A Revolutionary Tale Summary
by Nikki Giovanni

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A Revolutionary Tale Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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Kim, an African American woman in her early twenties, is explaining to someone that it is her roommate Bertha’s fault that she is late. Kim was politically conservative until she became friends with Bertha, a black activist. Under Bertha’s influence, Kim has grown her hair out into an Afro and has stopped getting involved with white men. This ideological decision, however, has cost her money, for she had been receiving some financial support from white men. Now that she has no income, Bertha suggests that she get a job; however, Kim decides to go on welfare instead.

When the caseworker discovers that Kim’s parents both work at the welfare office, she angers Kim by huffily announcing that she is not eligible. As Kim chases the caseworker down the hall, her mother comes down the hall crying. Kim tries to convince her mother that it is important to the black revolution that she get welfare, but her mother orders her to either go to graduate school or get a job. Kim is shocked because her mother usually goes along with whatever she wants to do. Her mother, however, says that she has read all of the black revolutionary literature Kim has given her and listened to her many speeches, and now it is time for Kim to listen to her.

Kim calls her father to take her to lunch. When she complains about her mother’s orders, he agrees that it is not fair and says her mother never should have said such a thing—Kim should simply get a nice job and not even worry about going back to school. Her father patiently explains that if she wants to improve black people’s lives, she must set a good example. He criticizes the black leaders whom she admires because they have never held real jobs requiring them to punch a time clock. Her lunch ruined, Kim goes home to type her résumé.

After making several typing errors, she stretches out on the floor and dozes off. She dreams of a university chasing her down the street; as she runs away, she is swallowed up by a social agency. She wakes up screaming, sure that whatever fate befalls her, she will be destroyed. Then she thinks about all the students whom she could convert if she were back in school and realizes that if she applies to a graduate program in social work, both her parents will be pleased.

When Kim is accepted to a program that is to start in nine months, Bertha is excited but Kim cries. She finally decides she has survived worse things—such as missing out on having sex with an attractive white man while on a civil rights march in Mississippi—so she surely can survive this unpleasantness. She dresses and goes to a bar, where she runs into a black man whom she knows, and goes back to his apartment and spends the night. Kim becomes convinced that if she tells the college placement office that she has been having sex and enjoying it, they will rescind their acceptance. To her surprise, they send her a letter applauding her willingness to try new things and congratulating her on her honesty.

When Bertha does not sympathize with Kim for not being rejected from graduate school, Kim puts drain cleaner in her coffee. When it has no effect other than loosening Bertha’s bowels, Kim decides that she is a failure. She sends a second telegram to the school:please be advised stop have put drano in roommate’s coffee stop she lives stop i am a failure you must reject me stop

They reply with a long letter apologizing for not having completed her placement, explaining that they are a bit behind, and admiring her ingenious way of expressing her needs. Kim is becoming terrified that if she does not come up with a scheme to get out of this, she will end up with a degree, working for an agency, and becoming decent and responsible—the very things that she hates.

Kim next decides that she can escape this fate by telling the school that she has no money, and will need a grant and a stipend. Convinced that she has finally gotten out of returning to school, she goes back to devoting her time to the revolution. First she works on a black arts festival; then she helps start an underground paper, Love Black, aimed at black people who seldom read. Her deeper involvement with the Black Power movement refines her ideas on the social system in which the movement is operating, and gives her the impetus to attend graduate school. She decides, however, to walk there, not realizing how long it will take. That, she says, is why she is late.