Summarize the story  "A Visit to Grandmother" by William Melvin Kelley.

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Charles left home when he was fifteen. Through his own resources, he became a lawyer.  His son Chig thought of his father as a kind, gentle man. When Chig accompanies his father on a visit to his home, Chig discovers a change in his father’s behavior as he steps into his mother’s house.

In “A Visit to Grandmother” by William Melvin Kelley, it is easy to recognize that Charles’s mother has a big heart for everyone. Chig is surprised at how his father behaves with his mother and all of the other relatives.  Everyone seems so happy to see him and his father. However, Charles grimaces when his mother tries to hug and kiss him. 

Finally, GL, Charles’ older brother, is mentioned.  The grandmother begins to tell stories about her misbehaving son. Chig remembers his dad talking about GL as though he were a five years old child.

Charles has always felt that his mother did not discipline GL enough.  When they got in trouble, she always spanked Charles first and then was too tired to discipline GL. Charles was not aware that his mother could tell that Charles was more mature than his older brother and definitely knew right from wrong. 

Charles’s mother believed that if she did not let GL do things without getting punishments as severe as Charles, that GL would rebel and start breaking the law. She always kept a looser leash on GL for that reason. 

To add to his misery, Charles, who was very black, felt that his mother favored GL because he had lighter skin.  He also believed that his mother thought that GL was going to be more successful than Charles because of his looks.

His mother tells the story of going to town with GL who was driving a horse-drawn carriage. The horse went out of control and the mother had to grab the reign and slow the horse down.  When she tells the group that she had to save her baby, Charles is incensed.

Charles indicts his mother by telling her that if he had wanted her to go to town with him, she would have said “no.” Because of lack of communication, Charles always thought that his mother did not love him as much as his brother.  He spent his entire adult life with hard feelings and bitterness toward his mother and brother.

To the reader, it is apparent that the old lady does not understand why Charles feels that way.

Tears came to the old woman’s eyes. She tried to explain that she had intended to give each of her ten children what they needed. GL got more attention because he could have so easily gotten into trouble. She told Charles that he was smarter and more grown up than GL.

Even after she tries to explain to him, Charles does not accept her explanation and runs upstairs.  GL comes in and is anxious to see his long lost brother. 

rogal eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Chig's father, Dr. Charles Dunford, has a college class reunion, which Chig attends. Afterwards, his father suggests that they should visit his grandmother and uncles who live further south. Chig’s father rarely talks about his family, which consists of his older brother GL and his wife, Rose, his brother Hiram and his wife Mae, his mother, and likely others not mentioned in the story. On the day of their visit, they are received by Aunt Rose and the grandmother. Chig notices that his father is quite resentful of his mother during their initial meeting, for he sees a look of “fear, uncertainty, sadness, and maybe even hatred” on his face as he bends down to kiss her.

As the day progresses and the family sits down to dinner, which is served before the arrival of Uncle GL, Chig is entertained by his grandmother and Aunt Rose. His father and Uncle Hiram are mostly quiet, speaking only when addressed.

At some point during the meal, Chig’s grandmother tells the story of the crazy horse that GL once obtained in exchange for an old chair; how GL convinced her to ride the horse through town, and how it finally went berserk, forcing her to hop on its back to bring it to a stop. The story seems to stir up old memories in Chig’s father who lets out on why he is resentful of his mother—how she had favored GL over him while they were growing up because of his fair looks. He talks emotionally of the instances in which he felt slighted by his mother’s attitude towards him. Afterwards, he leaves the dining table for his room. Uncle GL comes in a little later and expresses his happiness at having his brother in town after such a long time. He is, of course, oblivious of his brother’s outburst at the dinner table.

Uncle GL is invariably described by the family members as “ill-behaved, a practical joker, and a swindler of sorts”. He behaves like a “five-year-old” even now that he is almost fifty years old.