Blues Ain't No Mockingbird

by Toni Cade Bambara

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 739

The central conflict in ‘‘Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird’’ is between the white filmmakers and Granny, who is offended by their presence and wants them to leave.

Race and Racism The story’s conflict is really a conflict over race and representation: Granny believes that the filmmakers have no right, uninvited, to shoot footage of her, her family, and her home; the filmmakers, meanwhile, are attempting to use her life to make a political and social statement, sponsored by the state government, about the black rural poor. The filmmakers, then, want to see the family as ‘‘representative’’ or ‘‘typical’’; Granny sees herself and her family as individuals. This difference in attitude is demonstrated in the first dialogue between the filmmakers and Granny. When they first approach Granny, they fail to greet her. She interrupts them with an ironic ‘‘Good mornin.’’ They respond sheepishly, with a guilty, hangdog expression. They continue, though, referring to Granny as ‘‘aunty,’’ a condescending, stereotypical term used for older black women. Later in the story, when Camera repeats the appellation, Granny snaps backs: ‘‘Your mama and I are not related.’’ The filmmakers also offend Granny when they praise her place: ‘‘Nice things here,’ said the man, buzzin his camera over the yard. The pecan barrels, the sled, me and Cathy, the flowers, the painted stones along the driveway, the trees, the twins, the toolshed.’’ The filmmakers, referring to the narrator and Cathy as ‘‘things’’ and regarding children as little different than driveways or flowers, objectify people. Granny is aware of this: her first line in the story is a request to ‘‘Go tell that man we ain’t a bunch of trees.’’ She responds to their appraisal of her place by stating, ‘‘I don’t know about the thing, the it, and the stuff, . . . Just people here is what I tend to consider.’’

Social Class The filmmakers from the county are filming about food stamps; specifically, they appear to be making a film arguing against the food stamp program, a federal program instituted to aid the poor. We know this from Smilin’s comment to Granny: ‘‘I see you grow your own vegetables. . . . If more folks did that, see, there’d be no need—’’ Thus the issue of class is intertwined with the question of race: the filmmakers want to portray Granny as selfsufficient, not needing government assistance, and therefore ‘‘nice.’’ While we do not know the views of Granny or the others on this issue, the crass and demeaning behavior of the filmmakers leads us to question rhetoric about poverty and entitlements that depend upon uninformed, general representations and has little to do with the actual lives of people.

Responsibility toward Others A final, related issue of representation can be traced by considering the stories-within-the-story. Granny and Cathy are the storytellers in the family, and their stories revolve around the harmful intru siveness of looking at and representing the plights of others. Granny tells a story about a man who was going to jump off a bridge. A crowd gathered; the minister and the man’s girlfriend tried to talk him out of it. Then a man with a camera arrived and took pictures of the man. She notes that he saved a few pictures, implying that he wanted to photograph the man as and after he jumped (and, by extension, that he wanted the man to jump). The twins want to know whether the man jumped or not: Granny stares at them, saying nothing until they realize that there is something wrong with their question, although they may not recognize the similarity between their...

(This entire section contains 739 words.)

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curiosity and the callous and prurient attitude of the cameraman. Cathy then tells the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. While the story is usually seen as harmless and cute, Cathy retells it to emphasize Goldilocks’s rude behavior: she ‘‘barged’’ into a stranger’s house, ‘‘messed over the people’s groceries and broke up the people’s furniture.’’ The twins want to know if she was forced to pay for the mess she made. Both stories are left unfinished, but both point to the same theme: the indignity of invading the lives of strangers for sensational or selfish reasons. In addition, these stories-withinthe- story, in which third-person narrators represent others, are in contrast with the overall story, which is narrated in first person and constitutes an example of self-expression, the telling of one’s own story.