Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog


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Paidea Moment

So as I read I cannot help but look at Dana’s actions from a developmental psychology perspective. There are a few types of attachment styles. The most common three are secure attachment, avoidant attachment, and anxious/ambivalent attachment. I’ve concluded that she falls under the category of anxious/ambivalent. I’ll tell you why I think this.

Even though Dana’s mother has most often been attentive to Dana’s needs and cries, she works full time and therefore, cannot always be depended on. Dana is given a heavy burden, which entailed a great deal of independence, beginning early in her developing years. Her father is probably the main reason for insecure attachment, since he is literally not in her life for half of the time. Because her father has never given her consistent attention and affection, and is at many times insensitive towards her feelings and emotions, she is an insecure young adolescent. She is also suspicious and distrustful, yet at the same time, clingy for his attention. This is classic for kids with anxious or ambivalent attachment. This is illustrated when she claims that the only reason her father will not allow her to see Marcus, is because he does not want his secret being revealed. Nevertheless, when her father shows sincerity in saying that he loves her, she reciprocates, feeling something interesting (for lack of a better word) as she tells her daddy that she loves him too. “The word tasted a little sharp, like milk about to turn, but still, I wanted to say it again and again.” Man this quote tears me up. I aspire to be a parenting counselor in the future, and this kind of thing just hits home for me. It worries me that she is already showing signs of poor psychological development. These traumas can be hard to reverse without therapy and support from family or peers. I can only imagine the dark roads her past will take her down, as a wife, and a mother even.


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Hands

I really identified with the line in Silver Sparrow “Her hands were made for making sandwiches.” I didn’t initially think much about it when I read it, but when it resurfaced in our discussion on Monday, it made me think of my grandmother. About 6 years ago, she turned 90 and her whole family (Which consists of 7 children and 15 grandchildren, not to mention extended family, family friends, and a veritable mob of friends) had a party. For the party, pamphlets were printed that retold some of our favorite family lore about her, as well as her impact upon our family, esp. the women. The picture that was printed on the front of the pamphlet was later copied and all of her offspring and offspring’s offspring received a framed photo of her for Christmas. The reason I bring this up is because when my aunt was taking the photo that was to be her party portrait, my grandmother instructed her- as was very much her style- that she wanted her hands in the portrait. The reason, she said, was “because my hands made me.”

I was struck by the way something so humble and unassuming as a pair of hands could be given credit as being the foundation for a person’s world (although in the case of Charsh, I feel ‘empire’ is a better noun). She was right to give them credit, but you just don’t hear it very often. Especially since my grandmother was definitely the matriarch of our family, giving credit to something so humble for giving her the power that she had gave me hope that I might one day be able to be just as assertive as her one day.

And I said that she was the matriarch of the family, and she definitely was, but that doesn’t mean that she emasculated her husbands. I do not know what her relationship with her first husband was like, but if her relationship with my grandfather is anything to go off of, it was a healthy, ‘collaborative’ relationship (as we said in class today) and her possession of power did not remove or take away from him. The best way I’ve heard it put was from someone featured on Humans of New York who was actually talking about envy and success, but their message works just as well if you use power; he said something to the effect of “there isn’t an absolute and finite amount of success. Someone gaining success did not mean that I lost any success that I had already achieved.”


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What It Feels Like To Be Black

Silver Sparrow is heartbreaking. I’ll just start there.

It’s not heartbreaking in the same way that The Color Purple or Beloved were. None of the characters have experienced slavery firsthand and we don’t have to worry about Dana getting sold off away from Gwen. We don’t even have to worry about dead baby siblings haunting the place.

What makes it heartbreaking is that this family has their own inner dilemmas that they are dealing with, but we the readers know that it will only get worse as the Dana reaches adulthood. Despite the fact that the book takes place decades after The Color Purple and Beloved, the family still is experiencing strong racism, which will only worsen when Dana leaves the predominantly black neighborhood she’s grown up in. Dana’s friend Ronalda even warns her about it as they apply for colleges.

““But living here, you don’t know anything about white people. Where I’m from, everything is mixed. In Atlanta, at least out here where we stay at, everything is so black that ya’ll don’t know what it feels like to be black.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” I said.

“You’ll see,” she said. “You get out to Holyoke with those white people and you will see exactly what I mean.”” (pg 151)

Beloved takes place in 1856 (ish). The Color Purple takes place in the 1930s. Silver Sparrow takes place in the 1980s, less than thirty years ago. And yet, the one striking similarity between the main characters of the books is that they all view being black as the root of most, if not all, their problems. Ronalda’s phrasing ‘what it feels like to be black’ implies that ‘feeling black’ means feeling bad or feeling less than. The hope is that, as time passes, this will become an outdated way of thinking, but how long will that have to take?


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Celie as the Mammy

While reading Patricia Collins’ article, I realized that the controlling images she analyzes can essentially describe the black women characters in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Therefore, I was able to understand (in part) Trudier Harris’ statement: “I don’t think it [The Color Purple] should have been [canonized]” (155). However, unlike Harris, I realized that even though the stereotypes/controlling images are present, Walker does not simply stop at the typical controlling image. At times the characters fit into the typical category of “mammy,” “matriarch,” and “jezebel,” but only a few pages later are these controlling images disoriented. Therefore instead of only perpetuating the cycle of controlling images, Walker attempts to thwart them by displaying their unnaturalness by unveiling the forces that create these images.

