Song of Solomon
by Toni Morrison
Character Role Analysis
Milkman/Guitar, Pilate/Ruth, Pilate/Macon, Pilate/Guitar, Hagar/Ruth
There are so many foils in this novel, if we were feeling risky (and we always are feeling risky), we might posit that each character is a foil to several other characters. And it’s not surprising, considering that Toni Morrison doesn’t want any one character to be known or remembered solely for his/her good qualities or solely for his/her bad qualities. She says, "it is the combinations in characters that are the best part of writing novels – the combinations of virtue and flaw."
Milkman and Guitar are best friends, united by their love of rule-breaking, partying, and women, but when Guitar starts developing an interest in politics, his lifestyle becomes the polar opposite of Milkman's. Guitar is poor. Milkman is rich. Guitar thinks about racial equality. Milkman thinks about women. Guitar is orphaned. Milkman has a home and a family. Yet, both are bound by an unmistakable love.
Likewise, Pilate Dead and Ruth Dead could not be more different. Pilate has traveled the world and lives in a shack. Ruth has studied the world, but has never left her large house. Pilate is independent. Ruth suffocates under her husband’s iron hand. Pilate enjoyed a degree of sexual freedom. Ruth hasn’t been touched by her husband in over 20 years. Both women are outcasts to some degree, and both converse with their dead fathers.
Pilate and Guitar triangulate with Milkman. They love Milkman, but they have vastly different relationships with Milkman. Pilate holds for him the key to his past, whereas Guitar wakes him up to his future. We seriously could go on and on exploring the complex foil patterns that weave in and out of Song, and that’s how you know when you have a juicy book on your hands.