Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Plum Bun is divided into five sections that recount the physical and psychological journeys that Angela Murray takes as she attempts to reconcile her racial identity as an African American with her personal identification as a woman. Racial discrimination and gender bias make this sort of reconciliation difficult. Angela wants to enjoy the material possessions and the social influence that money can buy. Believing that life as a black person will deny her this happiness, Angela tries to free herself from the limitations that being black forces upon her.

As a girl growing up, Angela spent Saturday afternoons with her mother, frequenting stores and restaurants where black people were not welcome. They were so light-skinned that they could “pass” for white. This apparently harmless activity gave them the opportunity to amuse themselves and see how the other half lived. One Saturday while Angela and her mother were on one of their outings, they encountered Virginia and Mr. Murray, Angela’s dark-skinned sister and father, who usually spent their Saturday afternoons together. The two couples passed each other without acknowledging the other’s presence. This public denial of familial connections repeats itself when Angela does not acknowledge her sister publicly after they move to New York.

Ironically, although she aspires to be an accomplished artist, Angela cannot comprehend the advantage of being a colored woman. She does not realize that “colour may really be a very beautiful thing.” After moving to Greenwich Village and enrolling in an art class as Angèle Mory, Angela ignores her African American blood ties and re-creates herself simply as a young woman who is developing her artistic talent. She meets people who she thinks are...

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(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Plum Bun is part of a feminist literary tradition that reached back to Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) and “The Storm” (wr. 1898, pub. 1969). Chopin’s novel and short story treat the issue of a woman’s sexuality that does not mirror accepted social notions of how a woman should conduct herself. As is Plum Bun, The Awakening is concerned with a young woman’s artistic urgings for self-re-creation. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) treats the conflicts between communal and personal interpretations of a woman’s status and behavior relative to marriage. The institution encourages women to maintain a standard of beauty and decorum that often does not satisfy their needs and expectations. Along with class and gender issues, black women must think about race as they attempt to define their place in society. Nella Larsen’s Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929) also treat these three issues. Written during the Harlem Renaissance, Plum Bun is also characterized by sentimental situations that underscore the dual artistic concerns of black female authors who want to depict the realism of their experiences without offending the aesthetic sensibilities of a mainstream readership.


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Allen, Carol. Black Women Intellectuals: Strategies of Nation, Family, and Neighborhood in the Works of Pauline Hopkins, Jessie Fauset, and Maria Bonner. New York: Garland, 1998. Allen devotes a chapter to Fauset and details the theme of family, home and creativity in Fauset’s works.

Ammons, Elizabeth. “New Literary History: Edith Wharton and Jessie Redmon Fauset.” College Literature 14 (Fall, 1987): 207-218. Despite comparisons between Edith Wharton and Jessie Fauset, Ammons contends that Fauset’s writing makes sharp distinctions between white female issues and black female issues.

Berzon, Judith R. Neither White nor Black: The Mulatto Character in American Fiction. New York: New York University Press, 1978. A study of the historical, sociological, and scientific backgrounds of American novels about the problems of mulattos, with frequent references to the works of Fauset. Berzon analyzes the “crisis experience” common to many of these novels and the modes of adjustment to the experience.

Christian, Barbara. Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition, 1892-1976. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. This historical study emphasizes the common themes in novels by black women writers, beginning with Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s Iola LeRoy: Or, Shadows Uplifted (1892). Fauset’s works are evaluated in relation to those of other black women novelists.

Draper, James P., ed. Black Literature Criticism. 3 vols. Detroit: Gale Research, 1992. Includes an extensive biographical profile of Fauset and excerpts from criticism on her works.

Ducille, Ann. “Blues Notes on Black Sexuality: Sex and the Texts of Jessie Fauset and Nella Larsen.” Journal of the History of Black...

(The entire section is 788 words.)