Themes and Meanings
The first chapter of Sarah Phillips ends with a dream, followed by a decision. After a quarrel with her lover and a reconciliation marked by perfunctory sex, Sarah dreams of grappling with an old black woman like those in her father’s church; she then wakens to a new awareness of the persistence of her past. The dream may have had an effect on Sarah, reinforcing her desire to go home, but it is more important as a symbol of the conflicts that make up the pattern and the meaning of the novel.
Several of these conflicts involve the rejection of one group by another. The New African Baptist Church itself is evidence of the schism between prosperous blacks and their poor brothers and sisters. Once the center of the community that surrounds it, New African is now an island of well-being in the middle of a slum. On Sundays, well-to-do, conservative church members drive back to their old area for services, then return to the suburbs to which they fled as soon as integration made it possible. Sarah’s feelings of dissociation from poor blacks are reflected in her behavior at Miss Prescott’s School for Girls when she ignores the greetings of the black cook, even though she finally admits that she might be able to learn something from him.
The same kind of social division is evident when Matthew brings his girlfriend to dinner. Although his parents are officially and sincerely committed to brotherhood, they reject the girl. Reverend...
(The entire section is 538 words.)