(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Strength of character in the face of disappointment and disillusionment is the motivating force of Jones’s stories. Typical of Jones’s proud and capable characters is the young mother in “The First Day,” a brief, lyrical piece about a woman taking her daughter to her first day of school. The story is told in the first person by the child, who is learning things about her mother. For example, she finds that the higher up on the scale of respectability someone is, the less her mother will let them push her around.

Contrast in character is the focus of two stories: In “Young Lions,” the thug Caesar Matthews seems to have no redeeming qualities. In “The Store,” the twenty-year-old nameless narrator becomes an independent man by befriending his boss and taking over for her when she has a tragic accident.

The strongest character in Jones’s collection is the eighty-six-year-old Marie Delaveaux, living alone on Social Security. When she is condescended to and ignored by a young employee at the Social Security office, she slaps the girl. Two weeks later, a young university student interviews Marie for an oral history project. When he sends her copies of the tapes, she plays them once then puts them away, saying she will never listen to them again, even though they recount a history of hardship and courage.