This Child's Gonna Live Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Although This Child’s Gonna Live consists of the stream-of-consciousness narrations of both Mariah and Jacob Upshur, the novel begins and ends with Mariah’s thoughts, conversations with God, and actions as seen from her perspective. Since most of the chapters belong to Mariah, it becomes her story, a tale of attempted flight from poverty, racism, and religious hypocrisy.

As the story begins, a distraught, pregnant Mariah worries about whose child—Dr. Albert Grene’s or Jacob’s—she will bear. She becomes determined to escape the poverty, racism, and religious hypocrisy of the African American community of Tangierneck. If “this child’s gonna live,” she believes that she must flee north, although she is aware that none of Jacob’s brothers has survived exodus to Baltimore. Since her thoughts flow by association, the present is inextricably related to the past as well as to the future. The loss of Mary, her first daughter, the scars on her father’s back, and Jacob’s exploitation by Miss Bannie all suggest the futility of life in Tangierneck. Jacob is equally upset, but his concerns involve the impending loss of land to Miss Bannie, whom he blames for his troubles.

Both Mariah and Jacob confront past and present humiliations. At a prayer meeting, the Committee of Judgment denounced Mariah for being pregnant out of wedlock, and Bertha Upshur protected Jacob’s reputation. Jacob learns about Bannie’s involvement in the death of Bard Tom, his grandfather; and Mariah hears that Aunt Cora Lou, who was going to get help for Mariah, has been run down by a carload of white teenagers. When Mariah meets Miss Bannie, who has been attacked by Percy, she sympathizes with her until Miss Bannie utters a string of racial insults. Mariah and Jacob, whose minds are preoccupied by death, both intend to kill Miss Bannie. Jacob is easily persuaded to go home, while Mariah succeeds in getting Miss Bannie to the Gut, where she plans to drown her. She cannot follow...

(The entire section is 817 words.)

This Child's Gonna Live Bibliography (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Davis, Thulani. Foreword to This Child’s Gonna Live, by Sara E. Wright. 2d ed. New York: Feminist Press at the City University of New York, 2002. Noted African American scholar Davis discusses the place of Wright’s novel in both African American and feminist literary history. This edition also includes an afterword by Jennifer Campbell and an “appreciation” by John Oliver Killens.

Harris, Trudier. “Three Black Women Writers and Humanism.” In Black American Literature and Humanism, edited by Baxter Miller. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1981. Contrasts the hypocritical Christianity practiced in Mariah’s African American community with the humanistic, individualistic values of African American folk culture and folk heritage. Sees the novel as the tale of Mariah’s evaluation and rejection of Christianity, her struggle to retain her humanity, and her ultimate acceptance of her own folk heritage.

Hollis, Burney J. “The Race and the Runner: Female Fugitives in the Novels of Waters Turpin and Sarah Wright.” In Amid Visions and Revisions: Poetry and Criticism on Literature and the Arts. Baltimore: Morgan State University Press, 1985. Discusses Mariah as a “runner” who rejects and flees from the injustice to which her birth and environment subject her. In her primarily mental flight, she is hindered by her...

(The entire section is 411 words.)