Sassafrass, Cypress, and Indigo

by Ntozake Shange

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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 367

Sassafras, Cypress, and Indigo (published in 1982) is a magical-realist novel by Ntozake Shogne, an African American playwright and novelist whose work address themes of race and feminism. The novel follows a family of black sisters at various stages of their lives, all originally from Charleston, South Carolina. The main characters include the title characters (all three sisters) and their mother, as well as ancillary characters who are their personal relations and acquaintances.

Indigo, the youngest sister and first to be introduced, is a magical presence, described as having "the moon in her mouth and roses between her legs and tiaras of Spanish moss" (1). As a child, she makes hand-made dolls and has a lively group of friends. She keeps personal journals about things like "moon journeys." Indigo is given a fiddle by her uncle, who explains to her how their ancestors (slaves) used music to communicate. Indigo is the most attune to the spiritual realm of magic.

Cypress is the middle child. She is a dancer who goes to school in New York, moves to San Francisco, and eventually returns to New York to raise money for the Civil Rights Movement as part of a dance company. She marries a wealthy musician from St. Louis named Leroy. Leroy is a very successful composer, educated a prestigious schools. Cypress knew him briefly in San Francisco but becomes engaged to him when she returns to New York.

Sassafras, the oldest daughter, was educated in New England and lives with an abusive boyfriend named Mitch in Los Angeles. Mitch is a jazz musician, orphaned a young age, and dismissive of Sassafras's intimacy. Sassafras is a textile weaver after the fashion of her mother, and she becomes involves in the religious cultic practices of santerĂ­a in an effort to perform an exorcism on Mitch, with whom she lives in Los Angeles. Eventually, Sassafras leaves Los Angeles and returns to Charleston, where she will give birth with Indigo as her midwife.

The girls's mother, Hilda Effania, is a strong source of stability, maintaining a home in Charleston despite having been widowed by their father. She is relatively liberal with her daughters and encourages them to develop as independent and artistic women.

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