"The only voice is your own": Gloria Naylor's revision of 'The Tempest.'
Think about it: ain't nobody really talking to you. We're sitting here in Willow Springs, and you're God-knows-where. It's August 1999 - ain't but a slim chance it's the same season where you are. Uh, huh, listen. Really listen this time: the only voice is your own. (10)
This passage foregrounds Naylor's persistent concern throughout her literary career - establishing her individual voice. In her famous interview with Toni Morrison, Naylor candidly discloses her anxiety about writing outside established traditions:
I wrote because I had no choice, but that was a long road from gathering the authority within myself to believe that I could actually be a writer. The writers I had been taught to love were either male or white. And who was I to argue that Ellison, Austen, Dickens, the Brontes, Baldwin and Faulkner weren't masters? They were and are. But inside there was still the faintest whisper: Was there no one telling my story? And since it appeared there was not, how could I presume to? Those were frustrating years. (574)
That her own voice be heard, it is necessary for Naylor to clear a space for "her own story," a text among texts. Her ambitious narrative project is in essence a declaration of independence - an acknowledgment of the academic canon's value, but also an assertion of her racial and gender difference. Without repudiation of texts that she obviously loves, she can tell her story, but never at the expense of her own unique narrative voice.
Naylor's quest for her own "voice" is, of course, a central concern for most African American writers, discovered in "the tension between the oral and the written modes of narration that is represented as finding a voice in writing" (Gates 21). Her experimentation with voice in Mama Day represents a dramatic advance in her artistic talent over her two previous works. Unlike both The Women of Brewster Place and Linden Hills, where the narrator's voice is distinct from the voices of her characters, and where there is occasionally a tone of condescension, Naylor achieves in Mama Day what Gates calls a "speakerly text" - one that "would seem primarily to be oriented toward imitating one of the numerous forms of oral narration to be found in classical Afro-American vernacular literature" (181). Mama Day's voice serves as a spiritual ballast in the narrative, a guide to elemental (religious) truths that the other characters must discover to set themselves free. But Naylor's employment of free indirect discourse throughout the novel metaphorically unites her with Miranda; the distinction between the writer's authority and the speaker's set of communal values in Willow Springs is mitigated, if not erased. The free indirect discourse, then, acts as Naylor's thematic commentary, a sign not only of the strength of the black oral voice but also of the transcendent solidity of Mama Day's thoughts and feelings.(1)
Naylor thus situates herself at the center of contemporary critical discussions of texts. Criticism has in the past twenty years reformulated the notion of literary history as a dynamic interplay of texts: We are now led to see a single work not simply as an autonomous, free-standing edifice but intertextually, as a text that "talks" with and to other texts. J. Hillis Miller characterizes the literary work as "inhabited . . . by a long chain of parasitical presences, echoes, allusions, guests, ghosts of previous texts" (446). Similarly, Roland Barthes describes the text as a "multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash . . . a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture" (146). Several African American critics, including Robert B. Stepto and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., have discussed textual affinities between works and their African American precursorial models; Susan Willis and Michael Awkward have focused on intertextuality of black women writers specifically. In delineating a specific type of intertexuality termed "signifyin(g)," Gates explains the revisionary impulse of black writers: "It is clear that black writers read and critique other black texts as an act of rhetorical self-definition. Our literary tradition exists because of these precisely chartable formal literary relationships, relationships of signifying" (290).
