Mama Day

An analysis of the theme of race in Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day.

This paper examines how, in Mama Day, author Gloria Naylor narrates the story of a relationship that takes place between the characters, George and Ophelia. It looks at how both are black and without biological parents, yet carry different cultural backgrounds despite this likeness of race and parentage. George is the son of a prostitute, has no memory of blood relatives, and grows up in a white-run orphanage where his ideals and beliefs are shaped. Ophelia, who is also called Cocoa, is raised by her grandmother, Abigail, and great aunt, Mama Day, who enable her to maintain cultural connections to history through her birthplace, Willow Springs. It shows how Willow Springs is barely influenced by its connection to the United States and how, instead, it is a space shaped by its African relation through the people who inhabit it. It explores how the novel takes place in New York, where life is structured and hectic and juxtaposed against Willow Springs, where time and structure do not hold importance in the lives of its inhabitants.
Beginning in1823 through the legend of Saphira Wade’s possession of Willow Springs then her killing of her white husband, white control on the island is never again achieved. The black inhabitants carry on the myth of Saphira Wade as a means of maintaining their power. In this sense, Mama Day’s and Naylor’s own attempts to recuperate a cultural legacy reveal the desire for ancestral knowledge as a motivating force behind the ways in which individuals and communities construct myth. For the people of Willow Springs, such myth making becomes an essential tool in the construction of personal and collective identities (Stave, p.158). As an island with a past of slavery and presently owned by blacks, the culture on Willow Springs is created and maintained by the blacks that live there and the physical nature of the land.

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