Song of Solomon

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Pilate Dead Character Analysis

Macon II’s sister, and a Christ-like character who selflessly devotes herself to others, including Reba, Hagar, and Milkman. Her supposed possession of a huge fortune in gold provides the setup for the second half of the novel. Pilate seems free of the anxiety and claustrophobia of the novel’s wealthier characters, such as Ruth, and she challenges gender norms by wearing men’s clothing and taking a traditionally masculine job, bootlegging, for herself. A largely static character, Pilate displays boundless sympathy and love for her daughter, Reba, and her granddaughter, Hagar. On the few occasions when she shows any aggression or anger, she’s proving her loyalty to her family.

Pilate Dead Quotes in Song of Solomon

The Song of Solomon quotes below are all either spoken by Pilate Dead or refer to Pilate Dead. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Power of Names Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Song of Solomon published in 2004.
Part 2, Chapter 13 Quotes

The people turned around. Reba had entered and was singing too. Pilate neither acknowledged her entrance nor missed a beat. She simply repeated the word “Mercy,” and Reba replied. The daughter standing at the back of the chapel, the mother up front, they sang.

Related Characters: Pilate Dead, Hagar, Reba
Page Number: 317
Explanation and Analysis:

Pilate mourns the death of her own daughter, Hagar. Hagar has died, surreally, of a broken heart, largely because Milkman has romanced her and then abandoned her altogether. In church, Pilate and her other daughter, Reba, sing out on behalf of their dead family member. Notice that Pilate and Reba seem almost psychically aware of each other's presence--even without looking up, Pilate recognizes when Reba enters the church, and keeps singing in perfect time.

The scene shows Pilate at her most religious. Pilate sings beautifully on behalf of her dead daughter, and in general, we see her taking on the qualities of a Christ-figure as the novel nears an ending. Notably, Pilate doesn't show any signs of fury or anger with Milkman--unlike Guitar, she's not really concerned with revenge at all; her concern, above all else, is her love for her children.

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Pilate Dead Character Timeline in Song of Solomon

