The fact that this figure remains a guess says something important about what Morrison was up against in trying to find out the full story of the slave trade. Much of that story has been ignored, left behind, or simply lost.
Through her works she attempted to retell the stories of grief associated with slavery and terror, her characters living their lives with greater understanding of its value than almost any other set of characters in fiction today.
Within the genre of the autobiography there is a different tenor of thought the words and deeds are that of the author and the message is clearly self, devolvement. Angelou in the Heart of a Woman demonstrates the ideals of her time, as a civil rights organizer and protestor. She clearly spells out the strife that exists between whites, and blacks and the dangerous dance they are doing during what most would call the most heated years of the civil rights movement (1957-1962). It is for this reason ands well as her unflagging representation of the depth of her character and experience that makes this work about much more than just the surface of her story.
As a serial autobiographer she must continuously look backward unveiling the various layers hidden in earlier volumes, remembering what she has already written without being repetitious. Autobiographer Lillian Hellman named this process "pentimento," a term used in painting to indicate the reappearance of a design that has been covered over by layers of paint.
The narrative technique lends not only depth to the character and the work but also makes clear that the work is complete and that the learning is collective. Unlike the turbulent world in which she lives Angelou demonstrates very few contradictions, yet within one passage, she voices violence that is not normally within her character but is reactive of her whole.
Of the many instances in which Angelou uses this layered point-of-view in the Heart of a Woman, perhaps the most effective is the incident in which she confronts Jerry, the leader of the Savages, a Brooklyn street gang that has threatened Guy [Bailey] because he reportedly hit Jerry's girlfriend. Enraged, a borrowed pistol in her purse, Angelou tells Jerry that if anything happens to Guy she will shoot him and his family, kill the grandmother, kill the baby, kill anything that "moves, including the rats and cockroaches" (84). Read from a multileveled point-of-view, Maya's violent reaction in this episode goes back to Caged Bird, back to her rape, and back to the vengeful actions that Grandmother Baxter and her family took against Mr. Freeman. Her violent behavior in handling Jerry may involve an unconscious effort to rewrite her own history.
Angelou, may see such actions and threats differently as she describes her own words as "bluffing" her words are out of character and show depth and show a bold example of the kinds of sacrifices made by mothers, when their children are in danger, a constant theme in African-American Women's literature. Through Angelou's messages of many layers one can see the meaning behind the mundane. Her personal and spiritual growth, and humility is expressed through her constant interjections of wisdom she has gained in her travels all over the world. One of the more colorful example of this technique is found at the height of one of Angelou's near misses as an activist.
Vus once told me, "If you're in trouble, don't under any circumstances ask black middle-class people for help. They always think they have a stake in the system. Look for a tsotsi, that's Xhosa for street hoodlum. A roughneck. A convict. He'll already be angry and he will know that he has nothing to lose."
Angelou goes on in the scene to do just this, she finds a black roughneck and has him escort her into a building to try to save a friend from possible brutality at the hands of the police. The interchange is comical and heated as they fear for their own safety and at th end of the interaction the stranger disappears, without thanks. Angelou's mention of him and their experience in her work expresses the legacy of his help in her life and the usefulness of her ability to listen and remember that the world is not always as it seems.
Within the Alice Walker work, in Love and Trouble there are thirteen stories of the seriousness of the lives of the black women. Walker is telling the story of the black women, sometimes within a time frame other times just within a context. One of the best loved and most talked about stories, Everyday Use demonstrates the ideals of two generations meeting. The work pokes fun at the movement of some young civil rights activists misunderstanding their own history and embracing its guises for all the wrong reasons. The conflict as is often the case is between a mother and daughter, with intrinsic messages about value the words of Walker still ring true, and ask the reader to ask him or herself to question the value they place on objects and why. Yet, another story in the work is as if not more compelling, and not as often sighted. Strong Horse Tea is the story of a poor black women, living in a black area of town, at the end of a dirt road, where no doctors will go without large incentives, unobtainable to most of the inhabitants.
The woman's young son Snooks is dying "from double pneumonia and whooping cough."
She has no alternatives, though both these diseases can be easily treated with relatively inexpensive means, even at this time, yet she is left with options only associated with what she calls "witch's remedies."
The mother (Rannie) sent for the doctor through the white mailman, "We going to git some fo them shots that makes peoples well, cures 'em of all they ails, cleans 'em out and makes them strong all at the same time." She is left with no choice but to follow the advice of the "witch" when no one came to her aide. She is told that the only thing that can help her son is "good strong horse tea" (urine).
As her son lay dying, Rannie was separated from him, out in the muddy pasture trying to catch some horse tea from the mare. The image of the woman knee deep in fear, grief and mud is one of the most foundational images of the black woman's experience, fiction or not. There were and are some places in the world where the lack of any basic medical care reduces mothers the view of the helpless watcher as their children perish from easily treatable diseases. This is especially true of the Black woman's experience. This could have happened as far back the end of the American Civil War or it could have been a mere 50 years ago, Walker does not say.
What Walker does say is that women are capable of making some of the most extreme sacrifices for the sake of their children, a theme that has been built and repeated throughout the examples of all of the works here mentioned.
The strength of the mother is imminent and the image of the strong woman wrestling with the gigantic horse in the rain and mud to try to catch some "witch's" medicine in her shoe is a demonstration of how far a mother can get from her principles if she thinks it will make a difference in the life of a child. The mundane is spiritual in that the story revolves around the real and the imagined, the last hope riding on something that will probably do nothing to help the situation, but constitutes a proactive quest rather than a helpless frozen grief, an unlikely position for a strong black woman. "On her face centuries were folded into circles around one eye, while around the other, etched and mapped as if for print, ages more threatened again to live."
One additional story demonstrates the message of the mundane with greater meaning, the strife is demonstrative of strength not weakness. In "Really Doesn't Crime Pay?" A young wife has to hide her writing from her husband, she has words spilling out of her but cannot complete a story, fill it in with details. She calls her story outlines, "embryos" and feels sad as she goes about the suggested tasks of her husband, yet she continues to write, and when a friend shows interest she obliges
After that Mordecai' praised me for my intelligence, my sensitivity, the depth of the work he had seen -- "and naturally I showed him everything I had: old journals from high school, notebooks I kept hidden under tarpaulin in the barn, stories written on paper bags, on table napkins, even on shelf paper from over the sink
Betrayed by this man, who takes her work and represents it as his own, she slowly goes crazy in…