Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 530
Plum Bun is a complex novel with multiple themes, the most obvious of which is the injustice of race prejudice. The author also explores questions of social and gender inequality, and the general issue of what "happiness" is and what price is worth paying to achieve it, or if it...
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Plum Bun is a complex novel with multiple themes, the most obvious of which is the injustice of race prejudice. The author also explores questions of social and gender inequality, and the general issue of what "happiness" is and what price is worth paying to achieve it, or if it can be achieved at all. Angela, the African American woman who "passes" as white in the story, finds herself in emotional turmoil, understandably, when her wealthy boyfriend Roger suggests that he set her up in an apartment as a kind of back-street mistress because he doesn't wish to marry her. But this has nothing to do with race, because, although Roger himself is a racist, he has not the slightest suspicion that Angela is anything but white. Though she does not really love Roger, her stunned reaction is quotable:
She pushed him away from her; her jaw fallen slack but her figure taut. Yet under her stunned bewilderment her mind was racing. So this was her castle, her fortress of protection, her refuge.
Angela has previously made the decision that the key to her happiness is to sever her connection to her family and her background. She has explained this to her sister with the following words:
Now be practical, Jinny; after all I am both white and Negro and look white. Why shouldn't I declare for the one that will bring me the greatest happiness, prosperity and respect?
But the lesson learned, in both Angela's relationship to Roger and in other matters as she leads her independent life in New York, is that passing does not grant happiness to her. The question of sexual morality looms large in the novel. Though it takes place in the 1920s, when attitudes were already becoming much more liberal, Angela is haunted by her betrayal of the values imbibed from her mother as she is having an affair with Roger:
Loneliness settled over her like a pall, frightening her seriously because she was realizing that this time she was not missing Roger so much as that a person for whom she had let slip the ideals engendered by her mother's early teaching, a man for whom she had betrayed and estranged her sister, was passing out of her ken.
At the same time a twist of circumstances has led to her losing to her sister (fortunately not permanently) another man, Anthony, whom she realizes she loves. None of this would have happened had Angela not been forced to deny her sister publicly, because of the racial issue. Though Plum Bun is subtitled "a novel without a moral," the moral clearly is that Angela's denial of her background is tantamount to a denial of the strengths and the values of African American people. Not long before Angela decides to end her "deception" and acknowledge her race, she makes an observation about a woman she has just met, and about African Americans in general:
She was a frail woman, daintily dressed and shod. Her voice was soft and drawling. But Angela saw her sharply as the epitome of the iron and blood in a race which did not know how to let go of life.