Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Brought up in the school of hard knocks, Mildred Peacock has developed a style all her own that either attracts or disgusts most people. She is one of the most original and humorous characters to appear in African American fiction. McMillan creates and sustains Mildred’s style primarily through urban black speech patterns, but what she does with that language is all hers. She will say what is on her mind, cursing, shouting, and telling people where to go. Coupled with Mildred’s verbal expressiveness are her actions. She is always planning and taking actions to make her living condition better, to keep the eviction notice from going up and the electricity from being turned off. Her actions often pit her against the value system of her community, and in these conflicts her true individuality surfaces. Mildred considers many members of the black community to be hypocrites, for they disdain behavior by others that they readily condone for themselves. Mildred will have none of that; her essential presentation of self is unvarnished.

McMillan’s characters are real, funny, sad, sometimes pitiful, prepared to live fully. As the oldest, Freda wants to do something to ease her mother’s pain and suffering. She understands the toll the bills take on Mildred, and she knows, too, that Crook and the other men do not appreciate her mother. Freda wants to help her mother, and she wants to help herself. She begins planning early for ways to escape the confines of...

(The entire section is 507 words.)