Nathaniel Witherspoon, a college dropout, twenty-one years old at the time of the novel, writes down his grandmother’s memories. His recrafting of his family history forms the structure of the novel as he interlaces sermons, tales, and memories. From this experience he shapes a worldview that gives meaning to his existence.
Sweetie Reed Witherspoon relives in detail her family history, giving a picture of pre-and post-Civil War life in the Deep South. Her tales of the horrors of slavery and the triumph of the black spirit bring alive the distant past. Sweetie Reed’s mother, Angelina, and father, I. V. Reed, were married as slaves in 1855. Sweetie Reed marries Jericho W. Witherspoon in 1882, when she is fifteen years old and Jericho is fifty-five. Barren, she has one adopted son named Arthur. After Jericho Witherspoon and Sweetie Reed get a divorce, she becomes a preacher. Sweetie Reed is an oral historian who uses all the rhetorical tricks at her disposal to give a complete picture of the past.
Aunty Foisty, the ancient conjure woman, forms the second primary link to the past. Aunt Foisty’s history stretches back to Africa. She is rumored to have clawed her way out of the bottom of a slave ship. With her African retentions in language and folk religion, she is the primary image of the African mother figure who gave birth to a great race. Aunty Foisty possesses powerful magic. She controls the Praise Shack, to which the slaves come to...
(The entire section is 549 words.)