Form and Content (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Gorilla, My Love is a collection of fifteen short stories told in the first person by female narrators who show the daily lives of ordinary people living in the black neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Harlem, and other sections of New York City, as well as parts of the rural South. As Toni Cade Bambara celebrates the life in these communities, she captures the culture, the traditions, and the unique speech patterns of the people who make up these neighborhoods.
The first story, “My Man Bovanne,” deals with the generation gap that exists between Hazel, the older female narrator, and her children, who have become involved in the Black Power movement. In casting off their slave names for African names, the young people seem to be rejecting the values of the older people in their community. As Miss Hazel dances with Bovanne, the old blind man in the neighborhood, her children express their disapproval of their mother’s actions and style of dress. For Miss Hazel, Bovanne, who used to fix skates for the children in the neighborhood, represents a familiar presence in a changing world.
Disillusionment as a part of growing up is the theme of three stories. In “Gorilla, My Love,” Hazel, the young female narrator, must face the pain of realizing that her uncle—who jokingly promised to marry her when she grew up— is preparing to marry someone else. The story begins when Hazel and her friends are disgusted after they pay for tickets to see a film that the marquee advertised as Gorilla, My Love, only to be shown King of Kings, an old motion picture about Jesus. The story deals with the children’s sense of betrayal when grown-ups do not keep their word. For Hazel, her uncle’s betrayal is much more painful to accept than the false advertising of the film.
Another type of disillusionment takes place in the frequently anthologized story “The Lesson.” The narrator is Sylvia, a tough, sassy, bright young girl whose class takes a field trip to F. A. O. Schwartz, an upscale...
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Context (Masterplots II: Women's Literature Series)
Toni Cade Bambara is a New Yorker who grew up in Harlem. She added “Bambara” to her name after she saw the word written on her grandmother’s notebook in an old trunk. According to Webster’s Tenth New Collegiate Dictionary, the word “Bambara” means “a member of an African people of the upper Niger” or “a Mande language of the Bambara people.”
Bambara draws her material from the people living in black communities. In her commitment to portray strong female characters, she employs female narrators to tell stories that show women in a positive light. She says that she is “about the empowerment and development of our sisters and our community.” Bambara’s characters are young, hip, tough, humorous black women, much like the characters that Terry McMillan creates in her novel Mama (1987). When asked about the differences between African American male and female writers, Bambara says, “brothers generally set things out of doors, on open terrain, that is, male turf.” Bambara’s female characters, however, such as Hazel in “Raymond’s Run,” are out on the street. She creates strong female characters of different ages. The young girls are often spunky and outspoken, tough, sassy, and bright.
Bambara provides a realistic view of the world of African American communities in stories she calls “on-the-block, in-the-neighborhood, back-glance pieces.” She is a novelist, short-story writer, editor, playwright, and lecturer. She won the American Book Award for her novel The Salt Eaters and the Best Documentary of 1986 Award from the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters for The Bombing of Osage.
Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Bambara employs several techniques to portray Hazel’s neighborhood realistically. By using the names of real New York theaters and streets, such as the RKO Hamilton and Amsterdam Avenue, she creates a realistic setting. Adding to the realism, she captures the unique speech patterns of the people who make up this neighborhood. Her characters speak in the rich black dialect of the street with all its vitality and humor. It is their powerful speech patterns that make Bambara’s characters come to life in expressions such as “If you scary like me” and “they dusty sometime.” She uses “ax” for “ask” and uses verb forms that are formally incorrect, such as “it do get me in trouble.” When Hazel says that the film is “not about no gorilla,” the double negative sounds typical of a child’s language. Hazel’s speech contains such slang expressions as “give her some lip” and “no lie.” She describes the matron in the theater as getting “too salty.”
