What is the significance of the year 1823 in Mama Day, in relation to the legend of Sapphira Wade and its influence on present-day Willow Springs' speech?

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One of the major themes of Mama Day is the importance of mythology and belief in the context of large-scale identity. Mama Day knows that without the mythological presence of Sapphira Wade, Willow Springs cannot exist in a figurative or literal sense. With this, 1823 becomes the date most associated with Willow Springs and most fundamental to its power and very existence. 1823 is the year that Willow Springs is created as a community for descendants of slaves. Apart from this, 1823 is symbolic because of the mythology that surrounds the date. Mama Day is regarded as the only person on the island with the knowledge of the true history of Willow Springs. She is considered to be a direct descendant of Sapphira Wade, and because of this belief, she is held in almost mythical status.

For the people of Willow Springs, they believe that 1823 is when Sapphira Wade either killed or seduced Bascombe Wade, thus allowing her to take the deed to the island and start a land separate from any nation. However Sapphira Wade took control of the nation; 1823 represents the freedom she gave these descendants and their continued protection. 1823 also became a synonym for deviousness and is often used by the inhabitants of the island as part of their lexicon.

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The year 1823 is significant because it marks a beginning: the advent of Willow Springs as a community of descendants of slaves from West Africa and the Caribbean. 

The year 1823 also plays a significant role in the legend of Sapphira Wade: it was the year she was rumored to have murdered Bascombe Wade, birthed seven sons, and/or facilitated the transfer of Willow Springs to Bascombe Wade's slaves. According to the legend, Bascombe Wade married Sapphira, one of his female slaves, because he was enamored with her.

There are three rumors regarding 1823:

1) It was said to be the year Sapphira smothered Bascombe Wade in his sleep and lived to tell the story for a thousand days.

2) It was said to be the year Sapphira married Bascombe Wade. Thereafter, she bore him seven sons in a thousand days, proceeded to put a dagger through his kidney, and lived to escape the hangman's noose.

3) It was said to be the year Sapphira persuaded Bascombe Wade in a thousand days to deed Willow Springs to his slaves. She then poisoned him after he did so and went on to bear seven sons by different men.

The year 1823 has also crept into popular speech in present-day Willow Springs. It is encapsulated in the expression "18 & 23." The expression is used as an euphemism for deception or subterfuge. For example, under-aged girls who "lean too long over them back yard fences, laughing at the antics of little dark boys" are said to be practicing their "18 & 23's." Meanwhile, teenage boys who pretend that they are old enough to engage in sexual escapades are said to be ""breathing 18 & 23' with mother's milk still on their tongues."

Source: Challenging Realities: Magic Realism in Contemporary American Women's Fiction by M. Ruth Noriega S├ínchez

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Willow Springs was acquired by a legendary slave woman by the name of Sapphira Wade from her white master in 1823. No one is sure of how Sapphira was able to convince her master to give her the deed, but there are many stories that allude to the possibilities that Sapphira seduced, swindled, or even killed her master to get the land.

The year 1823 is a symbol in Willow Springs used in conversation to depict suffering and joy, such as the pain of slavery, the struggle to escape slavery, and the reward of freedom. Willow Springs is not officially American, connected to the mainland only by one bridge that has to be rebuilt over and over after being destroyed by numerous storms. It's outside the borders of America because it didn't belong to an American citizen when Sapphira acquired the deed.

The present-day residents of Willow Springs owe their lifestyle to Sapphira's acquisition of the deed to the land. They are guaranteed freedom from outside influence because of the transaction. Their freedom was gained from a former slave forty years before slaves were emancipated.

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