Just as Milkman has inherited a spiritual burden from Macon Jr., so has Macon Jr. inherited a spiritual burden from Macon Dead I. The source of Macon Jr.’s bitterness seems to be the murder of his father, after which something “wild ran” inside him. His fanatical attachment to all material possessions, which developed after he saw his father die while defending his property, has alienated Macon Jr. from his own family and from humanity as a whole. But Morrison hints that Macon Dead I’s murder is only a piece of the puzzle concerning Macon Jr. After all, even after his father’s demise, while he was just starting out as a businessmen, Macon Jr. was still able to have heart-to-heart talks about his childhood with other men and with Ruth. Macon Jr.’s deadness, then, results also from the constant, numbing pursuit of material wealth and from a certain, unknown burden inherited from his own father, similar to the spiritual burden that Milkman has inherited from Macon Jr.
Whatever the cause of Macon Jr.’s spiritual ugliness, it is clear that Pilate is full of vitality and is somehow able to coax life even out of Macon Jr.’s stony heart. Just as in the first chapter, when we observe Macon Jr. cower under Pilate’s windows, we catch a rare glimpse of Macon Jr.’s nearly destroyed humanity when he reminisces about Pilate. In contrast to his usually dour appearance, Macon Jr. smiles and laughs when he recalls growing up with Pilate in beautiful Lincoln’s Heaven. Pilate has a similar effect on Milkman. Only after Milkman meets Pilate does he become curious about his family history and begin to ask Macon Jr. questions. Pilate’s influence thus results in the first open conversation Macon Jr. has with Milkman, and helps crack Macon Jr.’s alienating shell.
Perhaps the best clues regarding the trauma haunting the Dead family can be found by comparing Pilate’s and Macon Jr.’s memories of their childhood. While their recollections of Lincoln’s Heaven are nearly identical, Macon Jr. notably omits the meeting with Macon Dead I’s ghost. Both Pilate and Macon Jr. continue to be haunted by their father’s death, but in telling Milkman about the ghostly encounter, Pilate shows a willingness to admit that the trauma is ongoing. Macon Jr., on the other hand, is unable or unwilling to admit this fact. His deliberate refusal to reveal Macon Dead I’s original name to Milkman further suggests that he too is wrestling with the damage inflicted upon his father’s identity. What Macon Jr. does not tell Milkman, then, is as important a key to understanding his emotional turmoil as what he willingly reveals.
The relationship that develops between Milkman and Hagar proves important as a measure of Milkman’s maturity. Pilate’s assertion that Milkman is Hagar’s brother invites us to compare their relationship with that between the two lovers in the biblical Song of Solomon, from which Morrison takes the title for her novel. In the biblical story, the female is called both the male’s “sister” and “bride.” But the “sister” designation does not imply that the woman is the man’s actual sibling; rather, she is his equal in their love. Consequently, within the context of Morrison’s novel, Pilate’s statement that Milkman is Hagar’s brother may be a reminder to Milkman that he should treat Hagar with respect, as his equal. His mistreatment of her in subsequent chapters demonstrates that he is not yet mature enough to appreciate her love. He takes her love without giving, selfishly caring only for his own needs.