Like One of the Family is dominated by the character of Mildred Johnson, not just because she is the only person whose thoughts are presented firsthand but, more important, because of the quality of her mind. It is this which produces the suspense in a book that has no real plot; one is drawn from paragraph to paragraph, page to page, simply to find out what Mildred will say next. For example, in one of the few chapters set outside of the apartment building, “Ridin’ the Bus,” Mildred surprises Marge by insisting on riding in the back of the bus, as African Americans had so often been forced to do. In the observations that follow, Mildred produces a brilliant discussion of freedom as the principle that enables both African Americans and whites to ride where they like. She then gives a definition of an ideal society as one in which people not only sit where they like but also choose their seats without even noticing the race of others. In every chapter, there are similar illustrations of Mildred’s intellectual abilities, her skill in analyzing and synthesizing, her genius at seeing the profound implications of the simplest action.
Mildred’s friend Marge is also essential to the novel. It is Marge, the accepting and trustworthy listener, who permits Mildred to speak with perfect freedom, whether she is indulging in fantasy, such as her dream of a Christmas of real peace, or exploring controversial subjects, such as the idea of a union for...
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