Praisesong for the Widow Essay - Critical Essays

Paule Marshall


Avatara is the name Avey’s Aunt Cuney chose for her. Avatara has been called to pass along the culture from one generation to the next by Cuney, who has performed that role. Cuney appears in Avatara’s dreams to call her back to a remembrance of her ancestors. Marshall writes the story of Avatara’s movement away from and back to her cultural roots by using several techniques. She divides the novel into four parts to describe the stages of Avatara’s journey, and she uses images and symbols that are peculiar to the feminine creative experience. While Avatara progresses from one stage to the next, Marshall recounts Avatara’s dreams, which are often detailed memories of past experiences that may have been either personal or communal. These memories have relevance to the present when Avatara notices the resemblances between the ceremonial rituals she witnessed as a child and those she observes at Carriacou. Marshall’s references to literary selections written by black writers from the United States are apt expressions of black experiences that occurred on slave ships in the Caribbean and in the collective consciousness of black people regardless of their geographical location.

In the first section, “Runagate,” Avatara is escaping her bondage to the materialism represented by the luxury liner, the Bianca Pride (bianca is Italian for “white”). She has been dreaming of her trips to the Landing with Cuney. There was a serious ceremonial air about the journeys past the woods, the church, and the homes that held the histories of black people in America, and Cuney would take Avatara to the place where the stories begins. Cuney wore two belts, as the other old women did when they went out. One belt cinched the waist of their skirts, and the other belt was “strapped low around the hips like the belt for a sword or a gun holster.” People believed that this belt gave the women strength.

“Sleeper’s Awake” and “Lave Tete” are the second and third sections of the novel. The Ibos knew that black people would suffer in America, so they returned to Africa. For thirty years, Avatara has avoided thinking about the connections between her...

(The entire section is 894 words.)