Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The story’s first sentence establishes the rhythm that plays throughout like a piece of jazz music. Angelou adeptly paces the story like a musical score by means of repetition and variations on ideas. For example, when Philomena begins with the incredible information that Miss Cotton Queen Beth is dating a black man, she drives the point home by stating first that the young woman is out with the man, then she repeats the word, and finally comes back to expand, “like going out,” magnifying more than she explains. This kind of repeat and variation is used effectively throughout the story, calling to mind the parallel jazz structure of a riff.

Analogous to jazz, which is streetwise and hip, the language of “The Reunion” projects the same ambiance through ideas expressed in prose rich in metaphor and earthy expressions. Such language not only makes the story colorfully cool, but enhances Angelou’s ironic intentions. For example, instead of saying that Philomena was shocked when Beth said she was engaged to marry a black man, Angelou has Philomena reflect on the moment this way: “I’m proud of my face. It didn’t jump up and walk the bar.”