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 sophistication she desires. Fielding, who believes Angela to be pure white, falls in love with her but is afraid to propose marriage, because his domineering father will permit him to marry only a woman with wealth and family background. The charismatic Fielding persuades Angela to...
(The entire section is 714 words.)