Study Guide

Ruth Dead in Song of Solomon

By Toni Morrison

Ruth Dead

Married as a teenager, Ruth stops having sex when she’s in her early twenties, because her husband can’t stand her. In fact, he goes out of his way to criticize her cooking, her storytelling, and her existence.

Ruth's one love in life is and has always been her father, and before we launch into this tale, we have to be fair and recall that there are two sides to the finger-kissing story. Macon tells Milkman that he saw his wife lying naked next to her father, sucking on his fingers. Ruth tells Milkman that she was kneeling next to her father, kissing the last part of him to decompose, which happened to be his fingers. Either way, we know it’s a little gross and creepy. But the fact of the matter is that Ruth is sheltered and her father was the only person who has ever cared whether she’s lived or died.

She is so starved for affection that the lady will get up in the middle of the night and travel by bus and train nearly an hour and a half to get to her father’s grave, just so that she can talk to him. She likes staring at the watermark on the dining room table, because it reminds her of the fact that there have always been fresh flowers on that table, and it reminds her of the her father’s death, after which she let the seaweed and driftwood arrangement rot and decompose, until it left a permanent watermark on the beautiful mahogany dining room table.

Ruth loves Milkman because he represents the last time someone made love to her, and he was so hard to keep alive when in her womb due to Macon’s insistence that she abort the baby. She respects Pilate, who has always tried to keep her safe and watch her from a distance. When Pilate loses Hagar, it is Ruth who forces Macon to provide a proper, respectful funeral. She, like many other Deads, is lost at sea, finding solace only in speaking to a dead man, pulled between the world of the living and the deceased.

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