Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Essentially a work of sentimentality for the South’s heritage, Reynolds Price’s story is at once a character sketch of a figure from the past as well as an intense expression of a contemporary southerner coming to terms with his heritage and that past. “The Warrior Princess Ozimba” is a story in which the past meets the present, white meets black, father meets son, and youth meets age. Aunt Zimby, who is described as the “oldest thing any of us knew anything about,” is one of the last surviving vestiges of the Old South. Mr. Ed, in contrast, is the modern white man replete with good intentions and symbolic gifts.

Aunt Zimby was named “Princess Warrior Ozimba” by Ed’s great-grandfather, after a character in a book that he was reading during the Civil War era. After being freed, she and her own family remained connected to the narrator’s family, as was the case with many slaves after their emancipation. She was then more or less handed down from generation unto generation, first as a slave, later as a servant and as an employee, and now as a relic—a kind of embodiment of an antique that does not die.

Ed, the central consciousness of the story, though not its central figure, is by all counts a good man who would not only honor family tradition but also try to do what is right by giving Aunt Zimby her due respect, as symbolized by the blue tennis shoes that he brings. He makes the annual trip out to her shanty, walking up the creek with respect, though perhaps not love, to discover that she somehow plays a role in defining his own existence. Though he evidently sees her only once each year, he enacts the family duty to her, even though she no longer even knows who he...

(The entire section is 700 words.)