Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Nikki Giovanni’s story is in the form of a lengthy monologue to an unnamed listener, apparently someone at the college in which Kim has enrolled. Through the monologue, Giovanni portrays the evolution of a young, privileged, previously conservative, middle-class black woman from slogan-spouting radicalism to responsibility. She also uses the story to introduce her audience to some of the leaders of the Black Power movement, and, in the last part of the story, provides a grounding in some of the ideas regarding class, economics, and politics that informed the movement.

Kim’s father and mother, seen only briefly at the beginning of the story, are remarkably tolerant of her flirtation with the black revolution. It is not made clear whether they simply have been indulging their high-spirited daughter as she flirts with a radical new philosophy, or if they are really in tune with her but feel unable to express such radical views in the light of their middle-class achievements and lifestyle. When Kim’s mother tearfully confronts her in the welfare office, it is clear that she is not merely embarrassed by Kim’s applying for welfare, but feels threatened by Kim’s bringing her radicalism into her workplace. After recounting how she and Kim’s father tolerated Kim’s being expelled from school for drinking, getting involved with men they did not like, and even being featured in the newspaper for protesting the Vietnam War by dancing on a table during President Lyndon Johnson’s speech at the Democratic Convention, she wails, “But this is my job! Your father and I have worked very hard to give you everything we could.”