Disappearing Acts Additional Summary

Terry McMillan


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In Disappearing Acts, an African American laborer, Franklin Swift, and a teacher, Zora Banks, both in their early thirties and living in Brooklyn in the early 1980’s, speak independently about their experience of the problems of their shared lives. Franklin has educated himself for his high school equivalency certificate and beyond through his love of reading. He plans to earn a college degree and to start his own business. Zora has a college degree and plans to become a professional singer. They meet, are attracted to each other, and admire each other’s goals. Soon they are in love and living together. As the novel progresses, each narrates the joys and struggles of their two-year relationship. This dual point of view makes evident not only their deep love for each other but also the problems raised in their attempt to support each other’s goals.

Franklin’s inability to find steady employment although he is hardworking and skillful highlights the racist and dishonest social forces that impede African American men from moving up the economic ladder. Each time he finds employment that pays enough to enable him to share expenses with Zora, make payments for the support of his ex-wife and two sons, and save for his college tuition, he is soon laid off. Frustrated, Franklin drinks, lashes out at Zora, and loses faith in himself. Zora finds herself supporting him financially and psychologically and struggling to keep her own dreams intact.

Holidays mark the progression of the novel and the realities of the protagonists’ relationship. A Thanksgiving visit to Franklin’s dysfunctional family convinces Zora that his mother has almost destroyed Franklin’s ego, urging on him white, middle-class values while convincing him that he is worthless. This increases Zora’s compassion for Franklin. That night, reacting to the day’s tensions, Zora suffers an epileptic fit. She has concealed her epilepsy from Franklin for fear that he would leave her if he found out about it. He assures her that his love is stronger than that. Their knowledge of each other’s strengths and weaknesses deepens their relationship while revealing its complexity.

At Christmas time, Franklin meets Zora’s father...

(The entire section is 912 words.)