Gorilla, My Love Analysis

  • "Gorilla, My Love" is the title story in a collection written by Toni Cade Bambara, an African American writer and professor who was active in the Black Arts movement of the 1960s. Bambara was also interested in feminism and wrote many of her short stories from the point of view of a sassy black girl named Hazel.
  • "Gorilla, My Love" is notable for its use of dialect. Bambara used the rhythm and the colloquialisms of the African American dialect to develop the narrative voice, which is at once sassy, familiar, and sharp.
  • Respect is an important theme in the short story. In Hazel's mind, adults who lie to children are merely using their age as an excuse to be disrespectful to kids. Hazel feels wronged by the adults in the story, who consistently lie to her and tease her "and don't even say they sorry." 

Analysis

Gorilla, My Love is a collection of fifteen short stories told in the first person by female narrators who show the daily lives of ordinary people living in the black neighborhoods of Brooklyn, Harlem, and other sections of New York City, as well as parts of the rural South. As Toni Cade Bambara celebrates the life in these communities, she captures the culture, the traditions, and the unique speech patterns of the people who make up these neighborhoods.

The first story, “My Man Bovanne,” deals with the generation gap that exists between Hazel, the older female narrator, and her children, who have become involved in the Black Power movement. In casting off their slave names for African names, the young people seem to be rejecting the values of the older people in their community. As Miss Hazel dances with Bovanne, the old blind man in the neighborhood, her children express their disapproval of their mother’s actions and style of dress. For Miss Hazel, Bovanne, who used to fix skates for the children in the neighborhood, represents a familiar presence in a changing world.

Disillusionment as a part of growing up is the theme of three stories. In “Gorilla, My Love,” Hazel, the young female narrator, must face the pain of realizing that her uncle—who jokingly promised to marry her when she grew up— is preparing to marry someone else. The story begins when Hazel and her friends are disgusted after they pay for tickets to see a film that the marquee advertised as Gorilla, My Love, only to be shown King of Kings, an old motion picture about Jesus. The story deals with the children’s sense of betrayal when grown-ups do not keep their word. For Hazel, her uncle’s betrayal is much more painful to accept than the false advertising of the film.

Another type of disillusionment takes place in the frequently anthologized story “The Lesson.” The narrator is Sylvia, a tough, sassy, bright young girl whose class takes a field trip to F. A. O. Schwartz, an upscale toy store. Bambara...

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Context

Toni Cade Bambara is a New Yorker who grew up in Harlem. She added “Bambara” to her name after she saw the word written on her grandmother’s notebook in an old trunk. According to Webster’s Tenth New Collegiate Dictionary, the word “Bambara” means “a member of an African people of the upper Niger” or “a Mande language of the Bambara people.”

Bambara draws her material from the people living in black communities. In her commitment to portray strong female characters, she employs female narrators to tell stories that show women in a positive light. She says that she is “about the empowerment and development of our sisters and our community.” Bambara’s characters are young, hip, tough, humorous black women, much like the characters that Terry McMillan creates in her novel Mama (1987). When asked about the differences between African American male and female writers, Bambara says, “brothers generally set things out of doors, on open terrain, that is, male turf.” Bambara’s female characters, however, such as Hazel in “Raymond’s Run,” are out on the street. She creates strong female characters of different ages. The young girls are often spunky and outspoken, tough, sassy, and bright.

Bambara provides a realistic view of the world of African American communities in stories she calls “on-the-block, in-the-neighborhood, back-glance pieces.” She is a novelist, short-story writer, editor, playwright, and lecturer. She won the American Book Award for her novel The Salt Eaters and the Best Documentary of 1986 Award from the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters for The Bombing of Osage.

Style and Technique

Bambara employs several techniques to portray Hazel’s neighborhood realistically. By using the names of real New York theaters and streets, such as the RKO Hamilton and Amsterdam Avenue, she creates a realistic setting. Adding to the realism, she captures the unique speech patterns of the people who make up this neighborhood. Her characters speak in the rich black dialect of the street with all its vitality and humor. It is their powerful speech patterns that make Bambara’s characters come to life in expressions such as “If you scary like me” and “they dusty sometime.” She uses “ax” for “ask” and uses verb forms that are formally incorrect, such as “it do get me in trouble.” When Hazel says that the film is “not about no gorilla,” the double negative sounds typical of a child’s language. Hazel’s speech contains such slang expressions as “give her some lip” and “no lie.” She describes the matron in the theater as getting “too salty.”

The imagery that Hazel employs is fresh and believable as the expressions of a child. Hazel describes her uncle’s looking at her “real strange . . . like he lost in some weird town in the middle of night and lookin for directions and there’s no one to ask.” At one moment in his past, Hunca Bubba adopted an African name, which to Hazel sounded “very geographical weatherlike . . . like somethin you’d find in a almanac.” The pecans in the truck make a rattling noise...

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Historical Context

Neo-Black Arts Movement
Bambara is often associated with the Neo- Black Arts Movement (also called simply the Black Arts...

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Literary Style

Frame Structure
The structure of ‘‘Gorilla, My Love’’ is called a ‘‘frame’’ structure, because the story of...

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Compare and Contrast

1970: Movies are primarily watched in large movie theaters, which change their offerings frequently. Still, there is relatively little...

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Topics for Further Study

What is the role of race in ‘‘Gorilla, My Love?’’ How would Hazel’s story be different if she were set in another place, another...

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Media Adaptations

‘‘Gorilla, My Love’’ was recorded by Listening Library and is available on at least two Listening Library short story collections....

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What Do I Read Next?

In ‘‘The Lesson,’’ another story from the collection Gorilla, My Love, a community worker from Harlem gives the children in...

(The entire section is 193 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

Sources
Bambara, Toni Cade, ‘‘Gorilla, My Love,’’ in Gorilla, My Love, Vintage, 1992, pp. 13–20.

———, ‘‘How She Came by Her Name: An Interview with Louis Massiah,’’ in Deep Sightings and Rescue Missions: Fiction, Essays, and Conversations, edited by Toni Morrison, Pantheon, 1996, pp. 201–45.

———, ‘‘Salvation Is the Issue,’’ in Black Women Writers (1950–1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans, Anchor Books, 1984, pp. 41–47.

———, ‘‘A Sort of Preface,’’ in Gorilla, My Love, Vintage, 1992.

———, ‘‘What It Is I Think I’m Doing Anyhow,’’ in The Writer on Her...

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Bibliography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Bambara, Toni Cade. “Salvation Is the Issue.” In Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press/Doubleday, 1984. In this essay, Bambara discusses her experiences as a writer and states her preference for the short story as a genre. The elements of her own work that she deems most important are laughter, the use of language, a sense of community, and celebration.

Burks, Ruth Elizabeth. “From Baptism to Resurrection: Toni Cade Bambara and the Incongruity of Language.” In Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City,...

(The entire section is 430 words.)