The timeline below shows where the character Pilate Dead appears in Song of Solomon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 1
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Racism Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
...name is Macon, too, but now everyone knows him as Milkman Dead. Macon’s sister, named Pilate Dead, will never tell him how Milkman got his nickname because it gives her too... (full context)
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...had no idea what the name was until the midwife told him he had chosen Pilate, the name of an evil Christ-killer. But Macon’s father insisted that his child keep the... (full context)
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Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
Mercy and Forgiveness Theme Icon
When Macon Dead’s son was born, Pilate was extremely interested in the child. She acted like an in-law, helping Ruth and later... (full context)
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...and threatening to kill someone with his shotgun. This reminds Macon that he disapproves of Pilate’s bootlegging. He tells Freddie that he’ll get his rent from Porter, though he doesn’t care... (full context)
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Mercy and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Macon walks by Pilate’s house, where she and her daughter survive without electricity. He remembers that she has no... (full context)
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Macon walks toward Pilate’s house and hears his sister singing along with Reba, her daughter, and Reba’s daughter, Hagar.... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 2
The Power of Names Theme Icon
...woman who will shape his future. The boy, Guitar, tells Milkman that he’s been inside Pilate’s house, and takes him to see Pilate, Milkman’s mysterious aunt. Guitar greets Pilate with a... (full context)
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Guitar asks if Pilate is Macon Dead’s sister, and Pilate tells him that she is one of only three... (full context)
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As Pilate and Milkman talk, a girl comes into the house, back first, dragging a basket of... (full context)
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Pilate asks Guitar where he gets his name, and Guitar explains that his mother took him... (full context)
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The conversation turns to wine making, and Guitar asks Pilate if her wine is any good — surprisingly, Pilate replies that she has no idea,... (full context)
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Milkman enjoys spending time with Reba, Pilate, and Hagar, in part because he’s visiting his aunt in secret, defying his father. When... (full context)
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...Macon remembers his father, who died protecting his farm. He tells Milkman that he and Pilate worked together on their father’s farm in Montour County. The farm was a huge, beautiful... (full context)
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...he’s learned information about his past, but Macon repeats that he doesn’t want Milkman visiting Pilate. When pressed again or a reason, Macon only says that she is a snake. He... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
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...the houses Macon is renting, which gives him opportunities to visit the wine house where Pilate lives. Milkman is friendly, the opposite of Macon, and so renters are more open with... (full context)
The Power of Names Theme Icon
Masculinity and Femininity Theme Icon
...Ruth, but he sensed that she loved him. He had thought of his visits to Pilate as extensions of his mother’s love for him. Now he begins to question all women’s... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 4
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Afterwards, Milkman talks with Hagar about Pilate’s impressive display of toughness, and tells her that he’s waiting to marry her. Hagar is... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 5
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...began visiting her father’s grave to talk to him and feel at peace. Shortly thereafter, Pilate moved to town, and gave Ruth aphrodisiacs to put in Macon’s food. They worked, Ruth... (full context)
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Ruth goes to Pilate’s house to talk with her. She hopes to learn that Freddie was wrong, that Hagar... (full context)
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Pilate tells Ruth that some people choose when they want to die, and others choose to... (full context)
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While traveling through Virginia, Pilate claims to have seen the ghost of her father, who told her, “Sing,” which she... (full context)
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As Reba grew older, she gave birth to her own child, Hagar, and so Pilate decided to find her brother Macon, who she thought would help to provide for them.... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 7
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...he depends on Milkman. Milkman mentions to his father a green sack of money that Pilate keeps in her house without ever spending it – she calls it her “inheritance” –... (full context)
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Milkman meets Macon for lunch, where Macon tells him about his teenage years with Pilate. After the death of their father, Macon and Pilate went to live in secret with... (full context)
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Homeless, Macon and Pilate survive on fruit and live in a cave, in which at one point they think... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 8
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Guitar and Milkman try to think of a way to get Reba, Pilate, and Hagar out of the house while they steal the gold. While they’re talking, they... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 9
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...he’s grateful, but then laughs — Macon has spend fifty years believing the falsehood that Pilate stole his gold. (full context)
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Milkman contemplates his time in jail. Pilate had been called down to the police station, where she confirmed that he and Guitar... (full context)
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Milkman goes home and thinks about the shame he felt in front of Pilate, mostly the fact that she was willing to lie for him instead of pressing charges.... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 10
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...men. Guitar adds that many blacks live in a state of self-imposed slavery; for instance, Pilate carried the bones of a white man instead of taking his treasure. Guitar recalls how... (full context)
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...cared about a black man’s death. After Macon’s father’s death, Circe secretly sheltered Macon and Pilate at the Butlers’ house. Milkman is confused that no one tried to prosecute the Butlers... (full context)
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...Native American descent and bragged that she was never a slave. Circe asks Milkman if Pilate ever married Reba’s father; Milkman says no. She remembers Pilate’s shame at her lack of... (full context)
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...annoyed with Reverend Cooper’s friends, Milkman boards a Greyhound bus to Virginia. He remembers that Pilate told him she’d returned to Hunter’s Cave to collect the dead body four years after... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 11
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...etc. He has arrived in this place by trying to track down the town where Pilate lived: it’s called Shalimar, not Charlemagne, as Circe had previously told him. After leaving Pennsylvania,... (full context)
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Milkman asks the hunters if they knew Pilate, Sing, or Macon’s father. Vernell, remembers Sing as a light-skinned girl; he reveals that her... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
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...grandmother. He’s confused when Susan tells him that Sing never married. He asks Susan about Pilate, but Susan can’t remember anyone by this name. Grace admires Milkman’s gold watch, and asks... (full context)
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...home, Milkman thinks that he feels the same pleasure in Shalimar that he felt at Pilate’s house. He has dozens of questions about his family history, and is particularly curious if... (full context)
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...early before the sun is hot. He sees children playing and singing the same song Pilate used to song, “O Sugarman,” except the children sing “Solomon” instead of “Sugarman.” He thinks... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 13
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Guitar drives Hagar back to Pilate, and Pilate and Reba treat her with great sympathy, cooking food for her and tending... (full context)
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...her bags splits; she has to carry everything in her arms. When she arrives at Pilate’s house, she runs to her room, where she applies her makeup and puts on new... (full context)
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...for her. Much of the neighborhood donates to it, since Hagar has spent all of Pilate and Reba’s money on clothing. At the funeral, Pilate bursts in and shouts that she... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 15
The Power of Names Theme Icon
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...his great grandfather, Solomon, could fly. He can’t wait to tell everyone what he’s learned: Pilate, his father, and even Reverend Cooper and his friends. He also tells Sweet that if... (full context)
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...in his life would seem to prefer him dead, with the exception of Reba and Pilate — two people for whom he’s never done anything. Rather than go home right away,... (full context)
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Milkman wakes up in Pilate’s cellar and tries to figure out why Pilate hit him. At first, he thinks that... (full context)
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Milkman remembers the words Pilate claims her own father told her: “You just can’t fly off and leave a body.”... (full context)
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Pilate hears Milkman’s voice and comes down to the cellar. Milkman tells her what he’s come... (full context)
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Milkman drives Pilate to Virginia, since she refuses to ride in a plane. Before he does so, however,... (full context)
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Once Milkman arrives with Pilate back in Shalimar, everyone is happy to see him again, and Pilate gets along with... (full context)
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As Milkman holds the dying Pilate, she begs him to watch Reba, and says that she wishes she’d met more people,... (full context)
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Milkman understands that Guitar is the one who shot Pilate, and was in fact trying to shoot him. He knows that when he stands up,... (full context)