Character Analysis Macon Dead, Jr.


Macon is the epitome of the black man who has acquiesced to the white capitalist system. Estranged from his family, his community, and his African heritage, Macon is hated and feared by blacks, who detest his arrogance, and ignored and ostracized by whites, who use him primarily to keep black tenants in their place.

A fervent believer in the mythological American Dream, Macon prizes his ring of keys, which distinguishes him as a man of property. Convinced that his wealth will compensate for his race, Macon has no time for lower-class blacks, whom he considers beneath him socially and economically. Oblivious to the devastating spiritual toll that his lifestyle has taken on him, Macon is determined to have his son, Milkman, follow in his footsteps and does his best to convince Milkman that money is the key to power and success.

Macon is the only father in the novel who is physically present with his children, but his presence is so overpowering that it appears to do more harm than good. Cold, controlling, and domineering, Macon rules his household like a tyrant. With a wife who is "stunned into silence" by his rejection, two "half-grown" daughters, and a son who refuses to accept responsibility for his life, Macon exemplifies the Western patriarch whose penchant for order and discipline provides him with the illusion of being in control.

Macon's lack of compassion is illustrated in his treatment of Porter and Mrs. Bains, both tenants of his, but it is especially evident in his treatment of his sister, Pilate, whom he despises for refusing to conform to his rigidly defined standards of correct behavior. His disdain and lack of respect for other blacks are also evident in his speech, which echoes the beliefs and stereotypes of racist whites — he is the first one in the novel to use the word "nigger" to refer to Porter, Pilate, and Guitar. Unlike Pilate, who has earned her way in the world by working hard and persevering, Macon inherited his initial wealth through Ruth. Not satisfied with his wife's inheritance, his insatiable greed prompts him to try to steal his sister's inheritance — gold — as well.

Macon longs for some connection to his past. Although he recognizes that Pilate has managed to maintain that connection, he refuses to yield to her influence, fearing that any expression of love or dependence will make him appear weak. As a result, he finds himself spiritually and psychologically estranged from himself and others, desperately clinging to the illusion that material success is all he needs to make his life worthwhile.