Style and Technique
Perhaps the single most interesting thing about “My Man Bovanne” is the way in which it is told. Hazel is the narrator of her own story, and Bambara creates a narrator who tells her story as if the reader were sitting on her stoop in New York, taking in every colorful word. Hazel speaks black English, in a highly colloquial, freewheeling style that might be characterized as ghetto stream of consciousness, particularly in the opening paragraphs. She also makes extensive use of metaphor and simile, as when she describes her dance with Bovanne: “chest to chest, like talking”; the way her son Task approaches her, “Like he the third grade monitor and I’m cuttin up on the line to assembly”; or the way her children manhandle her, “hustlin me into some stranger’s kitchen . . . just like the damn police.”
Hazel renders all accounts with tenacious honesty. She reveals the dialogue word for word, keeps back no vulgarity, seems always totally frank. It is precisely her honesty and her street poetry that make the reader side with her completely. Although it is possible to see the children’s point of view and even to share their embarrassment over their mother’s behavior to some extent, overall they are indicted by their own behavior, their disregard for their mother’s feelings and wishes. The reader knows only Hazel, only she is speaking directly to the reader and being honest with him. Bambara’s story would be radically different if anyone but Hazel narrated it. Hazel’s point of view makes the story by engaging the reader in the particular problems and perspectives of an individual, real human being, instead of a theory or an idea. This technique works especially well in a story about children who cannot see the individual for the masses.