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The Fiction of Gloria Naylor

Houses and Spaces of Resistance

Maxine Lavon Montgomery

Publication Year: 2010

The Fiction of Gloria Naylor is one of the very first critical studies of this acclaimed writer. Including an insightful interview with Naylor and focusing on her first four novels, the book situates various acts of insurgency throughout her work within a larger framework of African American opposition to hegemonic authority. But what truly distinguishes this volume is its engagement with African American vernacular forms and twentieth-century political movements. In her provocative analysis, Maxine Lavon Montgomery argues that Naylor constantly attempts to reconfigure the home and homespace to be more conducive to black self-actualization, thus providing a stark contrast to a dominant white patriarchy evident in a broader public sphere. Employing a postcolonial and feminist theoretical framework to analyze Naylor’s evolving body of work, Montgomery pays particular attention to black slave historiography, tales of conjure, trickster lore, and oral devices involving masking, word play, and code-switching—the vernacular strategies that have catapulted Naylor to the vanguard of contemporary African American letters. Montgomery argues for the existence of home as a place that is not exclusively architectural or geographic in nature. She posits that in Naylor’s writings home exists as an intermediate space embedded in cultural memory and encoded in the vernacular. Home closely resembles a highly symbolic, signifying system bound with vexed issues of racial sovereignty as well as literary authority. Through a re-inscription of the subversive, frequently clandestine acts of resistance on the part of the border subject—those outside the dominant culture—Naylor recasts space in such a way as to undermine reader expectation and destabilize established models of dominance, influence, and control. Thoroughly researched and sophisticated in its approach, The Fiction of Gloria Naylor will be essential reading for scholars and students of African American, American, and Africana Literary and Cultural studies.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix-x

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pp. xi-xxi

A predominant emphasis in the novels of Gloria Naylor is on the ways that individuals counter the imposition of hegemonic authority. Opposition strategies figuring into her fictional cosmology may entail group assertion, in the case of an urban community’s attempt to challenge an intransigent political system hostile to the aspirations of the working-class poor, or they may take on a covert, individual configuration, involving a woman’s effort...

1. Navigating a Blues Landscape: The Women of Brewster Place

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Inner-City Blues

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pp. 1-11

In The Women of Brewster Place Gloria Naylor situates the experiences of the folk within a sociopolitical frame involving the struggle for self-determination on the part of blacks in late-twentiethcentury America. Organizational efforts by Abshu Ben-Jamal and Kiswana Browne recall the grass-roots activism...

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Of Housewives and Revolutionaries

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pp. 12-15

Naylor presents a portrait of an urban community poised on the brink of sociopolitical change, and in her rendering of Brewster’s evolutionary move into the late twentieth century, she foregrounds the acts of insurgence on the part of the slumbering masses—the nameless, faceless denizens of the city...

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Refiguring Borders, Dismantling Walls

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pp. 16-19

Brewster’s expanding borders serve as a site for the critique of externally imposed conceptions of space. If the brick wall circumscribing the community’s bounds limits the achievements and aspirations of the working-class poor, then Mattie’s vision of a unified community of women heralds the ability to transform the inner-city neighborhood into a place of renewal and fulfillment...

2. Burning Down the Master’s House: Linden Hills

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A House Is Not a Home

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pp. 21-27

Like The Women of Brewster Place, Linden Hills examines the buried history of African Americans in terms of the creative, often clandestine, acts of rebellion arising from subaltern women. That these gestures of revolt in Naylor’s second novel originate from the middleclass wife and mother calls into question notions of marriage not only as the sine qua non for personal fulfillment but also as the basis of an aristocratic social order...

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Good Housekeeping and Other Misnomers

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pp. 28-31

Whereas The Women of Brewster Place culminates with Mattie Michael’s dream of an empowered group of inner-city women who dismantle a brick wall, narrative action in Naylor’s second novel foregrounds an event that is similarly as incendiary: Willa’s discovery of the documents connecting her with the maternal predecessors who find themselves...

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Stairways, Entrances, and Transitional Sites

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pp. 32-36

It is not Braithwaite but Willie, the gutsy, outspoken folk poet, who is to render a revised, comprehensive chronicle of Linden Hills—one that takes into account the buried history of black women. Because of his close association with individuals existing on the margins...

3. Finding Peace in the Middle: Mama Day

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Everybody’s Mama, Nobody’s Slave: Reinscribing the Legend of Sapphira Wade

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pp. 37-42

Since her appearance in Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day, Sapphira Wade has been the unwitting subject of varied and, at times, competing critical readings drawn from African as well as European points of view. Dorothy Perry Thompson regards the island matriarch as “the conflation of the need for a new woman-centered spirituality...

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Crossing Over to “The Other Place”

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pp. 43-48

With a history rooted in cultural hybridity and a reification of self-determining women who achieve semidivine stature, Willow Springs presents itself, at least on a superficial level, as home—a site of healing and renewal where parts torn as a result of the transatlantic journey are restored (Gilroy)...

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Being around Living Mirrors

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pp. 49-52

In fictionalizing the legend of Sapphira, Naylor mediates between a range of texts as she seeks to create an interstitial reality where individuals are allowed to realize their unlimited identity and potential. Unlike Linden Hills, with its account of Willa the beleaguered housewife whose discovery of the documents that her maternal forebears author culminates in death...

4. Mapping the New World Order: Bailey’s Café

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In Search of Eve’s Garden

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pp. 53-66

Last in a tetralogy, Bailey’s Café foregrounds the subversive gestures that are to empower mid-twentieth-century African Americans in the quest for wholeness, freedom, and self-identity. What is new to Naylor’s evolving canon is a focus on the universal dimensions of oppression and the necessity of mounting a strategy of resistance that globalizes the struggle for positive sociopolitical change...

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Rewriting the Virgin-Whore Dichotomy: A Tale of Two Marys

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pp. 67-68

In rewriting the antecedent sources out of which Bailey’s Café evolves, Naylor seeks to dismantle the negative images that delimit female identity and achievement. Issues relevant to female sexuality assume center stage with the antithetical representations of virgin and whore...

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Writing the Black Man’s Blues

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pp. 69-74

Naylor’s fourth novel foregrounds the transnational journey home in ways that encourage the reader to rethink predictable ways of knowing and adopt a new basis for self and society—one predicated upon the feminine. In this regard, Eve’s place serves as a liminal space of becoming and possibility recalling the middle passage...

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pp. 75-80

If there is a canonical story evolving out of Naylor’s first four novels, that narrative involves the quest for autonomy, in both a literary and racial sense—one that is encoded in the vernacular and bound with figurations of an idealized home. For Naylor, home is a fluid space embedded in cultural memory and rooted in a past that harks back to her parents’ Robinsonville, Mississippi, roots and ultimately ancient Africa...

Appendix. Opening Up the Place Called Home: A Conversation with Gloria Naylor

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pp. 81-100


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pp. 101-106


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pp. 107-112


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pp. 113-115

E-ISBN-13: 9781572337381
E-ISBN-10: 1572337389
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572337220
Print-ISBN-10: 1572337222

Page Count: 138
Illustrations: 0 illustrations
Publication Year: 2010