Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 485

A principal theme of this story centers on an exchange between Hazel and her daughter, Elo. After Elo has referred to Bovanne as “that tom” and expressed her distaste for his lack of sunglasses, which forces everyone to “look into them blown out fuses,” Hazel interrupts her with the question: “Is this what they call the generation gap?” Elo “spits” her reply angrily: “That’s a white concept for a white phenomenon. There’s no generation gap among Black people.”

The events of the story prove that Elo could not be more wrong. The irony of the story is that Hazel’s children, and presumably most of the other people of their generation at the party, ostensibly want to adapt an Africa-based system, in which much respect and attention is paid to a “council of elders.” However, while they admire the notion conceptually and theoretically, in practice they are shamefully deficient because of their insensitivity and lack of a genuine respect for either Bovanne or Hazel. In fact, they are nothing short of abusive in their behavior and are disrespectful and condescending in their attitudes. Their treatment of the elders, particularly their desire to get on the Reverend Trent’s good side merely to use his basement, constitutes an attempt to exploit the very people whom they are supposed to be helping.

The black generation gap is further underscored by the fact that the very things for which the children used to condemn their mother, such as corn-row braids or colorful clothes, are now what they praise her for. Bovanne, who all the neighborhood children used to like because he would fix their skates or bicycles, they now condemn as a “tom,” blaming him for how he has been forced to eke out an existence instead of admiring him for having been able to survive, not only as a black man but also as a blind black man.

Although readers may debate over just how sexual Hazel’s initial motivations were for dancing with Bovanne, and although readers may continue that debate over her motivations for finally taking Bovanne home with her, it is certain that Hazel is the only character who has really shown Bovanne a measure of attention or respect. Perhaps the final irony of the story is that Hazel and Bovanne have found a kind of intuitive, natural togetherness, while her children have condemned her in a very Puritanical, “white” mode.

Certainly Bambara was not condemning the Black Power movement as a whole; she was merely pointing out how easy it would be for people to get so caught up in a cause as to forget the purpose of genuine goals of that cause. Bambara’s story has a universal message about the need for genuine respect and understanding among people. Her story shows that a cause that ignores or downgrades the individual can never really be right, no matter how righteous.

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