Gorilla, My Love Summary

"Gorilla, My Love" is a short story by Toni Cade Bambara in which Hazel is upset when her uncle announces that he's getting married.

  • Hazel's beloved uncle Hunca Bubba announces that he is getting married, much to Hazel's dismay.
  • Hazel recalls an incident at a movie theater where the theater showed a different film than the one she and her brothers came to see, leading Hazel to mistrust adults.
  • Hazel reveals that she is upset about Hunca Bubba's marriage because he once jokingly promised to marry Hazel. Hazel took him seriously, and views his engagement as further proof that adults cannot be trusted.

Extended Summary

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As ‘‘Gorilla, My Love’’ opens, a first-person narrator says, ‘‘That was the year Hunca Bubba changed his name.’’ It soon becomes clear that the speaker is a young person, but not until the story is nearly over is it revealed that she is a girl, and that her name is Hazel. In the opening scene, Hazel is riding in a car with her Granddaddy Vale, her Hunca Bubba (Uncle Bubba) and her younger brother, Baby Jason. They have been on a trip South to bring pecans back home. Granddaddy Vale is driving, Hazel is navigating from the front seat and therefore is called ‘‘Scout’’ during the trip, and Hunca Bubba and Baby Jason are sitting in the back with the buckets of dusty pecans. Hunca Bubba, who has decided that it is time he started using his given name, Jefferson Winston Vale, is in love, and will not stop talking about the woman he loves. He has a photo of her, and the movie theater in the photo’s background catches Hazel’s attention because she is ‘‘a movie freak from way back.’’

This launches Hazel into a long digression, told in the past tense, that makes up most of the story— almost five of the story’s seven and a half pages. In this story-within-the-story, Hazel, Baby Jason, and their brother Big Brood go to the movies on Easter Sunday. Apparently, they go to the movies quite frequently; they know all of the theaters within walking distance of their home in northern New York City, and what each is showing. They have already seen all of the Three Stooges films. The Washington Theater on Amsterdam Avenue is advertising a film called Gorilla, My Love, and they decide to see that. They buy bags of potato chips (choosing the brand that makes the loudest noise when the bag is popped) and settle in. However, when the movie starts it is not Gorilla, My Love but King of Kings, a movie about the life of Jesus.

The children go wild, ‘‘Yellin, booin, stompin and carryin on’’ until Thunderbuns, the sternest of the theater matrons, comes to silence them. Hazel watches quietly for a while, and realizes that the Jesus portrayed in the movie is so passive that he could never hold his own in Hazel’s loud and combative family. The last straw for Hazel comes when King of Kings is over and a Bugs Bunny cartoon begins—one that they have already seen. Angrily, Hazel storms off to see the manager and get their money back. The manager treats her condescendingly, as adults sometimes do to children, and refuses to give a refund. Hazel leaves the office, taking the matches from the manager’s desk, and sets a fire in the lobby. The theater is forced to close for a week.

When Hazel’s Daddy learns what she has done, he takes off his belt to punish her. But Hazel tells her side of the story, and argues, ‘‘if you say Gorilla, My, Love, you suppose to mean it.’’ She reminds her parents that she has been raised to trust and to be trustworthy, and Daddy puts his belt back on without using it.

Hunca Bubba’s announcement about his upcoming marriage and name change seems to Hazel another example of adults being unreliable. Just as the theater did not show the movie it promised to show, Hunca Bubba has broken a promise. Hazel reminds him tearfully that when she was a very young girl he stayed with her for two days while her parents were caught in a snow storm. He told her then that she was ‘‘the cutest thing that ever walked the earth,’’ and that when she grew up he would marry her. Now he intends to marry someone else. Granddaddy and Hunca Bubba laugh, and point out that he had only been teasing, but Hazel will not be consoled. She cries and cries, knowing for certain that children ‘‘must stick together or be forever lost’’ because grown-ups cannot be trusted.

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