Mama Day is a novel about women, about a historical sisterhood that spans generations. The novel begins with Sapphira’s bill of sale from 1819 and with Miranda’s various versions of the legend that establishes Sapphira as the first conjure woman. The title of the novel suggests that its protagonist is Mama (Miranda) Day, a literal descendant of Sapphira and her spiritual reincarnation, but Ophelia, Miranda’s successor, is the real protagonist of the novel. All three women are related through legend (Ophelia’s story itself assumes legendary status), dreams, roles, and appearance. Early in the novel, Miranda sees the likeness between Ophelia and Sapphira and notes that Ophelia “brings back the great, grand Mother.”
Ophelia reveals herself through her narrations to George as a bright young woman who has left Willow Springs for Atlanta and New York but remains “at home” in Willow Springs. She retains her hometown values and beliefs (for example, that the way a man chews his food indicates the kind of lover he will be), but she is ambivalent about superstition and magic—she does not accept the potency of Miranda’s powder on the letter she mails to George, for example. From Miranda’s perspective, however, Ophelia is Sapphira’s spiritual descendant, a woman who, unlike George, will ultimately believe in the efficacy of Ruby’s spell.
Although Ophelia is an adult in New York, she continues to be called “Baby Girl” and, later, “Cocoa.” It is not until she has matured and is ready to listen that...
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