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The Black Arts Movement was a significant period not only in the history of African American poets, writers, musicians, and other creators of arts. The campaign made a great breakthrough for the whole country and made clear for the Whites that Blacks were equally, if not more, talented, and their voice was to be heard. Many talented men and women joined the movement, and their names are still well-recognized in the US and abroad. Toni Cade Bambara is one of the representatives of the Black Arts Movement whose works inspired the audience and gave people hope for the better future. Bambara’s rebellious nature and her straightforwardness were reflected in many books, short stories, and articles, each of which manifested the exuberant style of the author and thorough understanding and sympathy towards the issue faced by African American people.
Overview of Goals and Research Strategy
The purpose of the paper is to introduce the material about Toni Cade Bambara’s contribution to the world of literature and analyze some of her most popular works. Research was performed with the help of library databases. I only used books and scholarly articles since these sources are academic and present the most accurate information. The report will be divided into several sections, each of them dedicated to a particular aspect of Tony Cade Bambara’s life or creative activity.
Bambara’s Contribution to the World’s Literary Art
Toni Cade Bambara was one of the brightest representatives of the Black Arts Movement. As Holmes remarks, Bambara belonged to an “important handful” of Black female writers whose works initiated unprecedented critical approval (xvii). In the 1970s, together with such outstanding writers as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, Bambara was able to find an approach to Black readers who “hungered” for female authors that described the life of Black women differently from male writers (Holmes xvii). The new authors became a fabulous addition to the “sister” Black female authors June Jordan, Nikki Giovanni, and Sonia Sanchez (Holmes xvii). Female writers of that period paved the way for the coming generations of Black women authors that endeavored to alter the stereotypic perception of Black women in music, literature, media, and cinema.
While Bambara was deeply impacted by the social and political movements of the 1960s-1980s, her writing was much more than merely a “marker of time” (Holmes xviii). Bambara predicted multicultural campaigns that crossed geographic barriers such as forging coalitions of Black women. The importance of Bambara’s works was also reflected through its long-lasting effect on the interpretation of African American language and culture. She established a new standard by being able to promote genuine Black views in print (Holmes xviii). Bambara was the one who empowered Black people irrespective of their age or gender to speak up and declare their opinions and demands.
Bambara’s writing was a powerful instrument of transformation. Her voracious curiosity, passion, zeal, and commitment were present both in her literary works and life (Holmes xviii). Bambara constantly looked for innovative approaches to gaining recognition for promising but unknown filmmakers and writers, especially cultural workers and females from the African diaspora who endeavored to make their artistic works “political swords” (Holmes xviii). Bambara frequently described herself as a cultural worker. She defined a cultural worker as someone who employed theater, music, literature, and other kinds of arts as tools for conversion and self-restoration (Holmes xviii). In the Black community, the function of a cultural worker incorporated commemorating victories and promoting changes.
Throughout her short but bright artistic life, Toni Cade Bambara published several novels and many collections of short stories, was the editor of several anthologies, and produced many screenplays. Her first book The Black Woman was released in 1970, and it provoked a new political campaign within the community of Blacks (Holmes xix). After that, she published almost every year, and each of her books was a success. Many of her short stories were included in children’s anthologies. Bambara’s legacy is outstanding in many spheres of artistic and social movements. By the straightforward description of her vision of the problems Black women faced in the second half of the twentieth century, she inspired thousands of people to fight for their rights and freedoms.
Feminist Views of Toni Cade Bambara
When talking about the role division between men and women in society, Bambara says that the common concept of gender differentiation in duties constitutes a barrier to political consciousness (“On the Issue” 123-124). The author considers such a role division as a severe obstruction to the development of the US. She says it is “a shame” since anyone participating in a revolution should be entitled to self-autonomy (Bambara, “On the Issue” 124). The writer remarks that it is not possible to count on the anthropological investigations trying to interpret the way in which males and females functioned on the primitive societies (Bambara, “On the Issue” 124). Bambara considers such works biased and void of reason.
