A young girl “ a deviant family” living in “ a deviant neighborhood” is the first person narrator and protagonist in Toni Cade Bambara’s The Hammer Man. The story takes place during a period of time when the girl supposedly gains new maturity, sensitivity, and insight as she develops from a tomboy to a young lady. The focus of the tale is her struggle with a neighborhood antagonist as she describes the events of about a year. At first she speaks in a very self-centered manner and later, relating her final encounter with this rival, she reveals somewhat greater empathy and understanding.
The girl, who is not named in the story, is actually a tough, street smart brat who gets her kicks out of picking on the mentally impaired Manny. Manny is a challenge to her because “ say you were crazy. . .you were officially not to be messed with” (paragraph 2) and she never does what she is officially told. When Manny attempts to retaliate, she fakes illness to avoid him. Rather than facing the consequences of her actions herself, she unrepentingly watches others fight her battles for her. Miss Rose fights with Manny’s mother and her father argues with Manny’s older brother. She accepts this as her due. Her only regret, at this time, is that she “’ve settled for hitting off the little girls in the school yard” (paragraph 3). They are not crazy and would not come after her, forcing her self-imposed illness which is keeping her isolated.
Thus, the girl’s growth and development in the story is influenced by Manny. He is the unknowing and unrecognized catalyst who triggers the change and sets in motion the maturing of this girl.
Crazy Manny is also a product of the same deviant neighborhood. Hi…
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…tion and reverts to her self-centeredness. However, it is a beginning. And although at the end her thoughts of Manny are less than nothing, she is changing. She does not realize, even to herself, how he has influenced this change.
Manny we are told ended up “ some kind of big house for people who lose their marbles” (paragraph 33). How different the ending of this story could have been if the cops had admired his skill, or if he had had a mentor to guide him and to develop his abilities as an athlete, or if he had been given the opportunity to use his hammer as a tool instead of a weapon.
The story is mainly about this tough narrator’s growing up and surviving a hostile environment, but it is also a sad tale of how society fails those, like Manny, who are less able to cope.
Story reprinted in St. Martin’s Guide to Writing, 4th Edition, 1994: 390-394.
Acceptance and Denial in Alice Walker’s Everyday Use
Mama, the protagonist in Alice Walker’s short story, Everyday Use is a woman with a solid foundation and tough roots. The qualities that society would find admirable within Mama are the same qualities that Dee, Mama’s oldest daughter, would spurn, thinking them only the qualities of a down home, uneducated, country bumpkin. Dee, the story’s main antagonist, is proof that children are not necessarily products of their environment.
From the beginning of the story we see that Mama, who describes herself as “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man working hands” (68) has no illusions about the type of woman she is; however, she still has enough depth to dream about being reunited with her daughter Dee on television in a fantasy complete with a limousine, orchids, and Johnny Carson. Mama, who is capable of killing a bull calf with a sledge hammer (69), knows that she is uneducated, dark, and heavy. Mama also knows that the fantasy has more to do with making Dee happy than fulfilling any of her own wishes. Mama’s main character strength is her patience as it relates to her children and specifically Dee. From the time that Dee steps out of the car and informs Mama and her younger sister Maggie that they should no longer call her Dee, Mama displays this patience. Mama must feel disappointment in the fact that Wangero, as she wishes to be called, considers Dee dead (71). To Mama, who named Dee after her sister, Wangero’s statement that she couldn’t bear to be named after the people that oppressed her (71) must have been like saying it was Wangero’s family that had actually been the oppressors. Mama’s patience and willingness to bend to the wishes of her daughter showed great inner strength and understanding.
Mama continues to…
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…the quilts are priceless (73). Mama, on the other hand, almost gives in until Maggie, who knows her place in this world like Mama knows hers, says that Wangero can have the quilts. Maggie’s act of resignation triggers Mama into doing something she had never done before. She hugs Maggie and stands up to Wangero.
The irony of Wangero’s statement that Mama does not understand her heritage (74) ties the emotions of the conflict together. With that statement, we perceive that Mama and Maggie not only understand their heritage, they are living examples of it. Wangero not only does not understand her heritage, she has spent so much of her life denying it that she will never find it.
Walker, Alice. “Everyday Use.” Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. Fourth Edition. Ed. Edgar V. Roberts and Henry E. Jacobs. Prentice Hall, 1995: 68-74.