The imagery that Hazel employs is fresh and believable as the expressions of a child. Hazel describes her uncle’s looking at her “real strange . . . like he lost in some weird town in the middle of night and lookin for directions and there’s no one to ask.” At one moment in his past, Hunca Bubba adopted an African name, which to Hazel sounded “very geographical weatherlike . . . like somethin you’d find in a almanac.” The pecans in the truck make a rattling noise...
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Bibliography and Further Reading
Bambara, Toni Cade, ‘‘Gorilla, My Love,’’ in Gorilla, My Love, Vintage, 1992, pp. 13–20.
———, ‘‘How She Came by Her Name: An Interview with Louis Massiah,’’ in Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations, edited by Toni Morrison, Pantheon, 1996, pp. 201–45.
———, ‘‘Salvation Is the Issue,’’ in Black Women Writers (1950–1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans, Anchor Books, 1984, pp. 41–47.
———, ‘‘A Sort of Preface,’’ in Gorilla, My Love, Vintage, 1992.
———, ‘‘What It Is I Think I’m Doing Anyhow,’’ in The Writer on Her Work, edited by Janet Sternburg, W. W. Norton, 1980, p. 154.
Bryan, C. D. B., Review of Gorilla, My Love, in New York Times Book Review, October 15, 1972, p. 31.
Burks, Ruth Elizabeth, ‘‘From Baptism to Resurrection: Toni Cade Bambara and the Incongruity of Language,’’ in Black Women Writers (1950–1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans, Anchor Books, 1984, pp. 48–49.
Ensslen, Klaus, ‘‘Toni Cade Bambara: Gorilla, My Love,’’ in The African American Short Story, 1970 to 1990: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Wolfgang Karrer and Barbara Puschmann-Nalenz, Wissenschaftlicher Verlag Trier, 1993, pp. 41–44.
Hargrove, Nancy D., ‘‘Youth in Toni Cade Bambara’s Gorilla, My Love,’’ in the Southern Quarterly, Vol. 22, No. 1, Fall 1983, pp. 81–83.
Review of Gorilla, My Love, in Saturday Review, Vol. 55, No. 47, November 18, 1972, p. 97.
Bambara, Toni Cade, Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations, edited by Toni Morrison, Pantheon, 1996. Toni Morrison, Bambara’s editor at Random House, assembled this collection of six previously unpublished stories and six essays after Bambara’s death. In ‘‘How She Came by Her Name,’’ an interview with Louis Massiah, Bambara discusses her childhood, her early political life, and how Gorilla, My Love came to be published.
Butler-Evans, Elliott, Race, Gender, and Desire: Narrative Strategies in the Fiction of Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker, Temple University Press, 1989. Butler-Evans examines two aesthetics in the works of these writers: an African American nationalism and African American feminism. He finds that in Bambara’s fiction from the 1970s these currents are at odds with each other, but that she resolves some of the tension in her work from the 1980s.
Moraga, Cherríe, and Gloria Anzaldúa, This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press, 1983. Bambara contributed a foreword to this anthology of personal essays, criticism, and poetry by women of color in the United States. Much of the writing comes out of a desire for a unified Third World feminist movement that is not focused on the needs of men, or of white women.
Muther, Elizabeth, ‘‘Bambara’s Feisty Girls: Resistance Narratives in Gorilla, My Love,’’ in African American Review, Vol. 36, No. 3, Fall 2002, pp. 447–59. Muther discusses Senator Daniel P. Moynihan’s 1965 report The Negro Family: The Case for National Action as a landmark of white liberal guilt, and ‘‘Gorilla, My Love’’ as a story of African American empowerment that resists Moynihan’s analysis.
Compare and Contrast
Topics for Further Study
What Do I Read Next?
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Bambara, Toni Cade. “Salvation Is the Issue.” In Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984. In this essay, Bambara discusses her experiences as a writer and states her preference for the short story as a genre. The elements of her own work that she deems most important are laughter, the use of language, a sense of community, and celebration.
Burks, Ruth Elizabeth. “From Baptism to Resurrection: Toni Cade Bambara and the Incongruity of Language.” In Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City,...
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