Celie has the most significant and obvious controlling image, the mammy. A mammy, as we defined in class, and as Collins purports, is considered a self-sacrificing mother figure. The mammy is situated as taking care of a white family’s children and not her own. Although, Celie is not taking care of white children, she is forced to care of Albert’s children, and is completely unable to care for her own. Both of these external factors are caused by Celie’s father; he gives Celie’s children to the town’s reverend and he eventually forces Celie to marry Albert. Therefore, not only is this portrayal poignant in that it displays the controlling image of Celie as a mammy by putting her in stereotypical circumstances, but it also shows the external, transgenerational forces causing Celie’s investment in the controlling image of the Mammy.

For further discussion: Shug as jezebel and Sofia as matriarch.

Works Cited

Harris, Trudier. “On the Color Purple, Stereotypes, and Silence.” Black American Literature Forum 18.4 (1984): 155-161.


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Knowledge and Power in Silver Sparrow

Something I found interesting in Jones’s Silver Sparrow was how knowledge (which not everyone has, in particular) seemed to be equated with power in the Yarboro family, or at least to Gwendolyn, it seems like.

Early-on in the book Gwendolyn takes a young Dana out to spy, or as she puts it ‘surveil’ James’s legally accepted family in an effort to make her feel better. Dana feels insecure about her teeth and her appearance and has decided that that is why she is ‘the secret’ while Chaurisse gets to be James’s daughter out in the open. Gwendolyn tells Dana that because they know about both families (the Witherspoon’s and the Yarboro’s and James’s dual life) that they are better off or more in control of the situation. To me this was a little disturbing, and while I’m not sure if this was an intentional parallel I thought of how historically knowledge (or lack thereof) has been used to control people. We could talk about Catholicism and the Latin bible, slavery and the written English word and formal education, and even today in regards to government officials and the statistical information they undoubtedly have access to that the common populace does not, and a myriad of situations in which those with knowledge kept it from those whom they sought to control and were successful.

I’m not sure how far to go on this, so I will leave it here.


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Silver Sparrow tugs at my heart

*This post contains spoilers for those who have not finished Silver Sparrow*

Silver Sparrow has moved me so much and has taken me on a chaotic roller coaster of emotions. Each character has his/her own emotions, struggles, and drive, and it is impossible to feel completely negatively towards any of them, even James. Since the book starts with Dana’s point of view, allowing me to experience her emotions, I immediately wanted to take her side in the predicament, to support her in her struggle to feel accepted as James’ daughter, and to be able to live her life freely. When Dana tells the story of how her mother proposed to James, I immediately became torn between feeling sorry for Gwen, and feeling angry towards her and James for agreeing to continue a secret relationship behind his wife’s back. I believe (I think) that Gwen and James should never have started a relationship in the first place while he was married, but I couldn’t help but feel for Gwen when, upon becoming pregnant despite their precautions, she asks James to marry her. On page 52, Dana narrates, “When James said he wasn’t going to leave Laverne, Mother tried to act like he had misunderstood her, like she hadn’t been suggesting that they run away together and live life like normal people, giving me a chance at ordinary life.” Gwen acted out of her love for James and her hope that her daughter could be born into a happy, “ordinary” life. And when James says no, she offers what she believes is the next best solution: a secret marriage.

When it comes to James, I initially believed that it was wrong for him to cheat on his wife and therefore he was automatically a bad person. But in the second half of the book, when Chaurisse narrates that Laverne and James married because she became pregnant with a baby boy who then died at birth, and that they remained together afterwards regardless, I couldn’t help but feel that James was doing his best to be fair to Laverne and Chaurisse, despite his love for Laverne blossoming out of an accidental pregnancy and becoming more a relationship of comfort and familiarity than passion. James then falls in love with Gwen and upon getting her pregnant, decides to try to be present in both of his children’s lives while doing the least damage he can to their feelings. And ultimately, everyone gets hurt and the entire situations blows up in all of their faces anyways, because that kind of secret just can’t be kept forever. But does this make James a terrible, immoral person? I’m not sure. I want to say yes, because that’s an absolute answer, but I can’t help but think that it’s not that simple. Nothing about this story is absolute.


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Cons of Bigamy for Dana Lynn Yarboro

For Dana, having James Witherspoon, a bigamist, as her father left her with a different understanding of the world and of herself. Since she was just a child she was engraved with the idea that she was a secret that must never come up. Having her own father say this to her, Dana grew up with the idea that she must always put herself second to the needs of Chaurisse. Dana’s feelings of almost unworthiness, or not being good enough is brought up with her future relationships, such as, her secret relationship with Marcus. Dana’s relationship with Marcus was also kept secret, and this wasn’t hard for Dana to hide from everyone because she was used to not being hidden. Dana is so used to it she doesn’t want to think further into the reasoning of why it is so easy to be pushed to the side. I think that due to the way that James treats Dana, she believes that she doesn’t have the right to ask for more in every aspect of her life. She doesn’t ask more from herself, she doesn’t ask for more respect, she doesn’t ask for more from her father, and the truly sad part is that she thinks that all these things aren’t given to “bastards.” She doesn’t concentrate on her value as a person, but focuses on her “faults” that in her mind make her unworthy. Dana lets words such as “bastard”, “illegitimate”, and “secret” define her. Once Dana realizes that those words do not define her, but are more than anything a reflection of her father’s mistakes, Dana will be able to truly accept and value herself.

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