Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

As its title implies, This Child’s Gonna Live concerns survival in a hostile environment. In addition to experiencing life-threatening diseases with almost no access to health care, coping with a legal system that supports the white power structure and ignores the criminal activities of white vigilantes, and enduring the judgments of the self-righteous African American religious community, Mariah must deal with the obstacles posed by African American men and by the land itself. In such an environment, death is a recurring motif, in the form of conversations with the Grim Reaper, superstitions, and the loss of loved ones.

In this novel, whites probate wills, staff the legal system, control welfare regulations, prohibit African Americans from holding mill jobs, and restrict access to health care. Unfortunately, whites also control the attitudes of the African American community, which believes that it must please, even emulate, the white power structure. When Rosey dies at the camp meeting and Mariah is humiliated, both pregnant young women are condemned by Bertha not so much for their “sin” as for their visibility: “We had a lot of white people on this campground today . . . and wasn’t this a sight for them to see!”

Sexual politics and sexual stereotyping also pose problems for Mariah, who describes sex in violent, graphic terms and regards it in terms of power. Her problems with Jacob stem from his assumption that he...

(The entire section is 428 words.)