In this debate, Naylor occupies a complex position, for she not only rewrites black texts but white canonical texts as well. Awkward has already shown how The Women of Brewster Place is revisionary of earlier black texts, especially those by Morrison, and demonstrates that Naylor's "revisionary gestures with respect to elements of Morrison's novel" clarifies her literary relationship to Jean Toomer's Cane (101). Certainly Man Day reads like a virtual encyclopedia of African American expressive culture. In a multitude of literary allusions and narrative echoes, Naylor pays homage to (among others) Charles Chestnutt, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, Ralph Ellison, Jean Toomer, Ernest J. Gaines, Ishmael Reed, and (of course) Zora Neale Hurston. But while she is occasionally critical of earlier black texts, she more often supplements the insights expressed in their works. Earlier black texts incarnated in Mama Day tend toward celebration rather than revision.(2)
But Naylor's strategy is tricky when she handles classic white texts. In her handlIng of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream In The Women of Brewster Place and of Dante In Linden Hills, Naylor pays homage to these canonical works, but also revises and reshapes them. While Shakespeare celebrates Puckish irrationality because it creates romantic love and the renewal of a comic society, Naylor tempers his celebration: "Puckish irrationality," given society's injustices of race and gender, may lead poor black women into tragic domestic situations where they act against their own best interests, and those of their children.(3) In Linden Hills, Naylor undertakes a wholesale revision of Dante's Inferno, but rather than reaffirming Christian morality, Naylor indicts middle-class materialism, positioning at the center of her Dantesque hell Luther Needed.
Mama Day is an imaginative interrogation of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Notably, Naylor's revisionary impulse undermines a New Critical understanding of the play, which posits The Tempest as a covert ideological argument in favor of the European colonizing project of the seventeenth century. In discussing the play, New Critics habitually tended to reduce the drama to an allegorical tract about the benefits of colonialism - often with racially insensitive and politically obtuse consequences. As such, Prospero allegorically figures as the Empire's vested authority; the mysterious island, a distant colony of the empire; and Caliban, the legitimately dispossessed native. G. Wilson Knight succinctly summarizes many years of Shakespearean criticism. Apparently unaware of the irony of his own words (and the tragic history belied by them), he writes that Prospero is representative of England's "colonizing, especially her will to raise savage peoples from superstition and blood-sacrifice, taboos and witchcraft and the attendant fears and slaveries, to a more enlightened existence" (255; emphases mine). But in her own reconstruction of Shakespeare's play, Naylor dramatically deconstructs embedded New Critical ideological assumptions - many embarrassingly exposed in Knight's discussion - regarding patriarchal bias, an exclusively Protestant view of nature, the ahistoricism of political assertions, and the Eurocentric construction of "Otherness" as justification for exploitation and enslavement. Naylor's narrative denies the complacent sureties of much New Critical analysis. In short, she rescues the Shakespearean text for a gender-conscious, multicultural, multiracial audience.(4)
As the first hint of her revisionary project, Naylor names her main character Miranda. This naming displaces the reader from an accustomed position; no longer depending on Prospero's focal point of view, the reader must now listen to an unfamiliar voice - not the father's but the daughter's, surely among those least empowered in Shakespeare's play. In The Tempest, Prospero is a teacher who instructs his daughter and will have no backtalk. But in Mama Day, the matriarch (who has no children) is the guide, not only over her household but over the island generally: "Mama Day say no, everybody say no" (6) to the encroachment of corporate real estate developers (the contemporary colonialists) who would steal Willow Springs from its indigenous people.
Moreover, Naylor's Miranda, like Charles Chestnutt's reconfigured Conjure Woman, is endowed with powers that are in congruence with the Life Force on Willow Springs. She cooperates with Nature, helping all living things come to life. Shakespeare's Prospero wields his magic to control and subdue the forces of nature, thereby epitomizing his "dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth" (Genesis 1:28). Naylor's Miranda, however, consistently cooperates with natural forces. To illustrate Miranda's connection with the Life Force, Naylor continuously associates her with eggs, as a symbol of fertility. For example, she candles eggs to check for fertilization: "Her fingers curl gently around a warm egg that shows a deepening spot with tiny veins running out from it. . . . Candlelight makes the shadowy life within her wrinkled hand seem to breathe as she rotates it real careful" (41). It is as if life emanates from her - as in fact it does later in the novel when she assists Berenice in conceiving.
