Milkman Dead is the protagonist of Song of Solomon. He is the son of Macon Dead, a wealthy black man. At an early age Milkman lost a sense of his true identity. Because of this he becomes a passive person who finds life boring. He coasts through life, helping his father earn money and diverting himself with "fun" activities, such as having sex with women and getting drunk. However, because he is not strongly connected to anyone (except perhaps Pilate), Milkman can treat people harshly, as he does when he breaks up with Hagar. He also often feels burdened by his family's problems but doesn't have the assertiveness to do anything about it. Milkman becomes good friends with Guitar, but this friendship is based on doing fun activities. When Guitar adopts a serious attitude, Milkman feels more distant from him. Deep down Milkman yearns to connect with his true self. As a result he feels a connection to Pilate, who has kept a close link to her ancestral past. As Milkman searches for the gold he's heard about from his father, he begins to learn more about his ancestors. Soon his search for his ancestral roots takes precedence over finding the gold. Eventually Milkman discovers the story of his ancestors, which connects him with his true identity as a member of a black family, thereby empowering him.
Pilate Dead is the sister of Macon Dead and the daughter of Jake. Pilate can be seen as an earth mother figure who has kept close ties with her rustic past. Even though she lives in a city, Pilate maintains a rural lifestyle, making wine and living simply. For Pilate her black ancestral heritage means everything, and she is very much alive. For instance, after her father is murdered, Pilate often sees his spirit, which communicates with her. Pilate also places great meaning in family names and delights in the strangeness of these names. As a result Pilate always wears an earring that consists of a snuffbox containing her name written on a piece of paper. Her illiterate father wrote the name; it was the only word he wrote. Pilate doesn't mind that urban blacks view her as strange. She was born without a navel and, because of this, has dealt with people seeing her as odd throughout her life. Pilate decides not to hide her oddity and just live life the way she wants to. As a result she cuts her hair short, wears men's shoes, and has developed skills as a healer. Eventually Pilate realizes she has been living under a misconception. She has a sack filled with what she thinks is the bones of a white man she and her brother killed. But she finds out they are her father's bones. When she and Milkman bury the bones, Pilate senses peace and completeness.
Macon Dead, Jr.
Macon Dead, Jr. is the brother of Pilate Dead and the son of Jake. He lives in a city in Michigan and has become a wealthy businessman who owns houses and collects rent from black tenants. Macon's main goal in life is to own things and make money from what he owns. He enjoys seeing himself as superior to the blacks in his community. Macon rules his family with a harsh hand and has developed a hatred for his wife, Ruth, and disappointment for his two daughters, Lena and Corinthians. When Milkman was a child, Macon disliked him as well. However, when Milkman began to work for his father and make money for him, Macon bonded with his son. Macon has cut all connections with his rural past and family heritage. He seems ashamed that his father was illiterate and, as a result, was cheated out of his farm. Macon was once close to his sister, Pilate, but after their father died, he had a fight with her about gold. Teenage Macon found bags of gold and is convinced that Pilate took the loot. Macon sends Milkman in search of the gold.
Guitar is Milkman's close friend. He is an intelligent, brave man who has a strong loyalty toward his friends. Guitar's family comes from Florida, where his father worked in a sawmill. After his father was killed in a mill accident, Guitar hated the way the racist white owner placated his mother. Since then Guitar has felt hatred toward white racists for their oppression of black people. Because of this, Guitar is drawn into a group called the Seven Days. This group consists of seven black men who kill white people in retaliation for white people's unpunished killings of black people. The white people the Days kill have no direct connection to the crimes committed against the black people. So Guitar kills innocent people and justifies this by saying that the white race is unnatural. Guitar's involvement in the Days splits his personality. One side of him loves his friends, like Milkman; the other side seeks vengeance. Eventually Guitar's hate spills over toward Milkman. Convinced that Milkman betrayed him about the gold, Guitar tries to kill him.
Hagar is the granddaughter of Pilate and the daughter of Reba. As a child, Hagar tends to be prissy, and as a result, Pilate and Reba spoil her in an attempt to placate her. Hagar thus grows up expecting to get whatever she wants. In her early 20s, Hagar becomes attracted to Milkman, who is five years younger. They have sex and start an on-again-off-again relationship. Over the years Hagar becomes more attached to Milkman and, when she reaches the age of 36, wants stability in their relationship. Milkman, though, has become bored with their relationship and harshly breaks it off. Devastated, Hagar becomes obsessed with the idea of Milkman sleeping with other women. She cannot fathom the possibility of not getting what she wants. So Hagar ineptly makes attempts to kill Milkman. However, when Milkman allows her to stab him, she is unable to do so. Hagar falls into a depression because her life revolves around having Milkman.
Ruth Foster Dead
Ruth Foster Dead is the wife of Macon Dead and the daughter of Dr. Foster. Ruth is a refined, educated woman with an artistic sensibility and dubious domestic skills. She views herself as a weak woman who has to rely on a man's love to cope with life. As a result she forms an unnaturally close bond with her father. She thinks Dr. Foster is the only person who loves her. When her father dies, Ruth is married to Macon and has two daughters. However, when Macon realizes the unnatural bond Ruth had with her father, he breaks off sexual relations with her. Ruth develops passive-aggressive tendencies. For instance, she takes pleasure in subtly provoking her husband. Ruth feels her main triumph over Macon is getting pregnant with Milkman and giving birth. Although Macon has stopped having sex with Ruth, she secretly gives him an aphrodisiac made by Pilate. As a result he has sex with her for several days. When he finds out about her pregnancy, Macon unsuccessfully tries to make Ruth abort the child. Suffering from a lack of love, Ruth nurses her son until he is about four years old. When a snoop witnesses the nursing, she stops it.
Macon Dead I
Macon Dead I (Jake) is the father of Macon Dead, Jr. and Pilate and grandfather of Milkman. Jake takes the name Macon Dead when a drunk Yankee soldier makes a mistake registering him for the Freedmen's Bureau, and for some reason he keeps the mistaken name. Eventually Milkman finds out that his grandfather's real name is Jake. Jake is a resourceful, hardworking man who is an excellent farmer. He grew up in Shalimar, Virginia. When Jake was an infant, Jake's father, Solomon, abandoned him, his mother, and his other siblings. After the abandonment Jake's mother goes insane. As a result Jake grows up under the care of a neighbor named Heddy. Jake becomes close to Heddy's daughter Sing. When they reach adulthood, Jake and Sing head from Virginia to Danville, Pennsylvania. Jake and Sing get married and have two children, Macon and Pilate. Jake develops a lovely, prosperous farm. However, the wealthy Butler family wants Jake's land. They trick illiterate Jake into signing a document that gives the farm to the Butlers. Furious, Jake guards his land with a gun, but the Butlers shoot and kill him. After his death Jake appears to Pilate and tells her to collect his bones in a cave and bury them. However, Pilate misinterprets the message.