Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
A heavily pregnant woman named Patience looks up from picking cotton and sees a tornado bearing down on the cotton field. Mother Barker, one row over, begins to pray. The tornado picks up speed, destroys cotton in a circle around the workers, and then lifts harmlessly into the sky. That night, Mother Barker brings food to the exhausted Patience, who is alone in her cabin. Her husband, Strong, has not accompanied her to the cotton fields because he can make more money in his Ponca City barbershop.
On the following day, Patience has a baby girl, Abyssinia, while she is working in the field. The birth takes place on cotton sacks between the foreman’s fire and the weighing-in bin. A spark flies out of the fire and falls on the baby’s cheek, leaving a scar in the shape of a cotton blossom.
While still a baby, Abby begins to hum when the congregation sings at church. She grows up playing with the other children of Ponca City and searching for roots with Mother Barker. In her father’s Better Way Barbershop, she hears yarns spun by his male customers. She makes ice cream and plays games with her best friend, Lily Norene.
When Abby is ten years old, she is about to be given an award for reading the most books of anyone in her grade when another tornado strikes. During the storm, the children are safe in the school’s basement. When they come out, they see that everything has been leveled. Abby and Lily Norene find a neighbor woman...
(The entire section is 805 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Marked by Fire, the first novel by Joyce Carol Thomas, tells the story of the first twenty years in the life of Abyssinia Jackson, a black girl born in the fields of Oklahoma in 1951 as a tornado goes through. Set entirely in Ponca City, Oklahoma, the work captures the experience of a young woman coming of age in rural America in the 1950’s and 1960’s.
Marked by Fire is divided into thirty short chapters, each designated not by title or number but by calendar date. The narration is entirely from the third-person point of view, although the story is always concerned only with Abby’s experiences, thoughts, and development. All the main characters in the novel are black; hence, Abby’s problems are never directly related to racial discrimination or prejudice. Her enemies are two other blacks, Trembling Sally and Brother Jacobs, and nature itself.
The organization of the novel and story is entirely chronological. Abby’s life is momentous from her birth because of the tornado, which is viewed by her family and friends as an omen. This fictional biography chronicles some twenty years in her life, during which she overcomes problems few young people must face.
The setting of the small Oklahoma town frames the activities of Abby’s family. Abby enjoys listening, then telling, stories in the folk tradition; she sings hymns at church and at home; she excels in school as a reader; and she learns the art of folk...
(The entire section is 822 words.)