Song of Solomon Milkman Character Analysis

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In her novel Song of Solomon, Toni Morrison follows the journey of a black man named Macon “Milkman” Dead III as he navigates his own identity and connects with his African American heritage. Throughout the story, Milkman evolves from a naive and self-centered young man into a confident adult who appreciates the significance of morals and family principles. He is burdened by the materialistic values of his father and the oppression of a racist society.

During his exploration of his family’s history, the protagonist uncovers their values and heritage, frees himself from his father’s and society’s constraints, and has a literal experience of flying. Morrison introduces Milkman’s unsavory traits with various justifications. Milkman’s father, Macon Dead Jr., is a prosperous black entrepreneur who takes pride in his wealth and property, believing that these assets bring him admiration and influence.

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Macon Dead displays a lack of empathy and indifference towards both women and the impoverished black community residing in the town where he possesses significant property. Due to his disregard for the underprivileged black population, Macon and his family are inherently disconnected from the ongoing racial struggles that plague black society. Their living situation is one where their whiteness overshadows their blackness. By elucidating Milkman’s background, Morrison provides insight into the origins of his character flaws.

Milkman is introduced as an individual who has a lot to comprehend about life, and his character progression will be explored as the story unfolds. As a result of his upbringing, Milkman becomes a materialistic young man who shares numerous personality characteristics with his father. He grows increasingly conceited, exploits women, and possesses the belief that wealth will ultimately grant him power and liberation. Paradoxically, although Milkman belongs to a wealthy and influential family, he remains oblivious to the oppression experienced by the rest of his community, despite being akin to a slave under his father’s dominance.

Milkman possesses limited information regarding his family’s roots, simply aware that they originated from Virginia and that his grandfather passed away on his Pennsylvania farm. He lacks knowledge about the hardships his predecessors endured due to oppression and slavery, which contributes to his inadequate comprehension and value for his African American heritage. Nevertheless, during his thirties, Milkman encounters a story about the potential presence of concealed gold in a cave close to his father’s childhood residence. This revelation sparks within him a belief that locating this gold will enable him to attain the riches and influence required to liberate himself from his father’s dominion.

Milkman is unknowingly embarking on a dual quest for both gold and his true identity. This journey begins in Danville, the town where his father grew up and his grandfather was killed by white landowners. In this place, Milkman gains insight into the importance of hospitality from a respected individual who offers him refuge out of pure benevolence. Additionally, he encounters Circe, who had cared for his father after his grandfather’s untimely demise. With Circe’s guidance, Milkman delves deeper into his family’s past and unravels the details surrounding his grandfather’s tragic murder.

She informs him that his grandfather passed away while protecting their land due to his love and pride in his achievements. This demonstrates that his grandfather did not prioritize the materialistic aspect of the land, but was prepared to give up his life to prevent it from being seized by white individuals. Milkman acquires comprehension of the principles cherished by his ancestors and the injustices endured by his black grandfather.

In the white land owner’s house that usurped his grandfather’s land, Circe also emphasizes to Milkman the significance of individuals with wealth and power. She tells him, “… she (the white land owner) witnessed the labor I performed throughout her entire life and ultimately perished, do you understand me, perished rather than inhabit a life similar to mine.” The woman exhausted her wealth and chose to end her own life because she refused to lead a life like her black servant. This reveals to Milkman that individuals dependent on wealth and power have no purpose in life once their wealth diminishes; they are essentially already dead.

The Milkman does not find the gold in Danville. However, he becomes fascinated by the information about his family that Circe gave him, prompting him to continue his journey to Shalimar, VA. Shalimar is the birthplace of his grandfather and where his great grandfather was enslaved. In this town, the Milkman has a reality check as he is violently attacked and stripped of his expensive clothing. In Shalimar, the townspeople do not value money, so it holds no significance to them. As a result, the Milkman now dresses like an ordinary person, blending in with everyone else in town.

This is an incredibly humbling moment for him because it’s the first instance where he truly feels like a regular black man, enabling him to establish a deep connection with his black heritage. In Shalimar, he unveils the lingering enigma surrounding his ancestors and learns that his great grandfather, Solomon, was among the legendary “flying Africans”. According to legend, Solomon leaped off a cliff now referred to as Solomon’s Leap and miraculously flew back to Africa in order to evade slavery. Unfortunately, this meant leaving behind his wife and 21 children.

Milkman acquires knowledge in Shalimar and returns home with a sense of belonging and understanding of his family’s morals and cultural values. He closes the chapter on his past, looking towards the future in Michigan. In Michigan, he learns of Hagar’s death, a woman he took advantage of who symbolically died from a broken heart caused by his departure. Milkman finally comprehends his actions towards Hagar and accepts responsibility for her death. His Aunt Pilate, the only woman he truly respected, gives him a piece of Hagar’s hair as a way to acknowledge this responsibility.

During their journey, he shares with Pilate the knowledge he has acquired about their family’s history. They both return to Shalimar to finally bury the bones of Pilate’s father, which she had unknowingly been carrying with her for a long time. Morrison portrays a serene scene as Pilate and Milkman lay to rest the first Macon Dead on Solomon’s Leap. This act not only symbolizes putting their past behind them but also marks the conclusion of Pilate’s life, as she is later shot by Milkman’s closest friend.

Morrison depicts Pilate’s acceptance of death as not tragic. Pilate, who fulfilled a maternal role for Milkman, witnessed the demise of the only woman who mattered to him, at the hands of his best and sole friend. For Milkman, there was no longer any purpose in living. Thus, by abandoning his avarice and neurotic tendencies, Milkman released himself from the burdens that consumed him and followed in the footsteps of his great grandfather by leaping off Solomon’s Leap. Ultimately, perhaps Milkman truly did soar, as surrendering to the air allows one to ride it.

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Song of Solomon Milkman Character Analysis. (2016, Dec 20). Retrieved from

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