Gorilla, My Love Summary
Hazel is upset when her uncle, Hunca Bubba, announces that he's getting married and changing his name back to Jefferson Winston Vale. Hazel is sitting in the passenger's seat of Granddaddy Vale's car at the time, and she foregoes her duties as navigator to look at a picture of Hunca Bubba's bride. She's unimpressed.
- The movie theatre in the background of the picture reminds Hazel of a time she went to the movies with Big Brood and Baby Jason. Hazel liked arguing with the theatre matrons and causing trouble. She especially liked buying Havmore chips and popping the bags in the middle of the theatre.
- Hazel, Big Brood, and Baby Jason settle in to watch a movie called Gorilla, My Love. When the film starts rolling, however, they realize that they've been conned: the theatre is playing a film about Jesus instead. Hazel complains to the manager, but Big Brood doesn't back her up.
- Hazel reveals that the reason she's upset about Hunca Bubba's marriage is because, years ago, when she was a little girl, he promised to marry her when she was old enough. He says he was just teasin', but Hazel calls him a liar. She realizes then and there that you can't trust adults.
Hazel is a reappearing character in Bambara’s collection Gorilla, My Love, and in this title story, she is perturbed that her Hunca Bubba is getting married and changing his name back to its original Jefferson Winston Vale. The source of her dismay is delayed until the end of the story when it is revealed that Hunca Bubba had vowed to wait for Hazel to grow up in order for the two of them to marry. Whether the young girl ever took her uncle’s proposal seriously is unclear, but the deception has consequences. The sole female passenger in the company of three generations of male relatives, Hazel spends the drive time skeptically reexamining all the promises that adult males make to female children and all their specious claims, including religious ones.
She recalls an outing to a movie theater with her brothers in tow, again the lone female in a male group. In place of the thriller “Gorilla, My Love” advertised on the marquee, a film about the life of Jesus is projected onto the screen. Feeling swindled, the children scream their displeasure in the dark auditorium. Caught in the halo of the theater matron’s flashlight, they are escorted outside. Unable to recoup their money, a vengeful Hazel sets fire to the concession stand. Threatened with a beating, Hazel talks her father out of administering her punishment by proclaiming “if you say Gorilla My Love, you suppose to mean it.”
Hazel is assigned the task of guiding the men’s drive home after a day of pecan picking, but it is an adult responsibility she rejects. Positioned in the passenger seat beside her grandfather who steers, she holds the map but offers no directions. The adult males call her pet names like “Peaches” and “Scout” in an effort to get her to assist them, but she dismisses their efforts at appeasement. Instead she claims her own identity and independence by pronouncing herself “Hazel” and lets them drive where they will.
Trust is a central issue in this story about the disillusionment of youth. When lies are commonplace and deceit practiced openly, adults and their sugar-coated words cannot be trusted. Hazel’s extreme anguish at story’s end is her response to the news of her uncle’s impending marriage and to her perceived abandonment, but it indicates her greater loss of faith in men’s honor. Skeptical of their promises, she plots a new course through their world, proceeding cautiously and navigating solo.
Published in 1972, Gorilla, My Love is a collection of short stories written between 1959 and 1971. The book is an upbeat, positive work that redefines the black experience in America. It affirms the fact that inner-city children can grow into strong, healthy adults. It indicates clearly that black men are not always the weak, predatory element in the family but...
(The entire section is 1,864 words.)