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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 655

Mama presents the social, communal, psychological, and individual story of Mildred Peacock and her struggles to achieve a satisfying life for herself and her children. Mildred is a resident of Point Haven, Michigan, an industrial town about ninety miles from Detroit. The novel details Mildred’s financial, romantic, and parental problems as she rears five children to adulthood. Though titled Mama, the novel is more concerned with showing one woman trying to be the best mother she can be while also trying to be the best person she can be. The opposition of these roles (mother and individual) fuels much of the tension, conflict, humor, and character development that make Mama such a success.

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Set when the Civil Rights, Black Power, student protest, anti-Vietnam War, and feminist movements made their most significant cultural gains, Mama positions its protagonist’s struggle within the larger context of a rapidly changing America. Everybody is a little off balance. The setting emphasizes the turbulence and chaos that mark Mildred’s life.

Mildred’s children are relatively young during the beginning of the novel, and this period is dominated by Mildred’s finding ways to keep a roof over their heads, put food on the table, and keep utilities from being disconnected. Being sole breadwinner is difficult. She works at various times during the 1960’s as a waitress, domestic, unskilled laborer, and, with reluctance, briefly as a prostitute. Eventually, she goes on welfare. Motherhood consumes much energy, and Mildred needs diversions; although Mildred is a mother, McMillan insists that she is also an individual, an individual who needs sexual expression and romantic love. Mildred has several sexual affairs. She even marries two more times, but her heart is never quite with the men she marries, so she divorces them.

The 1970’s find Mildred living in Los Angeles, where she is able, because of a new government program, to buy a house in the San Fernando Valley. Her daughters continue to do well in school and in their personal lives. Her son Money still uses drugs and returns to Point Haven, where he is arrested and is in and out of jail for a few years. Mildred likes her house with its pool, but she is largely unhappy, continues to drink too much, and has relationships with men that are only temporarily fulfilling. Her financial troubles—the mortgage, the utilities, money for her daughter’s wedding—continue to plague her, and, in a remarkable sense, she is no better...

(The entire section contains 655 words.)

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