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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 572

Bailey's Cafe is about a cafe where people with problems come to deal with what's going on in their lives. It's not a stationary location; rather, it appears where it's needed and when it's needed. The book is broken into several sections and focuses on a variety of characters including...

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Bailey's Cafe is about a cafe where people with problems come to deal with what's going on in their lives. It's not a stationary location; rather, it appears where it's needed and when it's needed. The book is broken into several sections and focuses on a variety of characters including the proprietor and the people who come to visit the cafe.

At the beginning of the book, the proprietor—who is referred to as Bailey, even though that's not his given name—discusses his life. He's married to a woman named Nadine, fought in World War II, and carries a lot of guilt from the war after the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Japan. He doesn't know how he found himself working in the cafe exactly, only that it happened while he was in San Francisco.

Eve is a woman who runs a boarding house near the cafe. Much like the cafe, it's more than its title implies—people are only able to stay there if they're invited and if she perceives that it's going to be good for them. Some of the people who stay with Eve are the characters whose stories make up the book. Eve's godfather was a preacher who kept her from even being touched by another man. Ester was the first customer at Bailey's cafe. She ate the bun off a burger but didn't eat the meat because she's a vegetarian.

Gabe is the owner of a pawnshop that is connected with Bailey's and Eve's boarding house. His pawnshop is never open but the closed sign directs people to Bailey's.

Sadie was an abused child who was sexually exploited. She was forced into prostitution, married an abusive man, and had her home stolen by her daughters. She's a sensitive and kind person who comes to the cafe and finds a welcome there. She never tries to find Eve's boarding house, whereas the other women in the story do.

Esther was also an abused child who was given to her brother's boss at the age of twelve to be his wife. They were married for twelve years before she left him and came to the cafe and the boarding house. She begins to heal from her trauma while staying with Eve.

Mary—also known as Peaches—was so beautiful that no one really saw who she was as a person. She was abused by men and women emotionally even when her family took steps to protect her. She takes to cutting herself to damage her beauty. At one point, her father comes to the cafe to find her but is told she won't come home until she's ready.

Jesse is the victim of racism from her husband's family. She loses her husband and son to their hatred. When she can't stand it anymore, she turns to heroin. When she arrives at Bailey's, she's an addict. Eve helps her detox and then forces her to choose whether or not to use again by making heroin readily available.

The book closes with Stanley, who likes to wear women's clothing and cannot find a job. He comes to work at Eve's. It also closes with Miriam, a pregnant teenager who is also a virgin. She was sexually mutilated and unable to have sex. She is sent to Eve's by Gabe instead of going through Bailey's. She gives birth to George, who is sent to be raised by a loving family.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 802

Bailey’s Café is the story of a magical place and of the lost souls who have there found, if not redemption, at least a safe haven. As the chapter and section titles suggest, Naylor structures her novel in the form of a jazz performance. The book begins with “Maestro, If You Please,” in which Bailey, as the bandleader, introduces himself; this is followed by “The Vamp,” Bailey’s introduction to his café. The main part of the book is entitled “The Jam,” and Bailey’s Café ends with a short, upbeat chapter appropriately called “The Wrap.”

The novel begins with a first-person narrative by the man whom everyone calls Bailey, after the name of his place of business. Even though Bailey never does mention his real name, he does not omit anything else from his life story. He describes his childhood as the child of African Americans who were the servants of wealthy African Americans, his successful courtship of the beautiful Nadine, his failure in several jobs, and his participation in World War II. What brought Bailey to despair, ironically, was the event that assured him of surviving that war: the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Devastated by guilt, Bailey ended up on the wharf in San Francisco, then inexplicably found himself working in a rundown café with Nadine beside him.

As Bailey hastens to point out, his café does not have a geographical location. It moves about, appearing wherever and whenever someone is “hanging on to the edge” and needs a place “to take a breather for a while.” In his second chapter, “The Vamp,” Bailey introduces two “one-note players” who are not ready to look beneath the surfaces of their lives. Thus Sister Carrie, a religious fanatic, pretends to be highly moral, and Sugar Man, a pimp, pretends to be a benefactor of women; actually, both are interested only in controlling others. Although these are only “minor voices,” in Bailey’s words, they illustrate the fact that the truth lies not in protestations but in what “happens under the surface.”

In the long section that follows, “The Jam,” the characters do bare their souls; they “play it all out.” In each of the section’s seven chapters, a character relives a life so full of suffering and defeat that it has ended at Bailey’s Café.

The first three stories, those of Sadie, Eve, and Sweet Esther, all describe the betrayal of a girl child by a person from whom she should have expected protection. Sadie’s mother contemptuously uses her child first as a servant and then as a profitable prostitute; Eve’s godfather makes her a scapegoat for his own obsession with sex; and Sweet Esther’s brother sells her to a man he knows will brutalize and corrupt her.

Then there are Peaches and Jesse Bell, who knew only kindness when they were children but who came to disaster in the adult world. Perhaps because her father almost worshiped her, Peaches became a woman who demanded sexual homage from every man she met. Jesse Bell’s problem was different. Her husband’s upper-class family resented and humiliated her, until at last she rebelled, disgraced herself, and destroyed her marriage.

The other two characters in this section, Mariam and Stanley, are both victims of prejudice that has become institutionalized. Mariam, a fourteen-year-old from Ethiopia, has been destroyed by a male-dominated society’s preoccupation with female chastity. Circumcised to destroy her pleasure in sex, then sewed up to ensure her virginity, Mariam could not possibly have been impregnated by a man. Discovering that she is indeed pregnant, however, the people of her village have expelled her, intending her to die. To them, such actions are justified by social custom and religious law. Stanley, too, is a victim of social prejudice, his aspirations blocked by a white-dominated society’s insistence on black subjugation. Despite his achievements in college, despite his brilliance in his field, Stanley has been denied the kind of job he deserves. Because of his race, Stanley meets only rejection, which is equally humiliating, whether he is turned down outright or hypocritically offered a dead-end slot in a company that needs a token black. Though a brilliant businessman, Stanley lives at Eve’s, where he serves as the housekeeper and bouncer; there, he wears dresses and is known as Ms. Maple.

Naylor’s jazz concert has a harmonious ending when all the characters come together for the birth and the ritual circumcision of Mariam’s baby boy. Afterward, however, the mother and child are parted. Since Mariam is to be a permanent resident of Eve’s, the baby will be taken to an orphan home, perhaps in time to be adopted. It is a sad ending—but then, as Bailey comments, life has more questions than answers.

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