Themes and Meanings
Waiting to Exhale is an odd yet brilliant fictional representation of issues and concerns affecting middle-class African American women in the late twentieth century. The novel is odd in that the four protagonists are so intensely preoccupied with their relationships with men. However, because McMillan explores in minute detail what is on the minds of these educated and successful women, no matter what it is—men, careers, families, or the African American community—the characters’ preoccupation with their relationships helps to tell their stories. Black men are important to them; in this sense, the novel, beyond merely presenting the women’s frustrations and heartaches, presents a blueprint for what healthy and committed relationships between black women and black men must be.
Moreover, Waiting to Exhale is not about black women in general. It is, rather, about four particular middle-class black women whose friendship, as far as the narrative space is concerned, takes place within a specific locale. These four black women are not necessarily representative of anyone other than themselves. The narrative denies readers the luxury of easy generalizations.
Personal and social struggle intermingle in the novel, as the four women use one another for support both in their personal ups and downs and in their efforts to make the world a little better for other African Americans. Affirmation, of self and other, is present at...
(The entire section is 471 words.)