protagonist of the novel, also known as Macon Dead III. Born into
a sheltered, privileged life, Milkman grows up to be an egotistical
young man. He lacks compassion, wallows in self-pity, and alienates himself
from the African-American community. As his nickname suggests, Milkman
literally feeds off of what others produce. But his eventual discovery
of his family history gives his life purpose. Although he remains flawed,
this newfound purpose makes him compassionate and caring.
in-depth analysis of Milkman Dead.
Jr.’s younger sister. Born without a navel, Pilate is physically
and psychologically unlike the novel’s other characters. She is
a fearless mother who is selflessly devoted to others. Pilate is
responsible for Milkman’s safe birth and continues to protect him
for years afterward. She also takes care of her daughter, Reba,
and granddaughter, Hagar.
in-depth analysis of Pilate Dead.
father and Ruth’s husband, also known as Macon Dead II. Traumatized
by seeing his father murdered during a skirmish over the family
farm, Macon Jr. has developed an obsession with becoming wealthy.
In the process, he has become an emotionally dead slumlord. His
stony heart softens only when he reminisces about his childhood.
Macon Jr.’s stories about his childhood help fuel Milkman’s investigation into
the history of the Dead family.
best friend. Having grown up in poverty after his father was killed
in a factory accident, Guitar harbors a lifelong hatred for white
people, whom he sees as responsible for all evil in the world. Morrison points
out that while Guitar’s rage is justifiable, his murders of white
people neither combat racism nor help the African-American community.
granddaughter and Milkman’s lover. Hagar devotes herself to Milkman,
even though he loses interest and frequently rejects her. Like her
biblical namesake—a servant who, after bearing Abraham’s son is
thrown out of the house by his barren wife, Sarah—Hagar is used
and abandoned. Her plight demonstrates a central theme in Song
: the inevitable abandonment of women who love
men too much.
Macon Dead I
Jr.’s father and Milkman’s grandfather, Macon Dead I is also known
as Jake. Macon Dead I was abandoned in infancy when his father,
Solomon, flew back to Africa and his mother, Ryna, went insane. Macon
Dead I was raised by an Indian woman, Heddy. The mysterious legend
of his identity motivates Milkman’s search for self-understanding.
Ruth Foster Dead
- Macon Jr.’s wife and the mother of Milkman, First
Corinthians, and Lena. After growing up in a wealthy home, Ruth
feels unloved by everyone except her deceased father, Dr. Foster.
Although her existence is joyless, she refuses to leave Macon Jr.
for a new life, proving that wealth’s hold is difficult to overcome.
in-depth analysis of Ruth Foster Dead.
first black doctor in the novel’s Michigan town. Dr. Foster is an
arrogant, self-hating racist who calls fellow African-Americans
“cannibals” and checks to see how light-skinned his granddaughters
are when they are born. His status as an educated black man at a
time when many blacks were illiterate makes him an important symbol
of personal triumph while contrasting with his racist attitude.
daughter and Hagar’s mother, also known as Rebecca. Reba has a strong
sexual drive but is
attracted to abusive men. Nevertheless, because
Pilate is her mother, the few men who dare mistreat
her are punished. Reba’s uncanny ability to win contests such as
the Sears half-millionth customer diamond ring giveaway demonstrates
that wealth is transient and unimportant.
First Corinthians Dead
- Milkman’s worldly sister, educated at Bryn Mawr
and in France. First Corinthians shares her name with a New Testament
book in which the apostle Paul seeks to mend the disagreements within
the early Christian church. Like the biblical book, the character First
Corinthians tries to unify people. Her passionate love affair with
a yardman, Henry Porter, crosses class boundaries. Her actions prove
that human beings of different backgrounds and ages can share a
of Milkman’s sisters, also known as Lena. Lena’s submissive attitude
in Macon Jr.’s home makes her one of the many submissive women who populate Song
But her rebuke of Milkman’s selfishness demonstrates
her inner strength.
- The Michigan poet laureate. Graham is a liberal
who writes sentimental poetry and hires First Corinthians as a maid.
Graham represents the double standard of white liberals. Although
they claimed to support universal human rights, liberal whites often refused
to treat African-Americans as equals.
maid and midwife who worked for the wealthy Butler family. Circe
delivered Macon Jr. and Pilate. In her encounter with Milkman, Circe
plays the same role as her namesake in Homer’s Odyssey,
ancient Greek account of a lost mariner’s ten-year voyage home.
Just as Homer’s Circe helps Odysseus find his way back to Ithaca,
Morrison’s Circe provides crucial information that reconnects Milkman
with his family history. In this way, Morrison’s Circe connects Milkman’s
past and future.
grandmother and Macon Dead I’s wife. Sing is an Indian woman also
known as Singing Bird. Sing’s name commands Macon Dead I, Pilate,
and Milkman to connect the missing links of their family history
through Solomon’s song.
Corinthians’s lover and a member of the Seven Days vigilante group,
which murders white people. Porter’s tender love affair with First
Corinthians proves that a personal connection between two human
beings is stronger than differences of background and class.
insurance agent and member of the Seven Days vigilante group. Smith’s
attempt to fly off of the roof of Mercy Hospital begins the novel’s
exploration of flight as a means of escape. Smith’s failure to fly
contrasts with Milkman’s eventual success in escaping the confining
circumstances of his life.
janitor employed by Macon Jr. Freddie is the town gossip. Freddie
spreads rumors through the town, illustrating how information was
often disseminated within African-American communities. Freddie
coins the nickname “Milkman” for Ruth’s son, showing that original
names are often forgotten and replaced.
great-grandfather, who supposedly flew back to Africa but dropped
his son Jake shortly after taking off. Solomon’s flight is a physical
demonstration of the liberation that is felt when a person escapes confining
circumstances. However, Solomon’s crying wife, Ryna, and traumatized
children show that escape has negative consequences as well.
great-grandmother and Solomon’s wife. When Solomon abandons her,
Ryna goes mad. According to legend, her cries can still be heard.
prostitute with whom Milkman has a brief affair. Unlike Milkman’s
affairs with other women, especially Hagar, his relationship with
Sweet is mutually respectful and entirely reciprocal. His interactions
with her demonstrate that the most gratifying relationships in the
novel are those in which both partners treat each other as equals.