Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Family is a story of the slave Clora’s children and how her blood flows from its African roots around the world, thus intermingling with that of other races, nationalities, and classes. In the years before the Civil War, Clora gives her master six children, three of whom survive to adulthood. Clora herself commits suicide but “lives” as the narrator of her family’s tale. She glides through time to watch over her favorite child, Always.
Always, sold to Doak Butler, learns misery and hatred from her first day as his slave. In short order, he rapes her and causes the death of her beloved sister Plum. By the time he brings home his new bride, Sue, Always has already made herself the real mistress of his small farm. She becomes indispensable to Sue and to Doak’s crippled brother, Jason.
Meanwhile, Clora’s other children have found freedom. Sun, her son, has fled north to become a successful businessman. He “passes” for white. Peach, her other daughter, is literally sold into freedom; bought by a man who falls in love with her, she moves to Scotland as the mistress of her own household.
Always swaps her son with her master’s. She rears the child whom she names Soon, who was in fact born to Doak and Sue. Her real son is reared as Doak, Jr. As youths, the boys are inseparable. Always watches over both of them but reserves her greatest love for the young master, Doak, Jr. She cares for Soon and loves him in a diffident fashion, molding him into a good son. She even acquiesces in his going to serve in the Civil War as servant to Doak, Jr., so that he can watch over her real son. In spite of her machinations, she is outmanipulated by the war, in which Doak, Sr., is killed.
Before the war, Sue died in childbirth and Doak married Always’s half sister Loretta, who as a...
(The entire section is 750 words.)
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Bibliography (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Farr, Moira. Review of Family, by J. California Cooper. Quill Quire 56 (December, 1990): 24. Comments on Cooper’s dialogue, which reflects her experience and is believable.
Hoffman, Roy. Review of Family, by J. California Cooper. The New York Times Book Review (December 30, 1990): 12. Describes the novel as being about survival. Even though Clora, the narrator, is a ghost, the book is a living woman’s monologue.
Library Journal. Review of Family, by J. California Cooper. 115 (December, 1990): 160. A positive review of the novel. Notes that Cooper occasionally slips out of dialect into standard English.
Matuz, Roger, ed. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 56. Detroit: Gale Research, 1990. Contains excerpts from reviews of Cooper’s short stories and plays, although not from reviews of Family.
Publishers Weekly. Review of Family, by J. California Cooper. 237 (November 2, 1990): 64-65. A review of the novel, generally laudatory.