The Rise of Maud Martha Summary
by Gwendolyn Brooks

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The Rise of Maud Martha Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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“The Rise of Maud Martha,” a very brief and deceptively simple story, opens as a pastor observes the departure of a funeral procession and closes only a short time later, the moment Maud Martha begins crying as they lower her husband, Paul, into his grave. With the precision of the poet she is and the insight of the sensitive observer of human behavior she has always been, Gwendolyn Brooks joins the procession through the thoughts and observations of Maud Martha as she rides in the first car with her mother, Belva Brown, and Paul’s mother, Mrs. Phillips. Each carefully detailed picture conveys the lifestyle in which Maud Martha finds herself, from the opening details of the “big and little and few” wreaths with “fresh and barely fresh” flowers, through the placement of Maud Martha in “the longest and shiny-blackest of the long black cars,” to the image of an “after-funeral white cake” that closes the story.

Equally vivid are the flashback observations of Paul’s death as one of “30-odd” passengers burned in the crash of a streetcar with a gas truck. Ironically, the streetcar was a new model, and its sealed windows sealed the fate of its unfortunate passengers as well.

The violent tragedy is not, however, the focus of Brooks’s story. Rather, it is “the women in the street”—from the grieving wives to the high school girl in the crowd “enjoying herself. Seeing Life.” Brooks may focus on Maud Martha, but she uses a wide-angle lens, taking in the many faces of grief and contrasting the “’dreadful’ blackness” of charred bodies with the formerly “known and despised” blackness of race.

Next Brooks narrows her lens to the three women in the head car and turns up the sound, as Mrs. Phillips eulogizes her son and patronizes her daughter-in-law. Criticism disguised as faint praise...

(The entire section is 471 words.)