Study Guide

Disappearing Acts

by Terry McMillan

Disappearing Acts Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Disappearing Acts has been called an urban romance. It is, in essence, simply another New York City love story, as funny as the best works of Neil Simon. Underneath the wisecracks, the idiotic behavior, and the foolish misunderstandings that qualify McMillan’s novel as a romantic comedy there is a serious exploration of the nature of human relationships.

It is never easy for one person to love another; when two people differ as much as the lovers in Disappearing Acts, it is particularly difficult. Zora Banks is an educated, ambitious black woman, a gifted singer and songwriter who is supporting herself temporarily by teaching music in a junior high school. Franklin Swift is a construction worker with a high school equivalency diploma who for years has been thinking about going to night school and starting his own business. He has as yet done nothing about it. As Zora soon finds out, however, there is more to Franklin than his striking good looks and his talent for lovemaking. He is responsible; he does his best to support the wife from whom he is not yet divorced and the two children he had with her. He is generous; early in their relationship, he surprises Zora with three hundred dollars so that she can get her piano out of layaway. He is intelligent; even though he never finished high school, he can beat Zora at every word game they play. Moreover, in his attitude toward woodworking, Franklin exhibits the same kind of artistic...

(The entire section is 565 words.)

Disappearing Acts Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Disappearing Acts is an urban love story. The novel provides a realistic portrayal of a relationship between a black man and woman struggling to find their place in life separately and together.

Disappearing Acts is written in the first person. The chapters alternate between Zora and Franklin’s point of view, chronicling their relationship over the course of two and a half years.

The novel begins with Franklin’s monologue. He is a construction worker and carpenter who never graduated from high school; he is looking to start his own business so that he does not have to depend on white people for work. He has been hurt in relationships before and plans to remain romantically uninvolved until he gets his “foundation” set up. Zora’s monologue reveals that she’s also “taking a sabbatical” from the opposite sex and concentrating on her singing career. Both of them are lonely, and when they meet, it is love at first sight.

The novel moves rapidly, as does their relationship: Before long, Franklin has moved in with Zora, and they are spending most of their time together. The plot is propelled by the ups and downs of their relationship as they move from suspicion to trust, from secrets to revelations. Franklin is still married, although he has not lived with his wife in six years. Zora gets seizures, but she has not had one in four years. Each feels lucky to have found the other, and the first six chapters of the book are optimistic.

Gradually, Franklin’s inability to find steady work starts to eat at him and at Zora. He ruins her birthday because he is unhappy with himself...

(The entire section is 673 words.)

Disappearing Acts Summary (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In Disappearing Acts, an African American laborer, Franklin Swift, and a teacher, Zora Banks, both in their early thirties and living in Brooklyn in the early 1980’s, speak independently about their experience of the problems of their shared lives. Franklin has educated himself for his high school equivalency certificate and beyond through his love of reading. He plans to earn a college degree and to start his own business. Zora has a college degree and plans to become a professional singer. They meet, are attracted to each other, and admire each other’s goals. Soon they are in love and living together. As the novel progresses, each narrates the joys and struggles of their two-year relationship. This dual point of view makes evident not only their deep love for each other but also the problems raised in their attempt to support each other’s goals.

Franklin’s inability to find steady employment although he is hardworking and skillful highlights the racist and dishonest social forces that impede African American men from moving up the economic ladder. Each time he finds employment that pays enough to enable him to share expenses with Zora, make payments for the support of his ex-wife and two sons, and save for his college tuition, he is soon laid off. Frustrated, Franklin drinks, lashes out at Zora, and loses faith in himself. Zora finds herself supporting him financially and psychologically and struggling to keep her own dreams intact.

Holidays mark the progression of the novel and the realities of the protagonists’ relationship. A Thanksgiving visit to Franklin’s dysfunctional family convinces Zora that his mother has almost destroyed Franklin’s ego, urging on him white, middle-class values while convincing him that he is worthless. This increases Zora’s compassion for Franklin. That night, reacting to the day’s tensions, Zora suffers an epileptic fit. She has concealed her epilepsy from Franklin for fear that he would leave her if he found out about it. He assures her that his love is stronger than that. Their knowledge of each other’s strengths and weaknesses deepens their relationship while revealing its complexity.

At Christmas time, Franklin meets Zora’s father...

(The entire section is 912 words.)