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Questions and Answers: Prologue and Part I, pp. 3-66

(Novels for Students)

Questions
1. What is unique about the geography and history of Willow Springs, and how is this important to its residents?

2. What is Mama Day's significance to the community of Willow Springs?

3. What role is Cocoa expected to fulfill in her family, and what are the potential implications of failing in that role?

4. What difficulties are faced by Cocoa in New York, and what is the significance of those obstacles for African-American women during this time period?

5. What are the primary similarities and differences between George and Cocoa, and how are they important to the development of the plot in this section?

Answers
1. Willow Springs is an independent island, separate from the United States. This status is the result of its unique history. It neither appeared on early maps of the region nor belonged to an American citizen. Its separation from the mainland has been maintained by an unwillingness of its residents to surrender their control or cultural autonomy. The island is a symbol of freedom for its residents, many of whom are direct descendants of former slaves.

2. Mama Day is the matriarch of Willow Springs. She is the great-granddaughter of Sapphira Wade, the slave woman who obtained both the island and freedom from her master. Yet Mama Day’s role on the island is much more than symbolic. She leads the islanders' attempt to preserve their cultural pride and heritage, and she dispenses advice and healing to her neighbors.

3. Cocoa is expected to continue the traditions important to life on Willow Springs by bearing children who will become as dedicated to the unique history and culture there as the Day matriarchs.

4. Although Cocoa is armed with education and experience, she struggles to find a new job in New York City. She suspects that an invisible system of racism disqualifies her for many of the positions advertised in the daily papers. Her struggles suggest that even a city like New York poses many obstacles for young, black women attempting to not only support themselves but also to advance their careers.

5. George and Cocoa both are both self-confident; they are assured of themselves, their backgrounds and beliefs. Yet this similarity in their respective characters promises much conflict for them that will ultimately highlight their differences: George’s practicality and Cocoa’s sensitivity.