While Prospero's books demarcate his identity as the apotheosis of rationalized order, Miranda is associated with eggs. This association, of course, is not to be understood in a depreciative or condescending way. Rather than an adversarial relationship with nature, she enjoys a reciprocating renewal in an animistic universe; Naylor continually challenges Propero's separation between the spiritual and material worlds in the candling scene by having Miranda communicate with her chickens, a practice consistent throughout the novel. As we shall soon see, her elemental connection to eggs - and all eggs symbolize - becomes a crucial code in the novel's psychological dynamics. Nature, in turn, responds to her, as if moved simply by her presence: "The scent of pine and grass burst out as the sun moves for a minute from behind a group of clouds" (41). Miranda does not require magical arts to coerce a response from nature; instead, her sensitivities align with natural forces because she honors all life. In Naylor's Willow Springs, the sacral dimension of experience conflates with the purely phenomenal whenever Miranda speaks.
The novel's two settings sustain Naylor's revisionary enterprise. A truism of the New Critical school of criticism is that The Tempest devises a contrast between two islands: the "uncharted isle" that manifests Nature, and the presumptive world of England that figures for "civility." But Naylor's division is not so secure, for she transforms Manhattan into a "wondrous isle," thereby deconstructing the facile binary of "Civilization vs. Primitivism." For Naylor (herself a New York City inhabitant), Manhattan is not the antithesis of Willow Springs but its complement. Seen in the proper perspective, Manhattan is as wonderous as Willow Springs, and one place cannot be entirely appreciated - or loved - without a full understanding of the other. Each is incomplete without the other (thus, George must visit Willow Springs, and Miranda at the novel's end must make a hilarious visit to New York). Indeed, given a willingness to discover magic in everyday life, Manhattan itself is wonderously mysterious. The novel begins in a dirty Manhattan coffee shop, and while everything seems plastic, artificial, and anonymous, it is here where George and Cocoa meet, eventually brought together with the assistance of Miranda's Puckish dust. Although Cocoa at first sees only the surface of New York, symbolized by her categorizing people solely in terms of race and ethnicity, George shows her that the categories she creates are arbitrary, consdescending, and divisive - and that the island is much more like Willow Springs than she thinks: The "city was a network of small towns, some even smaller than . . . Willow Springs" (61). In New York City, as in Willow Springs, people play out dramas of love and happiness, grief and loss.
George is alert to the human drama played out beneath the surfaces Cocoa only notices. It is he who understands the great significance people impute to the smallest details - the meaning of a yellow rose to a florist on Jamaica Avenue, or the signficance of a certain candy store in Harlem. George's sensitivity to Manhattan's mysteries testifies to Naylor's own fairness in creating her male protagonist. Speaking to Morrison, Naylor says that she is concerned primarily with fairness in characterizing males: "I bent over backwards not to have a negative message come through about the men" (579). Her "positive message" is subtly conveyed - in fact, in danger of being misread. A civil engineer, George at first glance seems the stereotyped male chauvinist: He loves football; he sees women mechanically, coordinated (he thinks) with a twenty-eight-day menstrual cycle; he plays simple card games according to mathematics, assuming that winning is "the only thing"; he seemingly reduces human "basic needs" to "water supply, heating, air conditioning, transportation" (60). He is usually dogmatic, particularly with women. George is only half-kidding when he says, ". . . you keep 'em laid and you keep 'em happy" (221).
Yet George nevertheless possesses a deeply literary imagination, a potentiality of responding to the spiritual and emotional dimensions of life. He much prefers to conceal or disguise his own sensitivity, however. George likes to think of himself as coldly logical and empirical; he declares that he has "a very rational mind" (124). But George is also deeply moved by art and the aesthetic planes of experience (especially Shakespeare); despite his assertion that the "mechanics" of football interest him the most, he rhapsodizes over ballet-like wide receivers (such as Lynn Swann) catching the ball. His interest in mythology and life's hidden patterns is made clear in his fascination with the folklore on Willow Springs. He defeats the rural cardplayers with probability statistics, but he is so touched by their ovation that he gets drunk with Dr. Buzzard and his friends - an amusing reinscription of Shakespeare's drunken "lower characters" in The Tempest.
