Who is Big Mabel?
In this book, Big Mabel is sort of a bit character. Her main role is that she is Newt Winger's partner when he has sex for the first time.
The sexual encounter between Newt and Big Mabel happens first thing in the book. She and Newt are caught in a bad storm and he falls and cuts his leg on a plow. She helps him get to safety and binds up his wound. Then she has him take his clothes off and lies down on him, naked, to warm him up. That leads them to have sex, though the book makes it seem that it is done more to comfort Newt than anything else.
After that, Mabel essentially does not appear in the story until she is killed in a car crash.
In "The Learning Tree" by Gordon Parks a destructive tornado leaves behind destruction after it blows through Cherokee Flats. Newt Winger, an adolescent black male, is frightened by the storm. He finds comfort and a sexual experience with Big Mabel. She finds him in the mess after the tornado and rescues him after he gets a big gash in his leg. She is his first sexual partner. The book is about life and death, racism, and dreams. Big Mabel dies in a car accident later in the story. Her significance in the story is that she is a symbol of Newt’s sexual awakening.