Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Cooper has received widespread praise for her short stories in Some Soul to Keep and in previous collections. The qualities most often singled out are her optimism, her sincerity, her earthy humor, and her obvious desire to encourage her female readers—black female readers in particular—to assert themselves. She is an important writer mainly because of her philosophy opposing dependency. As novelist Terry McMillan wrote in an article in The New York Times Book Review, “After reading Some Soul to Keep, you feel lucky to have entered the worlds of a few poor black women and their families who don’t cry or whine about their condition, but are set on figuring out how to get on with their lives.”

Some critics have complained that Cooper is too didactic. It is true that Cooper drives home moral arguments by shaping her plots to illustrate them. She also uses the same narrative technique in every story: A first-person female narrator tells a person’s life story in black dialect and frequently intrudes on her narrative to moralize about the characters and events she is describing. Cooper’s interjections are frequently striking in their commen sense, but they threaten to destroy the illusion of reality. Some critics complain that all the female narrators sound exactly the same and that this becomes monotonous.

Cooper, however, is comfortable with the style she has worked out for herself and seems impervious to...

(The entire section is 438 words.)