Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Rannie Mae Toomer is twice a victim of her own childlike need to trust. Her naïveté is clear from her belief that the items in the advertising circulars she receives will be delivered to her house for free if only she requests them. Significantly, the items she most wants are hardly luxuries (rubbing alcohol, sweaters, shoes, a heater, a baby’s bonnet); they are not even for herself but for her child. The mail carrier and the circulars he brings are Rannie’s only contacts with the world of white people, a world that seems infinitely superior to her own.

As Rannie waits in the drenching winter rain to beg the mail carrier to send a real doctor for Snooks, she has the same innocent confidence that all will be well once she makes her request, but to the mail carrier she merely appears “more ignorant than usual.” Indeed, Rannie is ignorant, but only in the sense that she possesses the childlike simplicity that most people quickly lose. Ironically, as a poor black woman living in a remote country shack, Rannie stands as little chance of getting the doctor her son requires as she does of receiving for free the items she sees advertised in the circulars the mail carrier brings. Clearly, the word “ignorant” more accurately applies to the mail carrier, who never sees beyond Rannie’s unkempt appearance to the desperate nature of her plight. He does not understand that Rannie’s request for a white doctor is implicitly a rejection of Sarah’s home remedies and, by extension, of her own background. Rannie has told Sarah that she does not want “witch’s remedies” for her son and is therefore at the mercy of whoever might help.

Still, Rannie is victimized a second time, in this instance by Sarah. Though Sarah probably does believe that “strong horse tea” might help Snooks, she nevertheless exploits Rannie’s courage when for a second time Rannie ventures into the rain and waits, this time to collect urine from a mare. The final irony is Rannie’s use of her leaky plastic shoe to catch the “tea” and her sealing the crack by holding her mouth to the toe. All at once, ignorance is triumphant, and Snooks is dead.