Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Plum Bun is a bildungsroman, or coming-of-age novel, about Angela Murray, whose romantic illusions about the advantages of “passing” as white are shattered by a succession of cruel experiences. The format of the novel is based on the old nursery rhyme “To Market, to Market/ To buy a Plum Bun;/ Home again, Home again,/ Market is done.” The “plum bun” represents all the advantages Angela hopes to obtain by using her charm and talent to enter the upper-class white world.
In the first section, entitled “Home,” sixteen-year-old Angela is introduced, along with her sister Virginia and their parents. The family lives in a poor but respectable black neighborhood in Philadelphia. Junius and Mattie Murray are hardworking, thrifty, religious-minded parents who have tried to teach their daughters the highest moral standards. Virginia is happy in this humble domestic setting, but the restless, ambitious Angela can hardly wait to be old enough to escape to New York, where she hopes to use her talents as an artist to find a more stimulating life, even if this means denying her own race forever.
“Market,” the second section, deals with Angela’s early experiences in New York in the 1920’s, after both her parents have died, leaving her enough money to move to the big city. “Plum Bun,” the third section, deals with Angela’s affair with the white playboy Roger Fielding, who represents all the comfort, security, prestige, and...
(The entire section is 714 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Most of the narrative focuses on the life of Angela Murray, from her early childhood in a black, working-class area of Philadelphia to her late twenties, when she achieves some success as an artist in New York City. The novel is divided into five parts, each part based on one portion of the well-known children’s verse: “To Market, to Market/ To buy a Plum Bun;/ Home again, Home again,/ Market is done.”
In the first part, “Home,” the Murray family is introduced: a father, a mother, and two daughters, living on Opal Street in Philadelphia, a residential area of small, cramped houses. The race of the family immediately becomes an issue as the focus moves to Angela, the older daughter, who feels at a very young age the constraints placed upon her life by the fact of the family’s color. Angela, like her mother, has a “creamy complexion” and can pass as white; Virginia, like her father, is dark. Angela’s youthful yearning is for freedom, and she very soon realizes that she and her mother, when in the city alone, have access to the rewards of life, the glamours and pleasures of the marketplace, that are closed to her father and to Virginia. Mattie Murray often plays at being white and finds it a pleasant pastime, but she always professes her color when principle demands it. Angela, however, is keenly aware of the disadvantages of color and deeply hurt by the rejection of her white friends when they learn that she is black. The family is a close...
(The entire section is 1126 words.)