Cooper is an expansive storyteller, and she uses a narrative device in Family that is tricky and not entirely successful as the novel winds down. She asks her readers to suspend belief early in the story by making her narrator a spirit, one who is capable of describing not only events but also states of mind. Consequently, point of view tends to become skewed at times, even though Clora promises from the beginning that Always is her favorite child and the one to whom she will devote most of her narrative attention. Through this narrative device, a reader may be better able to appreciate the plight of Always as well as her motivation and character, but the other characters for whom the narrator also professes love become peripheral, tangential to the plot except as foils.
Cooper also tends to use dialect only when it is convenient, and the shifts from Standard English to argot are sometimes jarring. Spelling of words in dialect is also not standard; “y’all” in Clora’s mouth becomes “you’ll,” a decidedly unsouthern spelling and pronunciation. Dialogue, however, is limited. The longest exchanges are between Always and Tim on their wedding night and between Always and Doak, Jr., in her hut.
Clora, while still alive, seems to suggest that her fate of suicide is inevitable. What she fails to consider is that her children would survive her to continue their suffering. Clora’s spirit, then, is bound to earth so that she can “live” through Always. Unable to impart to her...
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