Summary (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
Sarah Phillips is a novel about the life of the title character and narrator. Sarah, however, is not the kind of black protagonist typically found in fiction. Born of educated parents, she has grown up in a prosperous Philadelphia suburb, sheltered from violence and racism, but confined by the expectations of her parents and her society. After the death of her father, James Forrest Phillips, a well-known minister, and after the completion of her Harvard University degree, Sarah has gone to Europe, ostensibly to study. In fact, however, she is enjoying herself, as she explores a world much larger than that of her childhood.
Although Andrea Lee has termed Sarah Phillips a novel, it is actually made up of a number of short stories, many of which first appeared in The New Yorker. The genesis of the work is evident in the fact that each chapter begins without a reference to the action of the previous one, and each ends with the kind of inconclusive conclusion, often symbolic, which is so familiar to readers of that publication. Lee’s task of turning the stories into a novel was not as difficult as it might seem, however, since Sarah Phillips was the protagonist in all the stories, and since the subject of each was Sarah’s discovery of the world and of her place in it. While in Sarah Phillips there is no single movement toward a critical point, such as would be found in a traditional novel, Lee has provided a degree of...
(The entire section is 954 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
Sarah Phillips presents the experiences of an African American woman growing up in a middle-class environment. It covers the period from the early 1960’s until the mid-1970’s. The setting and themes of the book are similar to those of the author’s own life.
Sarah Phillips is divided into twelve episodes. Each of these are a complete story in themselves but also develop the overall narrative. The story is told by a first-person narrator. It is recounted in the form of an autobiographical reminiscence.
The book begins with the narrator and protagonist, Sarah Phillips, living in France during a year abroad as a college student. Sarah is having an enjoyable time, reflecting with amusement on the French myths about America that come to the surface during her conversations with French people. When her French boyfriend, Henri, makes an insensitive racial joke, however, Sarah’s sense of serenity and fun is shattered. She begins to realize that although she had previously thought that Europeans did not possess American racial stereotypes, these stereotypes are difficult for her to escape. Sarah is reminded anew of her racial background and identity. She begins to reflect back on her childhood days.
Sarah had been born the daughter of a prominent African American minister. Sarah is reared in a middle-class residential section of Philadelphia. At the age of ten, she sits on a summer Sunday in a pew of the New African...
(The entire section is 1076 words.)