Themes and Meanings
Maud Martha is a celebration of black womanhood. At the same time, the book examines the difficulties and trials of growing up African American and female. Such trials include both the universal problems of life and those specific to Maud Martha’s race and sex: race and color prejudice (the first from Caucasians, the second from her own people, including her family and her own husband); expectations rooted in racism and sexism; and the difficulties experienced by a sensitive, intelligent woman when there is no outlet for her abilities and talents.
The novel moves between inward-looking chapters to those that stress the outside world. For example, following the birth of Paulette, which allows Maud Martha a moment of recognition as she gazes at her daughter, Brooks describes the other people who live in the building. It had been a difficult birth, attended to by a neighbor, Mrs. Cray, whom Maud Martha had not even known before, and by her mother, who prides herself on the fact that she manages to last out the whole experience without fainting. Paul returns with the doctor only after the birth is over, when Maud Martha is already feeling “strong enough to go out and shovel coal.” The chapter serves the purpose of establishing the environment in which Paul and Maud Martha live, but it also shows, from her point of view, Maud Martha’s reactions to these people and perhaps, in a limited way, a broadening of her interest in the world outside her...
(The entire section is 464 words.)