Despite his intuitive connection to the mysterious and wondrous, George nevertheless resists the encroachment of the unpredictable and uncontrollable in his life: ". . . everything I was," he says, "was owed to my living fully in the now." For him, his past is an antagonist. George's success owes chiefly to his ability to repress his painful past; because of the tragic losses he suffered as a child, he considers it important to relate more cognitively than emotionally to his world. The orphaned son of a prostitute, he has learned to shield himself from any emotional pain by concentrating only on the tangible limits of what he could accomplish through concentrated effort: "No rabbit's foot, no crucifixes - not even a lottery ticket" (27). At Wallace P. Andrews (the orphanage where he grew to maturity), George learns Ben Franklin's meaning of industry, self-application, economy - and of limited horizons(5): ". . . it wasn't the kind of place that turned out many poets or artists - those who could draw became draftsmen, and the musicians were taught to tune pianos" (26-27). The loss of his mother predisposes him to construct rationally explicable patterns to protect his psyche, especially when he perceives wholly emotional, nonpredictive experience. For example, he monitors the calendar to anticipate Cocoa's PMS, rather than attempt to understand that her frustration with him may arise from other sources, including his reluctance to face her frustration honestly. He refuses to sympathize with Cocoa's very understandable anxiety in returning to Willow Springs with her new husband, though she explains her feelings about her marriage several times to him.
Much as Shakespeare's plots emphasize the importance of transformative experiences, Naylor's narrative impels George to revise entirely his world picture. Because of his tortured childhood, George is only half a person. A good man who has the potential to become whole, he must undergo a fundamental change in character. George must value his own feelings, and those of others, much more than he does. Both Shakespeare and Naylor, then, shape their dramas to underscore the necessity of appreciating a wider range of experience, one that embraces the joy of life, but also the irrational and the terrible. In The Tempest, Prospero must undergo change to be whole - as must Miranda, Ferdinand, and Antonio. But Caliban refuses to acknowledge even rudimentary structures of rationality; in The Tempest, Caliban resists change and refuses to undergo transformation. He cannot accept a different interpretation of the world, one that acknowledges order, reason, and a cosmic structure that is (perhaps) identifiably European.
George is Naylor's revised Caliban, but George's condition is the inverse of Caliban's. While Caliban resists reason and a patriarchal order, George resists emotionality and Miranda's womanist vision of life. Caliban and George share several narratological features: Both lose their mothers; both are dispossessed because of their losses; both enjoy ardent sexual desire; both become drunk, then give their allegiance to false leaders (Caliban to Stephano and Trinculo, George to Dr. Buzzard). But their most significant similarity is that George, like Caliban, refuses the possibility of his transformation. Despite his past as an abandoned child, George has risen highly in the world, but at great cost. Clearly the highly competitive, egocentric, racist, and male-dominated world of Manhattan requires a certain ruthlessness and focused determination for an African American male to succeed. And George has become a wealthy entrepreneur. But his one-sided emphasis on achievement has gained him status and riches, yet led him away from wholeness of self, as his lack of empathy for and understanding of women demonstrates. In gaining the world, George has risked his soul.
What must George do to be saved? Naylor positions him in the narrative to undergo a test. Cocoa, the unwitting victim of Ruby's jealousy over Junior Lee, has been hexed with an herbal poison. In her illness, Cocoa must depend on George to save her, but because of a hurricane, George cannot bring her doctors and traditional medicine; instead, he is asked to save Cocoa Miranda's "way," but she gives him bizzare and inexplicable instructions. Like a lost child in a fairy tale, George must rely on an elderly woman whose advice seems to him irrational and irrelevant. But Miranda's words are patently symbolic and are essential for him to achieve his maturity.(6) At this point in the novel, Naylor abandons realist conventions and adopts a mythic or parabolic mode, similar to the nonrealistic style of The Tempest. It is a mistake to read this section of the novel - George's quest to the hen-house - literally. Naylor instead shifts the novel's diegesis to another level, moving from a provisional realism to a mythic plane what is often described in contemporary criticism as "magic realism."
The reader must make a correspondent shift in interpretive strategies. Carl Jung's theories of archetypes provides one means of negotiating the tension between the mimetic and the mythic at this point in Naylor's narrative. Jung held that beyond the individual unconscious there exists a "collective unconscious," shared by all people, which is the repository of "archetypes." Archetypes are the inherited patterns of psychological experience the basic images and shapes of myth and of culture as a whole. Seeing Miranda and George's relationship within a Jungian context clarifies the plot's mysterious resolution. George sets out on an archetypal quest to recover an aspect of his own psyche that he has disavowed and discounted throughout much of his life: Miranda symbolically challenges George to go to the henhouse to recover his complete Self.
