(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

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 entire section is 823 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Set in the town of Hopewell in the Mississippi Delta, Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine is the story of the lynching of a black man by a family of whites. The novel traces the story of the lynching and the subsequent effect on different members of both the town and Armstrong Todd’s family.

Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine is divided into fifty-one chapters. The story is told by an omniscient narrator, but from several different points of view: those of the Cox family, the family of Armstrong Todd, and the Pinochet family.

The novel opens in the home of Lily and Floyd Cox, poor whites in the segregated town of Hopewell. Floyd owns a pool hall and juke joint frequented by blacks. While at the pool hall, Armstrong Todd, a black teenager from Chicago who has been sent to live with his grandmother Odessa, speaks French to Lily. This seemingly minor incident causes a violent reaction on the part of Floyd’s family, who encourage him to teach Armstrong a lesson about how he should behave in the presence of his supposed betters. The anger accelerates to the point that Floyd, Lester, and John Earl drive to the Quarters, the black neighborhood, and murder Armstrong in his grandmother’s backyard.

Lily is not at all comfortable with the murder that has taken place, but she is bullied into not protesting by her abusive husband and his domineering family, which is governed by the bigotry of their past as poor whites in the Deep South. The family decides to lie if they are confronted about the murder. They reason that the death of a “nigger” will not make any difference to the local authorities. The move for desegregation is taking hold, however, as is the Civil Rights movement. The local authorities believe that they must at least have some pretense of a trial if they are going to avoid more bloodshed.

Caught in the middle of the racial tension is Clayton Pinochet, the editor of the Hopewell Telegram and member of one of the most prominent families in Hopewell. It is expected that he will adhere to the old Southern values. Clayton, however, is part of the generation that begins to question the separation between blacks and whites. He had employed Armstrong at the newspaper and...

(The entire section is 915 words.)