Roadwalkers Essay - Critical Essays

Shirley Ann Grau


Like her earlier Pulitzer Prize-winning novel THE KEEPERS OF THE HOUSE (1964), Shirley Ann Grau’s ROADWALKERS is a celebration of female fortitude. Again, the setting is the Deep South. “Baby” is the youngest of six black children, deserted by their parents and left homeless. Some of them find shelter; one dies. Finally, Baby is found alone, sick, and hungry, and she is shipped to a convent to be reared.

When she grows older, Baby, now named Mary Woods, realizes that she desires independence as much as she does security. Therefore she turns down a job as housemaid, runs away from the convent, and becomes a prostitute. Then, motivated by the birth of her daughter Nanda, Mary decides to move up in the world, and she becomes a seamstress. When she acquires her own fashionable shop, Mary can at last give Nanda a permanent home.

Nanda, however, has her own battles to fight. Snubbed by the white students in her boarding school, she feels isolated and miserable, but she refuses to be driven out and denied her education. When Nanda takes over the narration of the novel, she is thirty-six, and both she and her mother are happily married and financially secure.

In different ways, however, both women continue to be haunted by the past. Mary rejects it; Nanda relives it. Though it is in essence an optimistic novel, ROADWALKERS is made even more effective by the author’s admission that even at its most triumphant, human life offers no totally happy endings.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XC, June 1, 1994, p. 1770.

Boston Globe. September 2, 1994, p. 92.

Chicago Tribune. October 13, 1994, V, p. 2.

The Christian Science Monitor. August 1, 1994, p. 13.

Kirkus Reviews. LXII, May 15, 1994, p. 648.

Library Journal. CXIX, June 15, 1994, p. 94.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. July 31, 1994, p. 2.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, July 31, 1994, p. 11.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, May 23, 1994, p. 77.

The Women’s Review of Books. XI, July, 1994, p. 48.