Authentic selfhood in the novel depends upon a discovery of one of the most important Jungian archetypes, the anima/animus: the unconscious image representing the "contrasexual" side of the individual's psyche (Jung, "Aion" 147). Jung believed that human beings have within them the repressed features of the opposite sex, that the individual is necessarily a "contrasexual figure."(7) The male, though he may identify himself as "masculine" (according to the predominant social construction of masculinity), possesses also a "feminine" dimension in his psyche that he has been taught to deny in a patriarchal society through the socialization process. In this way he cuts off an essential aspect of his own humanity. Jungian theory must be seen within the context of Jung's own time: Men, Jung writes, have traditionally had much more opportunity than women to experience fields like "commerce, politics, technology, and science" ("Ego" 206). For Jung, the qualities that lead to success in these public fields - aggression, leadership, logic, rationality, forcefulness - are distinctively masculine, given a sexist coding, and are so identified by Western culture. The male's conscious self is thereby described as typically "masculine," as defined by cultural constructs of masculinity: As the male is socialized into a male-dominated culture, he is usually taught to accentuate those qualities his culture deems "masculine," and to disown and distance himself from those attributes his culture stipulates as "feminine."
Yet this distancing, Jung argues, leads to a psychic disharmony. In a man, the anima is the repressed "woman within," and embodies powerful traits culturally defined as "feminine": intuition, sensitivity to nature and beauty, and emotionality. The anima personifies symbolically all that is expressed for a man's pysche as the "feminine" image: a nurturing, nature-connected, poetic earth goddess, linked to images of fertility, growth, and the powers of instinct and intuition. The anima, then, represents the archetype of what for a man is the "totally other," yet this construction is, ironically, the feminine principle within him. In order to become a whole person, for Jung, the man must acknowledge and accept his own anima, must celebrate the feminine within him. Not to do so, to repress that aspect of his self completely, results in an essential loss of identity, for it means a severance from a vital part of his unconscious.
In Mama Day, this psychological transaction is flamed in symbolic terms. Miranda tells George to take her father's cane and Bascombe Wade's ledger, and to leave these items in the chicken coop. As in many fairy tales, Miranda's instructions entail sexual directives. The phallic cane and the ledgers (associated with the Bascombe business acumen) represent George's predilection to affirm his masculinity, not simply in action but in perspective; in leaving behind the symbolism of masculinity and corporate self-assertiveness, George would relinquish an insistence on a social construction of Self that denies his anima. Miranda thus asks him symbolically to set aside his own masculine will, which has guided his consciousness until this time, and choose another totem that expresses a different aspect of his repressed character. She asks him to "'search good in the back of [the hen's] nest, and come straight back here with whatever you find'"(295). Significantly, she does not explicitly tell him precisely what to retrieve from the chicken coop. George, however, finally refuses Miranda's way: He goes to the coop, fights the terrifying hen, discovers - he supposes - nothing in the nest, returns to Cocoa, and dies sacrificially at her side of a heart attack.
What George misses in the coop is central to the novel's archetypal meaning. Naylor tests the reader also: She never reveals what he was supposed to find. Miranda's "way," however, is consistent with her character. She has sent George to gather eggs, the text's dominant symbol of the anima. Throughout the novel, Miranda has identified herself with eggs, while George has rigorously avoided them. Since childhood he has been terrified of hens, which he perceives as preternaturally fierce,(8) and his special diet proscribes eggs to reduce cholesterol. In "Miranda's way," George is asked to acknowledge the symbolic potency of eggs, but given his own psychological development, he cannot: "I turned the whole nest over, eggs bursting and splattering into the straw" (300; emphasis mine). Not only does he smash the eggs, but he ruins the nests and kills the hens: "I went through that coop like a madman, slamming the cane into feathery bodies, wooden posts, straw nests - it was all the same" (301; emphasis mine). George cannot even perceive the eggs. In this test of selfhood, George fails because he lacks faith to "let Cocoa go" in favor of Miranda's wisdom, seeing his test only as "wasted effort" (301). His masculine will, essential to his survival as abandoned child and later as successful CEO, proves to be tragically inappropriate in the mysterious chicken coop. More was required of him - to gather the eggs, to trust Miranda, to celebrate his anima image.
