Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 700

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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 is.

Aunt Zimby has been a warrior against time itself. In her old age and confused mind, she cannot recognize that she is talking to Ed rather than his father. Somehow, the two men are intermingled, not because Aunt Zimby is mistaken, but because they are so much alike. Ed learns that he has become his father; something is thus accomplished as he comes to terms with his own identity and selfhood. It is his lot to replace his dead father; he succeeds in doing so by honoring Aunt Zimby in this yearly ritual with the tennis shoes. At first, this mixing up of characters is only a matter of confusion in Aunt Zimby’s mind; but as Ed sits on the porch listening to her stories about his dead father (who, for Zimby, is not even dead), he realizes that he may as well be his father. Eventually, he realizes that for all intents and purposes he has become his father. Nothing is lost or gained in Zimby’s mind and mistake. Similarly, nothing is lost or gained in Ed’s new awareness that he is now his father in some sort of spiritual manner.

“The Warrior Princess Ozimba” resembles many southern stories and novels that are dominated by characters who possess an intense longing for the past. Ed learns that he is a product of that past, which is not yet dead and will not be dead even with the imminent passing of Aunt Zimby. He perceives and attains, through the character of the old black woman, a connection not only with his father, but with his grandfather and great-grandfather. His own being thus antedates the Civil War.

Similarly, revealed here is the meaningful relationship between the children of the white master and the “black mammy” figure. There is, perhaps, no racial equality depicted in this story, but there is shown interracial love and respect. For Zimby, the most important event of her life is the presentation of those tennis shoes, of value only because they prove she is remembered, honored, respected, and loved by her “white folks.” For Ed, there is the fact that this woman has functioned as an archetypal Earth Mother figure for him and his forebears. Peace and love, though not equality, exist at least on some individualized basis and for these two characters.