Sensitive, intelligent, and discerning, Maud Martha Brown is a member of a solid family, but she competes with her sister Helen, who is prettier and more attractive than Maud, according to the standards of their family and of society. Maud is African American, and in Chicago she discovers the complexities and cruelties of racism in not only her relationships with whites but also her connections with other blacks.
Maud has dark skin, and African Americans who are lighter-skinned receive preferential treatment from others, even though Maud’s loyalty and intelligence deserve recognition as well. Maud’s central philosophy is that the common and ordinary features of daily life are beautiful, too, and should be cherished. The dandelion, for example, is common and simple, but it is also radiant and beautiful.
For the young and observant Maud, death and the responses of people to illness and death are impressive. Maud and her siblings visit their grandmother, Ernestine Brown, in the hospital, and to Maud, Grandmother Brown, whose bed is equipped with sideboards to prevent her from falling out of bed, seems to be lying in a coffin. People who visit her ask foolish and predictable questions, and she can only gasp in response. The children return home. Their father receives a phone call, informing him of grandmother’s death.
Later, Maud’s uncle Tim dies, leading Maud to recall his daily personal habits and some memorable moments. Seeing her uncle in the coffin, Maud vainly thinks of her own death and how she wants to be laid in her coffin to reveal her most favorable profile. This silly vanity is counterbalanced by Maud’s observation that life is like a book in the hands of Jesus, but before death, people fail to see that the answers to life’s questions are all listed at the back of the book.
As Maud matures, courtship becomes an important part of her life. Her first boyfriend, Russell, is attractive but insubstantial. David McKemster, her second boyfriend, is dedicated to the styles of the university. Though he is from a modest home and does menial jobs to make his way, he longs for refinement, education, and tasteful possessions.
Maud’s third boyfriend is Paul Phillips. She is thoroughly attracted to him and aims to marry him, but she has some doubts about his full attraction to her—perhaps he would prefer a woman of lighter complexion. Their courtship becomes serious, and they make plans for an apartment and decide on furnishings. Though both would like to have a fine apartment, their limited resources permit them to get only a kitchenette apartment, one with roaches, thin walls that allow the sounds of neighbors to be heard, and prevailing odors of sweat and the result of bodily functions. Despite these shortcomings, the apartment becomes their home.
Like all young couples, Maud and Paul have their moments of pleasure and frustration. One night, they go to the World Playhouse and enjoy a film, feeling conspicuous as the only African Americans in the theater. Paul later accepts an invitation from the Foxy Cats Club to attend a ball, and Paul and Maud attend in high dress. Maud enjoys the gala event, but when Paul dances with another woman, Maud becomes decidedly jealous.
Despite these difficulties, Paul and Maud conceive a child, and Maud gives birth in the apartment. Paul frantically tries to get a...
(The entire section is 1386 words.)