The symbolic egg is, of course, a trope for Miranda's entire way of life. It implies her commitment to Willow Springs, her love of nature, and her work as midwife - helping women conceive. If contextualized within Jungian theoretics, the egg becomes even more significant as an objective representation of George's anima. Because of his childhood, George cannot honor a spirit beyond his own will: "When things were under control - and I lived my life so that was usually the case - there was no need to think about having to deal with some presence that might be governing what was beyond my own abilities" (251). By suppressing the "Eternal Feminine" within him (the intuitive, emotional, and imaginative dimension of his personality that continuously resurfaces in the novel despite his rationalizations and resistances), George fails to complete his quest and dies. To this extent, the novel becomes his tragedy.
Miranda's grief over George's death expresses the great Shakespearean theme of reconciliation that pervades The Tempest. For Shakespeare as for Naylor, tragic loss, inevitable for all human beings, is world-wrenching; it is never possible to restore that which is lost. But it is possible to reconcile oneself to the loss. Knowing intuitively that George must do "it his way," Miranda "goes inside the coop to look around at the bloody straw, the smashed eggs, and scattered bodies. Now, she has the time to cry" (302).
Miranda is prepared to accept loss because earlier she, too, has undergone a test of character and, like the happy child in fairy tales, survived and matured. Miranda's successful test represents the converse of George's failed one. For Jung, women too possess a psychic "masculine" dimension, an aggregate of qualities defined by a sexist culture as "masculine" but repressed in the socialization process of a patriarchal culture: "Just as the man is compensated by a feminine element, so woman is compensated by a masculine one" ("Aion" 151). In this sense, a woman's psyche, like a man's, is "contrasexual." Yet in being pressured to distance herself from her animus by a sexist culture, the female may also undergo a division of selfhood - a splitting off from the rational or argumentative side of her being ("Ego" 206ff.). As Jung writes, "In the same way that the anima gives relationship and relatedness to a man's consciousness, the animus gives to woman's consciousness a capacity for reflection, deliberation, and self-knowledge" ("Aion" 154). Miranda is set the test of affirming and celebrating her own animus image.
In a sense, Miranda's condition is a minor image of George's. Her pain, like George's, may be discovered in her repressed childhood memories of pain and loss. Miranda also has shielded herself from her past; like George, her mother died when Miranda was a child, committing suicide by throwing herself into The Sound off Willow Springs when her youngest daughter Peace accidentally fell into a well and was killed. George's mother also drowned, apparently a suicide, in Long Island Sound. Thus, both Miranda and George understandably resist confronting their tortured childhoods. Throughout her life Miranda has evaded the symbolic truth of the well where Peace died, saying she "just ain't ready to face" the loss of her mother and baby sister (174). She fears the well at least partly because she fears becoming engulfed by the unbearable grief of her mother's pain over the death of Miranda's sister Peace. Miranda fears, in a phrase, her own self-destructive irrationality and emotionality, the legacy of her family's self-torture and excruciating loss.
