Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Although Bailey’s Café begins in a realistic manner, it soon takes on the qualities of Magical Realism. For example, the café is not really a café. In critical terms, it is the governing metaphor of the novel; in metaphysical terms, it represents a state of the human soul. As Bailey says, it is a place people go when they are “hanging on to the edge.” Therefore, the café appears only to people who are desperate, who have endured so much pain that they think they cannot go on living.

The two other buildings on Naylor’s magical street also have symbolic significance. People who have reached the end of their own resources can raise money by selling their possessions at Gabe’s pawnshop or by selling their bodies at Eve’s bordello. There is a difference, however, between these two places. All that Gabe, the buyer of material goods, seems able to do is guide people like Mariam to the café. On the other hand, Eve snatches her residents from death and gives them the chance to feel cherished, not used, by being paid only in flowers. Sometimes, too, Eve intervenes to save them from themselves, as she does with Jesse Bell, and as she plans to do with Peaches.

As Bailey says, however, some of those who come to the edge of life proceed to the end of life. These are the people who enter the front door and proceed right out the back, presumably into annihilation. Their only answer to pain is extinction, and Bailey’s Café does not...

(The entire section is 583 words.)