Review: Mama Day

Liminal Places

 
For those of you who don’t know, liminal means in between (and to be fair I just learned this myself tonight). I really like this word.  Anyways, the topic came up when discussing Mama Day, which is a beautiful novel which I think more than anything else, demonstrates to us the complexity of life.   If you have never read this novel, you should, and yes, I realize I say that about many books lately.  I think it is a novel which touches on many realities of life while managing to convey that sense of “other” and mystery, magic and hope, that we all have.

In Mama Day, Gloria Naylor details the lives of characters, New York, and a little island called Willow Springs.  Naylor manages to hit a thousand topics, covering everything from gender roles, race, social status, and history to myths, magic, beliefs, love, and revenge.  Dr. Berry asked us in class which view or approach to the book (such as psychoanalysis or feminism) would open this book up best for an understanding. I have to say that I believe this book could be approached in any way because of it has so many complex layers that I do not believe just one would ever be able to full appreciate every aspect of this book. 

As many of you know, I am very interested lately in magic, and this book is called “magical realism.”  It has magical things that are treated as every day subjects – they are dealt with as occurring almost normally.  With my research into the cultural perception of magic, I wonder if there is any area where I could successfully study magic in culture through literature.  The idea greatly interests me, and I am going to write my paper for Southern Literature over this novel and possible Wolf Whistle.  This novel has all the old herbal lore than can be found as well as black/white magic.  The idea that the intent behind the magic is what creates its purpose in this novel goes back to when the church declared “black magic” heresy based on intent.  I would love to explore this.

In class we hit all the general subjects, but one was how there was not one single strong man within the novel.  I have to say, I didn’t agree with this.  Ambush is a quiet man who goes along with his wife’s wishes, but he is a man who knows the strength within himself, his land, and his future.  George may give into Cocoa, and give up much, but he is a man who stands up for himself, who lived a hard childhood and carved his own path in the world.  He has immeasurable strength even though he has a heart condition which limits him.  There are others on the island who may be running away from themselves, but when the time comes, they have the strength to face what they have known all along in order to help someone else.  They are the strength in the community in a way, because they work to provide for others, and they work together when needed.  I think it is unfair to call them weak or without power just because this novel did not wholly focus on them, or what they were capable of.  Women for centuries have been the ones with magic and prophetic powers and think that Naylor’s portrayal lives up to that tradition and many others.

I am glad that I am first going to pursue a Student Affairs degree because I seriously am considering getting my English masters and pursuing literature – I enjoy our discussions and I enjoy delving into the meanings and blogging about how I understand things.  I only have about 14 more minutes till my laptop dies and 17 till B&N closes, so this shall be a rather short post.  I believe that Naylor managed something wonderful in this novel, discussing a culture and finding it a place within society.  She understands that culture changes and that it is not the end of the traditions but a continuing evolving. If traditions did not change with the times then they would be lost. They would no longer be relevant. We may change them to fit our understanding but we carry with that change the knowledge of what was and the memory of why it is so. 

Naylor ties history, myths, and storytelling into a tale that gives us so many pieces of life.  Within all myths are a grain of truth, and a yearning to understand something that perhaps eluded those long ago.  In order to arrange life or explain something, we tie it into a story and add a bow.  The truth that is traced down remains somewhere within it, but the meaning of the story, and the heart of all the sides of the story are what matters.  We see George and Cocoa’s tale through several eyes, including their own, and it is all the sides of the story together that make is so touching, heartfelt, beautiful, and transcendent.

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