(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

McMillan’s central intention is to portray African American women who are actively taking control of their lives. They all belong to an organization called Black Women on the Move, an organization whose goals are to change society and give voice to African American women. Although all these women want to establish long-term relationships with men, the men in the novel seem to fear commitment. Because her heroines are gutsy and resilient, McMillan’s books have been compared to those of Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker. In her award-winning anthology Breaking Ice (1990), McMillan states that writing became her way of making sense of what she saw, her way of trying to “fix what was broken.” Waiting to Exhale is both descriptive and prescriptive, an attempt to diagnose and to cure.

The alternating voices in McMillan’s book give substance and reality to her characters. First-person narratives are delivered by the seemingly strongest and, in some ways, the weakest characters in the novel, Savannah and Robin. Both are single women without children who are hoping to meet and marry someone. Yet there are some important differences between them. Savannah’s narrative actually sets the tone for the novel. Her narrative is the emotional center of the novel, while the other narrative voices, as individualistic as they are, seem to revolve around this model. Savannah hopes to meet a man but is willing to live alone until she finds someone who makes her feel that she was born “with a tiara” on her head. Her self-image is stronger than Robin’s, because Robin must...

(The entire section is 654 words.)