Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Davis’s fictions draw on history (her first novel tells the story of the segregation of a Virginia high school through the eyes of young black student who meets Martin Luther King, Jr.). That context is part of Maker of Saints as well, as it draws on two sensational trials. Most obvious, Davis draws on the 1985 death of Cuban performance artist Ana Mendieta, who fell from her apartment. Her sculptor husband was tried for the crime but was acquitted despite much circumstantial evidence. More subtly, Davis draws on the acquittal of O. J. Simpson after a nearly two-year-long trial in the early 1990’s—although in the novel, the accused killer is white and the victim is a woman of color. In both cases, the legal system, as the expression of Enlightenment science and the faith in absolutes, appears ironic, compelling a troubled culture to accept mystery and the stubborn resistance to revelation as itself a revelation. In her determination to explore rather than clarify the heart, Davis, as an African American woman, sets her complex psychological narrative squarely against the rise during the early 1990’s of so-called soul sister narratives, in which black women characters, often stuck in midlife doldrums, rediscover their identity and retap the energy of being alive through the discovery of an uncomplicated romance.