Praisesong for the Widow

by Paule Marshall

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In Praisesong for the Widow, how is Lebert Joseph important to Avey Johnson?

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As Avey Johnson tries to figure out what her life will be like after her husband passes away, she takes an actual trip that will become a spiritual voyage. As the years pass after his death, she is increasingly drawn to the tales of Africa heard in her youth in South Carolina. During a visit to Grenada, she reconnects with the African heritage that had escaped from her middle-class American life. The idea of walking or flying above the ocean to Africa is given material form through the dances and rituals she experiences there.

Lebert Joseph is significant as a foil for her late husband, Jerome; the two men are presented as worlds apart both physically and temperamentally. Lebert lives on Grenada and runs a bar, while Jerome had been a dependable but materialistic accountant in the United States. Lebert does not become a social or romantic partner to Avey, as she had experienced within marriage, but connects with her on a different level.

The two male characters are also similar in being rendered as flat so that they function more like symbols than individual humans. This impression is accentuated by the author’s presenting Lebert’s qualities as mystical, perhaps divinely inspired. Lebert can guide Avey, who returns as Avatara, because of his ability to transcend age and gender.

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