The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Mama Day is a novel about women, about a historical sisterhood that spans generations. The novel begins with Sapphira’s bill of sale from 1819 and with Miranda’s various versions of the legend that establishes Sapphira as the first conjure woman. The title of the novel suggests that its protagonist is Mama (Miranda) Day, a literal descendant of Sapphira and her spiritual reincarnation, but Ophelia, Miranda’s successor, is the real protagonist of the novel. All three women are related through legend (Ophelia’s story itself assumes legendary status), dreams, roles, and appearance. Early in the novel, Miranda sees the likeness between Ophelia and Sapphira and notes that Ophelia “brings back the great, grand Mother.”

Ophelia reveals herself through her narrations to George as a bright young woman who has left Willow Springs for Atlanta and New York but remains “at home” in Willow Springs. She retains her hometown values and beliefs (for example, that the way a man chews his food indicates the kind of lover he will be), but she is ambivalent about superstition and magic—she does not accept the potency of Miranda’s powder on the letter she mails to George, for example. From Miranda’s perspective, however, Ophelia is Sapphira’s spiritual descendant, a woman who, unlike George, will ultimately believe in the efficacy of Ruby’s spell.

Although Ophelia is an adult in New York, she continues to be called “Baby Girl” and, later, “Cocoa.” It is not until she has matured and is ready to listen that...

(The entire section is 634 words.)

The Characters

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Ophelia (Cocoa) Day, the protagonist of the novel, is the most interesting character in the book. She grows from an immature young woman into a person with exceptional personal insight. By the end of the story, she has learned not only about human nature but also about her family and herself. Her role in the novel suggests that of an “everywoman,” a character intended to stand as a microcosm for the female African American experience. Although Naylor has argued that her fiction is not didactic, it is hard not to see a moral in the lesson that Cocoa learns.

George Johnson, the most important male figure in the novel, is a well-developed character. Readers are able to see all facets of him, his flaws as well as his virtues. It is easy, however, to sympathize with him throughout the novel, because a reader learns about Willow Springs and the Day family just as he does.

Miranda (Mama) Day, who made a cameo appearance in Naylor’s second novel, Linden Hills (1985), is a marvelous creation. She can be profane and funny as she talks about sex, or sad and introspective as she reflects on her family’s many tragedies. With Mama Day, Naylor has created a character who has a life outside the novel. She comes alive and remains with readers long after the book’s covers have been shut.

Ruby, the only truly evil person in the novel, is little more than a stereotype of an African American witch. She acts in predictable ways, and her character is not developed because it does not need to be.

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Miranda (Mama) Day

Miranda (Mama) Day, the elderly matriarch of the Day clan and unofficial ruler of Willow Springs. Linked to Sapphira Wade, her ancestor, in terms of possessing intuition, herbal knowledge, and magic, she is a conjure woman with the power to destroy and to heal. As midwife and healer, she has medicinal powers superior to those of medical doctors.

Abigail Day

Abigail Day, Miranda’s sister and soulmate, grandmother to Ophelia. Abigail and Miranda know each other’s minds and write joint letters to Ophelia.

Ophelia (Cocoa) Day

Ophelia (Cocoa) Day, who, despite the title of the novel, is the protagonist and one of the narrators in the novel. She is Miranda’s spiritual descendant as Miranda is Sapphira’s. She leaves Willow Springs to make her fortune in New York City, where she meets and marries George Andrews. She returns to Willow Springs for two weeks every August. The novel primarily concerns the events that occur when she brings George home one summer.

George Andrews

George Andrews, a successful engineer with heart trouble. When Ophelia is sick, he is the means by which she is saved, though he loses his life in the process. Although he is dead, he is the other narrator in the novel, and his love not only saves his wife but also enables him to communicate with her.

Sapphira Wade

Sapphira Wade, an...

(The entire section is 503 words.)