Macon Dead IIIKnown as Milkman Dead, the protagonist of the novel. Born into a prominent and privileged family, Milkman is an egocentric individual who only discovers compassion upon his spiritual rebirth in the deep South. Milkman's discovery of his family history underlines his understanding of flight, not as a means of escape but as a means of living.
Ruth Foster Dead
Milkman's mother and the daughter of Dr. Foster, the first Negro doctor in town. Ruth, emotionally abused by her husband, lives a celibate and loveless existence, focusing all her energy on Milkman. Ruth claims that her father is the only one who cared how she lived. Despite her unhappiness, Ruth stays married to Macon Dead II, a move that exemplifies her passive character and reaffirms her appreciation for the finer life.
Macon Dead II
Milkman's father. A man obsessed with acquiring property, Macon is ruthless in his pursuit of money. His obsession is wedged in his memory of watching his father die trying to protect his land. Macon's unyielding attitude is only softened when he is reminded of stories from his childhood.
First Corinthians Dead
Milkman's sister, referred to as simply Corinthians. Leading a privileged life, she attends Bryn Mawr and travels to France to discover that at forty-three, she has no useful skills and is still unmarried. Corinthians suffers a nervous breakdown, and finds a job as a maid for Michael-Mary Graham. She is intelligent, strives to be independent, and falls in love with Porter, a yardman. Her fervent love affair demonstrates her ability to cross borders, in respect to social class and familial boundaries.
Called Lena, she is another one of Milkman's sisters. Throughout the first half of the book, Lena is characterized by a submissive personality only known for her act of sewing red velvet rose petals. Only her emotional outburst at Milkman's egotistic behavior alludes to her inner strength.
The State Poet Laureate. Michael-Mary is charmed by Corinthians name, and hires her on the spot. Although she is a liberal, she does not treat Corinthians as her equal, suggesting a double standard solely based on color.
A member of the Seven Days society and a yardman, Porter falls in love with Corinthians while seeing her on the bus. Porter's love for Corinthians makes him leave the society, and shows that love can cross over social classes.
Macon Dead II's sister. Pilate is a powerful character, both spiritually and emotionally, and is instrumental to the plot of the novel. Born without a nave, Pilate is rejected by society in her younger years but still embraces love to the fullest. She takes care of her daughter and granddaughter altruistically, and is responsible for Milkman's safe birth.
A midwife who delivers both Macon Dead II and Pilate. Employed by the affluent Butler family, Circe ascertains that their estate is ruined once they have passed away. As her namesake in the Odyssey, she is responsible for leading Milkman "home".
Nicknamed Reba, she is not considered as bright as her mother or daughter. Reba's talent for winning objects emphasizes the idea that one does not need money to succeed. Reba is also renowned for giving men gifts and money, although they do not return her affections.
Also known as Singing Bird, she is Milkman's great-grandmother. A Native American, Sing's name is the first connection Milkman has to his family history.
A janitor who nicknames Macon Dead III as "Milkman". Freddie, the town gossipmonger, is often guilty of misinterpreting his information.
A prostitute living in Shalimar, Virginia, whom Milkman has an affair with. She is pretty and easy-going, and it is with her that Milkman reinvents himself as a compassionate and thoughtful man. Their relationship is one of mutual respect.
Milkman's great-grandfather, who flies away to Africa to escape his life of slavery. Shortly after beginning his flight, he drops his son Jake. Solomon left behind twenty-one children, and a hysterically-grieving wife. His flight shows the positive and negative effects of escape.
Solomon's wife and Milkman's great-grandmother. She is left behind with twenty-one children, and rumor has it that she still wails after her long-lost husband. Ryna's Gulch is named appropriately after her.
Robert SmithAn insurance agent who jumps of No Mercy Hospital in hopes of flying as a means of escape. Robert was a member of the Seven Days society
Guitar BainsMilkman's best friend and a member of the Seven Days society. His hatred for whites is triggered by his father's death, after which the white factory owner offered his mother a mere forty dollars as compensation. Eventually, Guitar's anger overcomes him and he destroys his and Milkman's friendship.
Reba's daughter and Pilate's granddaughter. Hagar begins an affair with Milkman in her twenties and her love for him continues long after he has lost interest in her. Hagar goes mad with grief at Milkman's rejection. She emphasizes the novel's constant theme of rejection and of women who love too hard.
Ruth Dead's father and the first Negro doctor in town. Dr. Foster dislikes his own African American heritage. Macon claims Dr. Foster called blacks "cannibals" and that he was a racist. Dr. Foster's triumphant accomplishment of becoming a doctor in his time is a stark contrast to his attitude.
A local of Shalimar. He strongly dislikes Milkman's city, wealth-inspired ways. Saul, along with another group of men, instigates a fight with Milkman. He and Milkman's differing attitude emphasize the poverty found in the South.
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