Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Maud Martha is a collection of thirty-four short episodes from a young woman’s life. Beginning when she is seven years old, the loosely structured novel traces her childhood, youthful aspirations, dating, and eventual marriage and motherhood. With each chapter, Gwendolyn Brooks creates a poetic description of Maud’s interior and exterior worlds, weaving the details of her South Side Chicago neighborhood skillfully into each vignette. Maud’s youth is spent feeling second rate, thanks to her sister’s self-absorption and the obvious favoritism her parents and brother show for Helen. Weary of the competition, Maud decides that her best contribution to the world is to be a “good Maud Martha,” thereafter a characteristic she hones. She never forgets the slights, however, thinking back in adult years to the injustices she suffered as a girl. Brooks uses flashbacks to illustrate this abiding and painful memory.

The novel covers a number of years, during which Maud grows up and leaves home to make a life with Paul Phillips in their roach-infested apartment. After she is married, her days are spent reading and watching the fascinating individuals who live in her building. Eventually, she has a baby whom they name Paulette. Soon she finds herself changing diapers, making baking-powder biscuits, and ironing aprons. Longing for intellectual stimulation, she attends lectures at the university alone; occasionally, she convinces Paul to go with her to a motion picture or musical production. Life, she thinks, can be...

(The entire section is 632 words.)