What is the function of Laura Deen in Strange Fruit by Lilian Smith?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Laura Deen, from Strange Fruit by Lillian Smith, is Tracy Deen's older sister. In 1920s Massachusetts Nonnie Anderson, an educated black woman who, despite being a college graduate is working as a maid  and Tracy Deen, a white man, a college drop-out and the son of the town's doctor, have apparently fallen in love after Tracy's return from World War I. As children, Tracy had stopped some white youths from attacking her and a friendship subsequently developed.

Nonnie is pregnant with his child but he cannot stand up to the pressure from the community and will marry a local white girl, as deigned by his parents and Nonnie is encouraged to marry a black man. Tracy even goes as far as paying "Big Henry" to marry Nonnie whom she dislikes immensely. There will be disastrous consequences as Nonnie's brother overhears Tracy's plan.

Laura has her own secret but she is less passive than her brother and, although she will not make her relationship public, she does not intend to hide her feelings. She cannot make her mother understand why she likes "that type of woman" and her function in the novel, other than meeting a personal need of Lillian Smith, who herself kept a homosexual relationship a secret, is to reveal the complexity of relationships and how prejudice is very far-reaching. Feelings about homosexuality, certainly in its time period, were confused and misunderstood and therefore Laura gives the story an added dimension. There are many tragic stories of love and Laura gives the reader a broader outlook. Many are so ready to criticize and pass judgment, believing that inter-racial relationships are taboo and Laura's character upsets their bias when those same judgmental characters have different issues to consider and can no longer blame race as a defining factor.

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