Although This Child’s Gonna Live consists of the stream-of-consciousness narrations of both Mariah and Jacob Upshur, the novel begins and ends with Mariah’s thoughts, conversations with God, and actions as seen from her perspective. Since most of the chapters belong to Mariah, it becomes her story, a tale of attempted flight from poverty, racism, and religious hypocrisy.
As the story begins, a distraught, pregnant Mariah worries about whose child—Dr. Albert Grene’s or Jacob’s—she will bear. She becomes determined to escape the poverty, racism, and religious hypocrisy of the African American community of Tangierneck. If “this child’s gonna live,” she believes that she must flee north, although she is aware that none of Jacob’s brothers has survived exodus to Baltimore. Since her thoughts flow by association, the present is inextricably related to the past as well as to the future. The loss of Mary, her first daughter, the scars on her father’s back, and Jacob’s exploitation by Miss Bannie all suggest the futility of life in Tangierneck. Jacob is equally upset, but his concerns involve the impending loss of land to Miss Bannie, whom he blames for his troubles.
Both Mariah and Jacob confront past and present humiliations. At a prayer meeting, the Committee of Judgment denounced Mariah for being pregnant out of wedlock, and Bertha Upshur protected Jacob’s reputation. Jacob learns about Bannie’s involvement in the death of Bard Tom, his grandfather; and Mariah hears that Aunt Cora Lou, who was going to get help for Mariah, has been run down by a carload of white teenagers. When Mariah meets Miss Bannie, who has been attacked by Percy, she sympathizes with her until Miss Bannie utters a string of racial insults. Mariah and Jacob, whose minds are preoccupied by death, both intend to kill Miss Bannie. Jacob is easily persuaded to go home, while Mariah succeeds in getting Miss Bannie to the Gut, where she plans to drown her. She cannot follow...
(The entire section is 817 words.)