Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In an interview, Bebe Moore Campbell said that the real subject of Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine was not racism but childhood, specifically the kind of childhood that produces adults so uncertain about themselves that they must strike out at others in order to prove their own worth. This comment explains why Campbell so painstakingly explores the mind of the unappealing Floyd Cox. Although his actions cannot be excused, they need to be explained if such social evils as racism are ever to be eliminated.

Floyd is a prime example of someone ruined in childhood. Not only has he absorbed his family’s view of the world, which is based on hatred of blacks and envy of prosperous whites, but he has also been set apart from his family as their scapegoat, the one member of whom they are ashamed. It is not surprising that Floyd never becomes a real adult, making his own decisions and acting upon them, but merely continues to react, as a child would do. Moreover, he is so preoccupied with his own insecurities that, as his wife finally realizes, he has no room for feelings toward others.

If adults who are taught in childhood to feel inadequate do not become insensitive, unthinking bullies, like Floyd, they may become emotionally crippled in other ways. Even though they can see the imperfections in their lives, Lily and Clayton have been so trained to submission that they do not have the will to act upon their beliefs.

Although Campbell...

(The entire section is 540 words.)

Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The major issue confronted in the novel is change and its effects. Some of the changes are brought about by the shock that the murder of Armstrong Todd causes. Other changes are brought about by the shifting views of society. All the changes are painful for the people involved. Armstrong Todd’s family must somehow manage the grief that is brought about not only by his death but also by the way he died. The Cox family must somehow try to justify their decision to commit murder and must realize that society’s shifting values make their act no longer acceptable. Stonewall Pinochet and his contemporaries must watch their world, which is based on the idea that whites are better than blacks, start to crumble. Clayton Pinochet, caught in the middle of the changes, must somehow try to make sense of the fact that, even though he is from one of the aristocratic families, he really does prefer the company of blacks.

Campbell’s main point is that any change is difficult. A person’s social standing does not matter; when the values of a society start to change, all people find that their place in society shifts, and this shift can cause friction.

The murder of Armstrong Todd was based on the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old who was lynched for speaking to a white woman in a Mississippi town. Campbell fictionalizes the incident and then carries the story past the bare details by examining the effects this event would have on three distinct groups of people.

Campbell presents the themes to the reader by telling the stories of three very different groups of people—the Todds, the Pinochets, and the Coxes. Each group must learn to manage the changes that occur. It is interesting to see how the lives of the characters overlap and, as the novel progresses and the times change, begin to merge.