But Miranda is eventually able to confront her loss, and in doing so she expiates her family's legacy. In a deeply moving scene, charged with psychological symbolism, Miranda uncovers the well and gazes into its terrible depths. Gathering her courage with her eyes closed, she finally looks into the pit and experiences the agony of her mother as she died. But she is rescued from her own possible suicide by another vision:
. . . she opens her eyes on her own hands. Hands that look like John-Paul's [her father's]. . . . In all this time, she ain't never really thought about what it musta done to him. Or him either. . . . and looking past the losing was to feel for the man who built this house and the one who nailed this well shut. It was to feel the hope in them . . . . (285)
At last, Miranda can "look past the losing," accepting her painful losses completely but with self-possession; she can, through an imaginative identification with her father, realize the full meaning of his words "just live on" (88). John-Paul counseled stoic resignation and acceptance of what cannot be changed, and this truth Miranda fully embraces. The operative symbol, her animus image, is the (re)visioned hands of her father. She is finally her father's daughter.(9)
Recognizing her father's "gifted hands" (89) as her own, Miranda undergoes a symbolic identification with her father. She does not resist or deny the masculine element within herself - in Jungian terminology, the animus - symbolized by the affirmation of her father's hands as hers. Identification with the animus frees her to sympathize with her father, with all the other men in the Day family line - and with George, who she knows will repudiate "her way" of acceptance and self-affirmation. In accepting the animus - the psychic principle Jung associates with judgment, reason, and rational discernment - Miranda saves herself but not George, who must make his own separate psychic journey into the depths of the Self. But such journeys are never guaranteed, and unlike the fairy tale versions of life, where all characters return and live happily ever after, some choose death rather than face the full complexity of the Self.
Miranda does, however, save her niece Ophelia/Cocoa by reason, judgment, and emotional perspective. Ophelia, grieving over George's death, temporarily considers following the direction of her Shakespearean namesake (and of her grandmother) by committing suicide. But Miranda rebukes her severely ("I had never seen Mama Day so furious - never," Ophelia/Cocoa says ). Her suicide would be the height of irrationality and self-denial, of elevating momentary feeling and emotion over reflection, deliberation, and judgment - for Jung, a disastrous repression of the animus. So Cocoa too lives on and reconciles herself to her loss, which over time "becomes endurable" (308). Cocoa leams John-Paul's difficult but life-affirming lesson: "just live on."
Jung once wrote that the power of literature inheres in its sometimes unconscious expressions of primordial images of humanity. The study of literature has immense value because in the recognition of these images, these archetypes, human beings are brought together:
The moment when this mythological situation reappears is always characterized by a peculiar emotional intensity; it is as though chords in us were struck that had never sounded before, or as though forces whose existence we never suspected were unloosed. . . . At such moments we are no longer individuals, but the race; the voice of all mankind resounds in us. ("Relation" 320)
This concern to find the imagery that sounds "the chords" animates the work of both Shakespeare and Naylor; for these two authors - different in race, gender, time, and space - the fundamental struggle of life is to connect with the mysterious voices within ourselves - voices too often muffled by the roar of social conventions, regionalism, racism, and sexism. Early in Miranda's life, she learns that ". . . there is more to be known behind what the eyes can see" (36). For Naylor, coming in touch with that unknown means relinquishing ourselves, that which we supposedly know for sure - the tangible and empirical divisions of race, gender, and regionality. By trusting our own voice and by telling our own story, which at its best incorporates and affirms the Other (especially the Other that is within us), we become truly ourselves.
1. One especially beautiful example of Naylor's free indirect discourse is the following: "Miranda kinda blooms when the evening air hits her skin. She stands for a moment watching what the last of the sunlight does to the sky down by The Sound. . . . It seems like God reached way down into his box of paints, found the purest reds, the deepest purples, and a dab of midnight blue, then just kinda trailed His fingers along the curve of the horizon and let 'em all bleed down. And when them streaks of color hit the hush-a-by green of the marsh grass with the blue of The Sound behind 'em, you ain't never had to set foot in a church to know you looking at a living prayer" (78).
2. An analysis that considers the great variety of African American precursorial models that Naylor signfies upon would be the subject for yet another paper. Perhaps only one example will suffice to demonstrate Naylor's revionary powers: At Mama Days conclusion, Cocoa/Ophelia decides, at the behest of Miranda but also because of her own good sense, not to commit suicide over her husband George's death. I suggest that, at this point, Naylor is revising Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Both women suffer through a terrible, life-changing storm, and both lose their men, each dying in at least a partly self-sacrificial way. Janie's shooting Tea Cake is the inevitable consequence of her own vitality, her own profound commitment to life that must transcend her romantic love. Her endurance is in a sense a foregone conclusion. So, too, is Cocoa's grieving survival of George's death. As I attempt to demonstrate, however, Naylor is interested in the psychological basis of Cocoa's vitality and of her psychic wholeness at the novel's end.
