Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Mildred Peacock

Mildred Peacock, a black mother of five. Mildred struggles to rear her children during the turbulent 1960’s and 1970’s. She has a great capacity for living, and many of her actions reveal her unflinching desire to help her children live as fully as possible. In addition, Mildred wants to love and be loved. After becoming pregnant when she is seventeen, she marries her child’s father, Crook Peacock, who brings little love to her life; she has four more children by him, and he abuses her physically and emotionally. Mildred takes his abuse for ten years before she divorces him. As a single mother and a high school dropout, Mildred does whatever she can to pay her rent and utilities and put food on the table for her children. She works on an assembly line before she is laid off, and she even works briefly as a prostitute to keep her children from starving. Mildred even swallows her pride and applies for and receives government aid. For Mildred, rearing children is not everything. She tries to find love in the arms of a number of men, eventually marrying two more times. Life in Point Haven, Michigan, is difficult as Mildred struggles to make ends meet. After her oldest daughter moves to Los Angeles, Mildred moves there too; her children’s lives continue to be important to her, and she continues to have financial problems. Mildred often drinks too much, and after the thrill of Los Angeles fades and her children are grown, she returns to Point Haven. When she realizes she is getting old and that the sort of love she wanted is not going to enter her life, she gives up drinking, comes to love her old...

(The entire section is 668 words.)

The Characters

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

McMillan ties her development and articulation of major characters in the novel to her protagonist, Mildred Peacock. Mildred’s personality, conflicts, defeats, and triumphs influence her children and Curly Mae and announce as well as advance the novel’s most significant themes and issues. In this regard, McMillan treats character development as an outgrowth of Mildred’s pervasive presence in the novel.

As a mother, Mildred is both conventional and a rebel. Her conventional mothering is seen in her struggles to provide the necessities for her children. Mildred provides for her children in conventional ways when she is married to Crook. Though her husband is abusive and has extramarital relationships, Mildred is usually home making sure that her children eat well, are clothed properly, and do their homework. Although Mildred drinks and goes out to nightclubs, she is usually available to her children.

When, however, Mildred divorces Crook, she begins to provide for her children in less conventional ways. She works inside the system at first. She works at an automobile factory until she is laid off, works as a waitress, and, for a brief period, works as a prostitute. She even, with reluctance, goes on welfare.

In Mildred’s struggle to keep a roof over her children’s heads and to find some space for herself, McMillan shows Mildred’s willingness to make even more daring choices, such as taking in male boarders who have risky or unknown pasts or marrying men she does not love to have financial security. Mildred often rationalizes that, since she has little access to power or even a decent job, it is acceptable for her to operate outside the system to secure her children’s comforts.

McMillan makes clear that being poor and a single mother is difficult. Mildred often escapes her financial struggle...

(The entire section is 755 words.)