Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 10, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 348

‘‘Gorilla, My Love,’’ the title story of Bambara’s first short story collection, has been universally singled out for praise since the volume, which has never been out of print, was published in 1972. Critics have appreciated Bambara’s ear for the urban African American speech of her female protagonist/ narrators—a voice...

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‘‘Gorilla, My Love,’’ the title story of Bambara’s first short story collection, has been universally singled out for praise since the volume, which has never been out of print, was published in 1972. Critics have appreciated Bambara’s ear for the urban African American speech of her female protagonist/ narrators—a voice that only infrequently had been captured so accurately. Nancy Hargrove, in an essay in The Southern Quarterly, writes that ‘‘one is immediately struck by . . . her faithful reproduction of black dialect. Her first-person narrators speak conversationally and authentically.’’ A decade later, Ruth Elizabeth Burks explored the author’s language in an essay called ‘‘From Baptism to Resurrection: Toni Cade Bambara and the Incongruity of Language.’’ She heard Bambara’s protagonists speaking in a ‘‘narrative voice reminiscent of the Negro spirituals with their strongly marked rhythms and highly graphic descriptions. Standard English is not so much put aside as displaced by constant repetition.’’ For Burks, Bambara succeeds in ‘‘perpetuat[ing] the struggle of her people by literally recording it in their voices.’’ In 1992, Klaus Ensslen described the author’s ear for language as ‘‘an easy mastership with the fully embodied vernacular voice.’’

Critics have also admired Bambara’s ability to portray authentically the feelings of the preadolescent Hazel. C. D. B. Bryan, in the New York Times Book Review, observed that writing about children is difficult, but that Bambara manages to avoid ‘‘sentimentality and cuteness.’’ In 1972, a short unsigned review of the collection in the Saturday Review called the stories ‘‘among the best portraits of black life to have appeared in some time,’’ and said of Bambara’s stories about children that they ‘‘manage to incorporate the virtues of such stories—zest and charm—yet avoid most of the sentimental pratfalls.’’ Hargrove noted the author’s ‘‘ability to portray with sensitivity and compassion the experiences of children from their point of view.’’ Several readers have observed that there are many stories about young men—especially young white men—coming of age, but that in the early 1970s stories by women writers about young women growing up were rare.

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