3. Barbara Christian has demonstrated that, in these two earlier novels, Naylor reveals the "effect of place on character" - and how economics and issues of class complicate a black woman's life choices - a point not made clear in Shakespeare's canonical texts.
4. In her revision, Naylor develops themes similar to contemporary New Historicist readings of The Tempest (see, e.g., Brown, Greenblatt, and Leininger). Obviously, Caliban is a central figure in New Historicist analysis; for a thoughtful discussion of Caliban's legacy for African American studies, see Baker.
5. George's character is the site of conflict in African American culture, perhaps going back to the debate between Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois, between the "practical" benefits of technical training and the rewards of a humanistic liberal arts education.
6. For the classic discussion of psychological meanings expressed in fairy tales, see Bettelheim.
7. Jung's theory of the anima/animus has been modified by, among others, Dr. Jean Baker Miller (75-80). As Miller points out, "The notions of Jung and others deny the basic inequality and asymetry that exists" (79). Thus, to understand the anima/animus as "a reflection of the whole dichotomization of the essentials of human experience" is necessarily fallacious - as both Cocoa and the reader discover in Naylor's narrative.
8. If seen within a Jungian context, the ferocious red hen is a negative, insidious, but unrecognized mother image, the introjected model that "helps the [son] betray life" (Jung, "Aion" 149). His mother's abandonment of him - understood only from George's perspective as a small child, and never entirely recuperated within a more realistic, adult context - casts him in the role of a person without worth. His entire career as a business magnate may thus be seen as a resistance to her "rejection" of him. Yet the farocity of his ambition might be seen as a tacit admission that there may be some truth to his (wrongly) interpreted narrative of her tragic life.
9. Mama Day is also a revision of William Faulkner's Go Down, Moses. Miranda's reading the Bascombe ledgers recalls Ike McCaslin's discovering in the family's records the terrible truths of "the distaff" line of the family (see "The Beer"). However, Naylor revises Faulkner also. Ike, discovering to his horror that his grandfather raped a black slave, and later the daughter born of this rape, decides his only course can be of a futile "relinquishment" of history, deciding to live in relative seclusion and denial. He therefore "relinquishes" the McCaslin patrimony. Miranda's response is much more positive: She literally rewrites history to emphasize acceptance, peace, and forgiveness: "It's all she can pick out until she gets to the bottom for the final words: Conditions . . . tender . . . kind" (280).
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Christian, Barbara. "Gloria Naylor's Geography: Community, Class, and Patriarchy in The Women of Brewster Place and Linden Hills." Reading Black, Reading Feminist. Ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. New York: Meridian, 1990. 348-73.
Gates, Henry Louis Jr. The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-Amercan Criticism. New York: Oxford UP, 1988.
Greenblatt, Stephen. "Learning to Curse: Aspects of Linguistic Colonialism in the Sixteenth Century." First Images of America: The Impact of the New World on the Old. Ed. Fredi Chiappelli, et al. Berkeley: U of California P, 1976. 2: 561-80.
Henderson, Joseph. "Ancient Myths and Modern Man." Man and His Symbols. Ed. C. G. Jung. New York: Doubleday, 1964. 104-58.
Jung, C. G. "Aion: Phenomenology of the Self," Portable 139-62.
-----. "On the Relation of Analytical Psychology to Poetry." Portable 301-23.
-----. The Portable Jung. Ed. Joseph Campbell. Trans. R. F. C. Hull. New York: Penguin, 1971.
-----. "The Relations Between the Ego and the Unconscious." Portable 70-139.
Knight, G. Wilson. The Crown of Life. 1947. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1966.
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Miller, Jean Baker, M.D. Toward a New Psychology of Women. 1976. Boston: Beacon, 1986.
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Naylor, Gloria. Mama Day. New York: Ticknor & Fields, 1987.
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Gary Storhoff teaches American and African American literature at the University of Connecticut at Stamford. He is currently working on two books: one on Chester Himes, and the other on the portrayal of the family in modem American literature.
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|Publication:||African American Review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 1995|
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