Philip Nel > Courses > American Studies 201: Introduction to American Studies (Spring 1998) > Gloria Naylor's Mama Day

Gloria Naylor's Mama Day (1988)

American Studies 201


Look at the Candle Walk (108-09, 110-12). What happens to traditions across the generations? How do traditions work in Willow Springs? How does the novel view traditions? In answering this last question, you might compare Candle Walk to Cocoa's description of Christmas's "forced gaiety" (121). You might also compare Mama Day's rituals to George's (145).


Read the quilt (137-38). What stories does it tell? What sort of narrative? George and Cocoa disagree over its use (147): what's the significance of their disagreement?


The novel offers many clues regarding the specific years in which it takes place - 1999 for the opening pages, 1980 (56, 100), early 1981 (127), late 1981 (147), 1985 (158, 161) - and refers to specific historical events, like Reagan's investment in the Cold War, discussions of slavery, and so on. In addition to its many references to chronological time, the novel also refers to non-chronological time. See, for example, pages 157-58, and 160-61. Why? Why does the novel raise these sorts of questions? And while we're on the topic of time, turn to the history of the Days (150-51, and elsewhere). Why does the novel give these characters the name "Day"? In these pages (150-51), who's the speaker? Where does the narrative voice shift here?


In the novel, does history determine you or do you determine your history? What's the relationship between one's ability to act, on the one hand, and being acted upon, on the other? Look at the comments on history on pages 126-27, 129-31, and 138.

Return to Phil Nel's syllabus for American Studies 201, Spring 1998.