(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Although it is classified as a novel, Like One of the Family does not have either the movement of plot or the change in character usually associated with that genre. Instead, Alice Childress’s work is a series of monologues, each of which is independent, even though all involve the same speaker and the same listener. This format can be explained by the fact that these monologues originally appeared separately, some of them in the newspaper Freedom, where they were called “Conversations from Life,” and others in the Baltimore Afro-American, under the heading “Here’s Mildred.” Sixty-two of the monologues were assembled for publication in book form, but there seems to have been no principle governing the order in which they were printed, other than an effort to vary the subject of discussion from one chapter to the next.

While it is not structured conventionally, Like One of the Family has its own kind of unity, achieved primarily through the use of a single voice. In each chapter, Mildred Johnson relates her experiences to Marge, her downstairs neighbor in a Harlem apartment building. Almost all these conversations take place either in Mildred’s three-room apartment or in Marge’s. Whatever the location, the pattern is almost always the same. One of the women stops in at the end of the workday or in the evening, and the two sit down, usually in the kitchen, make a pot of coffee, and visit.

In the chapter “All About My Job,” Mildred explains why this friendship is so important to her. She...

(The entire section is 640 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Austin, Gayle. “Alice Childress: Black Woman Playwright as Feminist Critic.” Southern Quarterly 25 (Spring, 1987): 52-62. Sees elements of feminist criticism in Childress’ dramatic work—for example, in her refusal to accept traditional polarities, her insistence on the need for social justice, and her refutation of the stereotypical images of black women in literature written by men.

Childress, Alice. “Alice Childress: A Pioneering Spirit.” Interview by Elizabeth Brown-Guillory. SAGE: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women 4 (Spring, 1987): 66-68. Childress discusses the childhood influences that directed her toward a literary career, particularly those of her grandmother and one of her teachers. Also traces her theatrical career.

Childress, Alice. “Knowing the Human Condition.” In Black American Literature and Humanism, edited by R. Baxter Miller. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1981. A paper delivered by Childress at a 1978 conference. Argues that much criticism of film, drama, and fiction is deficient because the critics themselves do not understand “the human condition.” For African American writers, Childress argues, this problem is particularly troubling, since white critics typically look not for realism but for what they consider appropriate images.

Gibbs, Sandra E. “Black...

(The entire section is 545 words.)