The Yellow House Themes
The main themes in The Yellow House are race and discrimination, home and identity, and hiding and shame.
- Race and discrimination: Broom shows how racial discrimination has played a role in both New Orleans's public policy and in the lives of her family members.
- Home and identity: Broom explores how the Yellow House is inextricably linked to her family members' identities, even years after its destruction.
- Hiding and shame: The memoir discusses the shame Broom once felt about her home, but over time she has come to accept and embrace her origins.
Last Reviewed on January 7, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1219
Race and Discrimination
Race and discrimination impact Broom’s understanding of both herself and New Orleans. Broom discusses the various ways in which her family faces discrimination, from school segregation in 1950s Louisiana to the mysterious death of her mother’s first husband, Webb, while away at army training.
The first example of discrimination occurs when Broom’s mother considers the varying gradations of skin tones between herself and her siblings. “My mother, Ivory Mae,” Broom writes, “understood from a young age the value in her light skin and freckles and in the texture of her wavy hair, which she called good.” Ivory’s sister Elaine “was a few shades darker than Joseph and Ivory and [had] thicker hair that she herself describes as ‘a pain to comb.’ ” Ivory, understanding “light” to mean “good,” has internalized the racism that surrounds her, displaying hatred for those darker than herself. Broom describes a scene where a schoolmate known as “Black Andrew” winks at young Ivory, a gesture at which Ivory scoffs. Uncle Joe later explains, “I guess we saw it sort of like the white men saw it . . . As people being lower than us.”
As children, Joe, Elaine, and Ivory were forced to attend a school-sanctioned event known as John McDonogh Day that honored “a wealthy slave owner who in 1850 bequeathed half of his estate to New Orleans public schools, insisting that his money be used to ‘the establishment and support of free schools wherein the poor and the poor only . . . shall have admittance.’ ” The event required the schoolchildren to visit McDonogh’s gravesite. During the event, “The black children waited in the sun while the white children completed their procession to honor John McDonogh.” Many black children fainted during this event due to sun exposure.
Broom explains that during the build-up of New Orleans East, the mayor at the time, deLesseps “Chep” Morrison, endeavored to build over what he referred to as “slum cancer,” or “those working-class communities of wooden cottages and shotgun houses that were bulldozed to make way for ‘glass-and-class.’ ” A new city hall was “built on top of Louis Armstrong’s childhood neighborhood,” effectively erasing the area’s black history.
This erasure and neglect of New Orleans’s black citizens continues in various iterations. After Hurricane Betsy hits, “People in the deluged areas recalled hearing dynamite, an eruption in the middle of their scrambling.” These eruptions were the sounds of the city blowing up marshes “to dredge MR-GO,” the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet. This tactic had been employed thirty-eight years prior as a way to “divert water away from more ‘valuable’ neighborhoods.” Black citizens were literally being drowned out by the city.
After Hurricane Katrina, the discrimination and neglect continues, forcing citizens of New Orleans East to form activist groups to protest “affordable housing shortages,” neglect of their school districts, and “FEMA’s Road Home Program,” which did not adequately assist citizens post-Katrina the way it promised.
Broom writes about race and discrimination to expose the corruption within New Orleans and to correct the...
(The entire section contains 1219 words.)
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