Style and Technique (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
“A Revolutionary Tale” relies on the self-centered, first-person narration of an educated but unfocused young woman. Although its time frame is the length of a single conversation, the narrator matures greatly over the course of the story. When the story begins, Kim is self-centered and refuses to take responsibility for her actions. First she whines that her troubles are all the fault of her roommate, then she proceeds to implicate the system and her parents as well. After she finally decides to apply for graduate school, she sits back “while others stronger and wiser than I would determine my fate.” Once she is accepted into graduate school, she attempts to get them to reject her rather than withdrawing her application, although in an amusingly creative way.
Giovanni’s use of language in “A Revolutionary Tale” helps to make the narrator credible. There is a believable balance between standard English, which befits the educated young woman who was “Ayn Rand-Barry Goldwater all the way” before coming under Bertha’s influence, and the slang appropriate to a street-smart young black woman in the 1960’s.
In line with the narrator’s maturation, the tone of the writing changes fairly abruptly in the middle of the story. The story begins in a farcical vein, as Kim and others describe her attention-getting antics in a deadpan fashion. When Kim begins making a real contribution to the black revolution through her work on the magazine Love Black, however, she changes from a spoiled girl focused on partying to a concerned citizen of the society that she hopes to help create. The narrative then abandons its comic tone to address more serious issues. It is unlikely that the ideas she is spouting are original to her, but she has moved far beyond the girl who was distressed because she could not contribute to the revolution just by sleeping with financially generous white men and sharing the wealth.
At the end, she informs her listener that one of the reasons she is late is because she decided to walk to school rather than fly or hitch a ride. Wherever Kim has gone in reality, or how she has gotten there, metaphorically, she has traveled a life-altering distance from the spoiled party girl to someone who will be a contributor to the revolution that was previously only a game to her.
Bibliography (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
Beason, Tyrone. “Survival of the Baddest: Poet and Activist Nikki Giovanni Keeps Her ’60s Spirit Intact for a New Generation.” The Seattle Times, January 15, 2004, p. C1.
Davis, Arthur P. “The New Poetry of Black Hate.” In Modern Black Poets: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Donald B. Gibson. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1973.
Fowler, Virginia C. Nikki Giovanni. New York: Twayne, 1992.
Jago, Carol. Nikki Giovanni in the Classroom: “The Same Ol Danger but a Brand New Pleasure.” Urbana, Ill.: National Council of Teachers of English, 1999.
Josephson, Judith P. Nikki Giovanni: Poet of the People. Berkeley Heights, N.J.: Enslow, 2003.
“Nikki Giovanni.” In Her Words: Diverse Voices in Contemporary Appalachian Women’s Poetry, edited by Felicia Mitchel. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2002.
Washington, Elsie B. “Nikki Giovanni: Wisdom for All Ages.” Essence 24 (March, 1994): 67.