Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In permitting Dorine Davis herself to tell the story of her own life, Rosa Guy has created a compelling fictional voice, revelatory of stubborn pride and indomitable energy. Dorine pursues her goals of acquiring money and the things that money can buy. Her material needs, however, are counterbalanced by her obligation to her family in Alabama; “bad luck dogs a feller who turns his back on family,” she asserts. These are the two competing inclinations of her character: the urge to keep moving and the longing to make a home, the impetus to personal freedom and the recognition of family and maternal responsibilities.

Dorine’s options for earning the money to finance her personal lifestyle and still send funds home to her siblings are limited. In her time, she is told, a black woman has only three ways to make money: clean house, become a prostitute, or steal. Dorine tries all three. As the title indicates, her choices are a “measure” of her time.

In essence, the novel is a measurement of Dorine’s personal progress through four decades. She is left largely untouched by the political and social forces affecting the larger black population, whom she divides into two categories: the poor and the “sporting,” or criminal, class. Dorine allies herself firmly with the latter.

At times, however, the greater world intrudes. When she first arrives in New York, for example, the followers of Marcus Garvey shock her into an uneasy recognition of her African roots; the flight of Charles Lindbergh points out how white people, not burdened by the pressing, daily need to secure subsistence, have the luxury of going after personal glory. “Education comes in drips and drops to a feller who never went to school,” Dorine tells readers.

Even though the narrative is full of references to influential historical figures, Dorine’s education takes place on an individual level. Illiterate until her life...

(The entire section is 794 words.)