Your Blues Ain't Like Mine Summary
Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, by Bebe Moore Campbell, is the fictionalized account of Emmett Till, a black teenager from Chicago who was lynched for flirting with a white woman. His fictional counterpart, Armstrong Todd, suffers the same fate, and Campbell provides a backstory for the murder and describes the events that followed in its wake. Armstrong Todd is visiting his grandmother in Mississippi when he enters a pool hall owned by a poor white couple named Lily and Floyd Cox. When Armstrong speaks French to a white woman in the pool hall, the Coxes take offense, outraged at the black boy’s arrogance and sense of superiority. In his wrath over the incident and in an attempt to impress his family, Floyd beats Armstrong and then shoots him, and Armstrong dies.
The liberal son of a plantation owner, Clayton Pinochet, telephones a New York reporter and makes sure the story goes public and is exploited by the press. The boy’s funeral is held in Chicago and gets widespread attention. So does Floyd’s trial, in which he is found to be innocent of the murder. Floyd’s business is ruined from the bad press, however, and in the aftermath of the trial, he and Lily suffer marital problems, as do the parents of Armstrong Todd. In the latter part of the book, Campbell focuses on the struggles of these two families, and she recounts the efforts of Lily’s daughter, Doreen, who joins the Civil Rights Movement and fights for racial justice.
The most important incident that occurs in Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine is the murder of Armstrong Todd, an innocent black boy, by three ignorant and despicable whites. This tragedy occurs early in a novel that spans three decades. The author’s primary focus is on the long-lasting results of that tragedy in the lives of the survivors.
Campbell begins her novel by tracing the events that lead up to Armstrong’s death. When Lily Cox unwisely enters the pool hall owned by her husband Floyd, she makes it possible for the black bartender, Jake, to plant in Floyd’s mind the idea that somehow Armstrong has directed a French phrase toward Lily. Later, when Jake makes sure that Floyd’s father and brother hear about the episode, Armstrong’s fate is sealed. The three Coxes find Armstrong alone, beat him, and give Floyd the honor of shooting him.
In the next two chapters, Campbell moves the scene to Chicago in order to show Delotha Todd, Armstrong’s mother, as the pretty, high-spirited woman she was before she had to deal with her son’s death. She feels vaguely guilty about enjoying a respite from parental responsibility. Wydell Todd is also thinking about his son, but he is too drunk to concentrate on that subject or anything else.
The next section of the novel deals with the immediate aftermath of the murder. Black customers stop patronizing Floyd’s bar, thus costing the bartender his job and Floyd his business. The town’s businessmen are worried primarily about the image of Hopewell. The Coxes are worried about being punished, particularly after the businessmen decide that Floyd will make a good scapegoat. Thanks in part to Lily’s perjured testimony, however, Floyd is acquitted, and even though Hopewell has become polarized, the community pretends to go back to normal.
It is a tribute to Campbell’s artistry that the characters she has presented in these early, fast-paced chapters are interesting enough to maintain suspense throughout the rest of the book, when the author proceeds more deliberately, often skipping a year or several years between chapters. During the longest segment of the novel, Campbell moves back and forth among the major characters, following their lives until it becomes obvious what the future holds for all of them.
Floyd Cox goes steadily downhill, dragging Lily with him. After losing his business, Floyd is forced to take menial jobs. He starts drinking, picks fights, and finally steals, thus incurring the first of several prison sentences. For a time, he enjoys the company of...
(The entire section is 1,993 words.)