Seduction by Light Summary
by Al Young

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Seduction by Light Summary

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Seduction by Light is Mamie Franklin’s story of her life and transition to death as she tells it in an exuberant, colloquial style. As if she were speaking in a conversation over coffee between old friends, Mamie often directly addresses readers: “You must know me well enough by now to know I’m kinda halfway out there mosta the time anyway.” Mamie’s monologue captures the earthy wit and wisdom of the former actress and band singer from Mississippi who works until her death as a domestic servant for an eccentric Hollywood couple.

The first part of the novel concerns Mamie’s relationship to her common-law husband, Burley Cole, whose death by heart attack in chapter 7 does not end their close relationship or his presence in the novel. Burley appears throughout the novel as a messenger to Mamie from beyond this world. He instructs her about the meaning of her own out-of-body travels, especially after she collapses on the sidewalk outside her house in Santa Monica, California, after the house is destroyed by an earthquake.

The aftermath of the devastating earthquake that rocks Santa Monica is the dramatic focus of the novel’s second half. The neck injuries Mamie sustains after being struck by debris as she escapes from her home with her young lover, Theo, cause the physical collapse that leads to Mamie’s spectacular travels into the unconscious realm, where she hovers in a dream state that is connected to both life and death. In her out-of-body travels, Mamie realizes important spiritual lessons, such as that her true spirit resides in a place distinct from the shell of her dying body.

Besides using her gift for double-sightedness to stay in contact with her late husband, Burley, and to perform her own out-of-body traveling, Mamie also contacts one of her heroes, the American patriot and inventor Ben Franklin. Mamie realizes that her connection to Ben Franklin stems from his helping to found a new nation, which is, in a metaphorical sense, related to Mamie’s enthusiasm for going beyond tired conventions and toward an embrace of new experiences, including the experience of life after death. Franklin tells her in comical but philosophically illuminating passages that he has been “appointed to inform” Mamie of her imminent death. Franklin’s role is to welcome Mamie to her “higher self” and to take her time-traveling with him through the ages. They visit France during the Revolution of 1789 and ancient Egypt, where Mamie discovers a resemblance between Ben Franklin and King Tut. Franklin’s warning to Mamie that her time on Earth is “severely limited” enables her to live in the moment and to feel a connection to all the people she meets. Ben tells Mamie to “bear in mind that ’now’ is the only time there is” and also to “let go of the idea that anyone else is separate from what you like to think of as yourself.”

Besides learning about the interconnectedness of all people through Franklin’s message, Mamie, in the aftermath of the earthquake that sends the city of Santa Monica into a state of emergency, learns at first hand about the bonds that exist among strangers through the power of television. The instant transmission of images through broadcast journalism disseminates news of Mamie’s tragic loss of all of her belongings throughout California via an on-the-scene report and an emotional interview conducted by a local television journalist named Brett Toshimura. Toshimura takes a personal interest in Mamie’s troubles and uses her position to publicize Mamie’s story. Toshimura’s interview leads the former actress, ironically, to a celebrity status well beyond the fame she was able to achieve when she was officially in show business. Her story touches a chord in countless viewers, whose donations to assist Mamie come to more than forty thousand dollars.

Mamie realizes at the end of the novel that she is, finally, on the verge of disconnection from her body for the last time. The last scenes...

(The entire section is 1,142 words.)