Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

For the themes of Like One of the Family, one need look no further than the explicit statements of Mildred Johnson. A compulsive educator, Mildred is bent on pointing out deficiencies in society and in individuals to everyone with whom she comes in contact. Mildred’s intention may be simply to inform her listeners, as when she explains the facts of black history to young children, or to reform them, as when she lectures her minister or one of her employers. Whatever the audience, whatever the situation, Mildred’s lessons are based on the three principles she values above all: integrity, respect for oneself and for others, and the need to work for a better future.

Mildred loathes dishonesty, hypocrisy, and pretension. It is this that so annoys her when Mrs. C. tells her visitors that Mildred is “like one of the family”; it is this which she finds offensive at Mrs. H.’s cocktail party, where the guests prove their sophistication by calling everything “wonderful” or “amusin’.” However, it is not only white employers whose superficial values draw Mildred’s fire; she is equally annoyed with the snobbery of prosperous African Americans who boast about their wealth and their material possessions.

Because Mildred’s values are not superficial, she can be proud of who and what she is. Therefore, when she goes to a church function where only the supposedly prestigious occupations are praised, Mildred points out the value of her own job. Behind the doctors and lawyers, she...

(The entire section is 622 words.)