon II had cast aside in his embrace of capitalist, nonspiritual, greed. As a strong, but independent female character, she helps Macon III see beyond the damaging patriarchal attitudes that his father exemplified by doming his wife and daughters.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Milkman's father, Macon Dead, is interested in owning things. He feels that this is the only real way for a person to be successful. However, Pilate isn't interested in owning things or success defined in this way. She is interested in love. She loves her daughter, Reba, and granddaughter, Hagar, fiercely. She even loves her brother, though he hates her. She lives outside of the rules, rules that Macon seems to try so hard to live by, because the "rules" just aren't important to her. Pilate doesn't feel the need to abide by society's rules about what a black woman ought to be and do. For these reasons, she teaches Milkman about what is most important in a life: love and self-fulfillment. She is satisfied in a way that Macon, her brother, never is, and this conveys that her priorities are more in line than his are. Milkman can learn from her how to achieve this kind of fulfillment and love, qualities he will not achieve from following his father.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

There was a reason that Macon Dead did not want his son to know his Aunt Pilate, but of course, Milkman Dead found her anyway.  While Macon tried to conform to the "white" world, Pilate did not.  She was an interesting, spiritual woman who had no navel and a mythology about her that drew people in with such oddities as not having a navel and keeping a bag of bones in her kitchen.

Pilate first related to Milkman the story about her and his father as children, when they spent time with Circe and killed a man in a cave.  This led Milkman to explore his family roots.  It also led his friend Guitar to explore the money that was supposedly still in that cave.  He has a sense of family pride now, and he can escape the loneliness and unhappiness of his home.

This exploration sent Milkman, at first alone and later with Pilate, on a quest to discover his origins and to bury his grandfather.  Ironically, this is the last flight either of them will take, as they are both killed by an enraged Guitar who feels as if they have both cheated him.

Pilate spreads hope and pride to a formerly careless, aimless Milkman. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team