Blues Ain't No Mockingbird Themes
by Toni Cade Bambara

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Blues Ain't No Mockingbird Themes

(Short Stories for Students)

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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...

(The entire section is 739 words.)