Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bailey’s Café is the story of a magical place and of the lost souls who have there found, if not redemption, at least a safe haven. As the chapter and section titles suggest, Naylor structures her novel in the form of a jazz performance. The book begins with “Maestro, If You Please,” in which Bailey, as the bandleader, introduces himself; this is followed by “The Vamp,” Bailey’s introduction to his café. The main part of the book is entitled “The Jam,” and Bailey’s Café ends with a short, upbeat chapter appropriately called “The Wrap.”
The novel begins with a first-person narrative by the man whom everyone calls Bailey, after the name of his place of business. Even though Bailey never does mention his real name, he does not omit anything else from his life story. He describes his childhood as the child of African Americans who were the servants of wealthy African Americans, his successful courtship of the beautiful Nadine, his failure in several jobs, and his participation in World War II. What brought Bailey to despair, ironically, was the event that assured him of surviving that war: the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Devastated by guilt, Bailey ended up on the wharf in San Francisco, then inexplicably found himself working in a rundown café with Nadine beside him.
As Bailey hastens to point out, his café does not have a geographical location. It moves about, appearing wherever and whenever...
(The entire section is 802 words.)
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Summary (Identities & Issues in Literature)
Set in 1948, Bailey’s Cafe, Gloria Naylor’s fourth novel, is her self-described “sexual novel.” Similar to The Women of Brewster Place, it tells the tragic histories of female characters who suffer simply because they are sexual. The underlying structure of blues music recasts these feminist rewritings of biblical stories. The characters’ own blues-influenced narrations provide the equivalent of melody, and the male narrator supplies the connecting texts linking one story to another.
The proprietor of Bailey’s Cafe, who is the narrator, sets the pattern by telling how he was saved by Bailey’s Cafe, a magical place. It is a cafe that does not serve customers, and its magic is not the redemptive kind. The cafe provides “some space, some place, to take a breather for a while” by suspending time. Not fixed in any one city, it is “real real mobile,” so that anyone can get there. It features a back door that opens onto a void where patrons re-create scenes to help them sustain life, or, alternatively, to end it. The street on which Bailey’s Cafe may be found contains three refuges that form a “relay for broken dreams”: Bailey’s Cafe, Gabe’s Pawnshop, and Eve’s Boardinghouse and Garden.
Eve transforms her suffering into a haven. She aids only those women who know what it means to “walk a thousand years.” Her boarders include Esther, who hates men because of the sexual abuse she suffered as a...
(The entire section is 431 words.)