In the article “The Pill: Genocide or Liberation?” Bambara gives account of her participation at one of the numerous meetings and describes how appalled she was by men’s treatment of women there. When she raised questions regarding the insensitivity of diving the roles into men’s and women’s, Bambara heard remarks about “disrupting” the meeting with “that feminine horseshit” (“The Pill” 203-204). When the break started, all participants were invited to the refreshment table. What Bambara found the most shocking was one man’s declaration that women’s role was taking care of the kitchen rather than participating in policy-making processes (“The Pill” 203-204).
Further, there was another opinion pronounced by a male speaker who said that females had no right to use the pill and have as many children as their men wanted. Bambara expressed a passionate disagreement with such a view by saying that the pill gave women “some control” (“The Pill” 206). Thus, the writer and activist combined in her when she explained her point of view about women’s right to have at least some command of their own lives instead of letting men control every aspect of their existence.
“Gorilla, My Love” and “My Man Bovanne” as Resistance Narratives
Out of all short stories written by Bambara, the greatest popularity was gained by “Gorilla, My Love” and “My Man Bovanne.” In the first one, the narrator is a young girl who is not afraid to express her dissatisfaction and demand justice whenever she feels necessary (Muther 447-448). The girl’s name is Hazel, and she describes an occasion when she went to the movie theater with her brothers to watch a film about gorillas that turned out to be about Jesus. Hazes recollects that she was “ready to kill” not because she “got anything gainst Jesus” but because she had been expecting an entirely different thing (Bambara, “Gorilla, My Love” 15).
The antagonist in the story is Thunderbuns – the “big and bad matron” hired by the movie theater to calm down the naughty children (Bambara, “Gorilla, My Love” 15). Therefore, Thunderbuns is the opposition to Hazel’s “feisty, militant, no-nonsense” character (Muther 447). Then, the girl recollects how she set fire in theater’s lobby and how her parents treated her actions with understanding. The flashback of theater scene is framed by the scenes of Hazel and her relatives sitting in a car and talking about different events from their lives. Hazel is portrayed as a symbol of resistant nature not wanting to conform to the rules that she finds unjustified.
In “My Man Bovanne,” Bambara also tells the story of a person refusing to act in accordance with the rules imposed by others (Maierhofer 57-58). In the story, an elderly woman Miss Hazel meets misunderstanding from her children when she decides to dance with a blind man Bovanne whom everyone else neglects (Bambara, “My Man Bovanne” 4-5). Miss Hazel does not reply anything to her children: “I don’t answer cause I’ll cry” (Bambara, “My Man Bovanne” 5).
However, she decides that no one has the right to tell her what to do. She considers all the other people at the party as ungrateful since Bovanne has always been kind to them. In the end, Miss Hazel decides to take care of Bovanne “cause you gots to take care of the older folks” (Bambara, “My Man Bovanne” 9-10). The woman is determined not to listen to anyone’s opinions of her behavior and finds herself the only one capable of setting any limits in her life.
The contribution Toni Cade Bambara made into the Black Arts Movement cannot be overestimated. Her literary works inspired people of all ages to accept and promote the ideas of equality in all the aspects of life. Bambara’s talent was highly appraised by contemporaries and is still acknowledged by modern critics and audiences. Her characters are rebellious, and they declare the need to disregard social constraints stifling the society. Toni Cade Bambara was a truly dedicated artist whose legacy continues to stir the emotions of many readers.
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Bambara, Toni Cade. “Gorilla, My Love.” Gorilla, My Love. Vintage Books, 1992, pp. 13-20.
—. “My Man Bovanne.” Gorilla, My Love. Vintage Books, 1992, pp. 3-10.
—. “On the Issue of Roles.” The Black Woman: An Anthology, edited by Toni Cade Bambara, Washington Square Press, 2005, pp. 123-136.
—. “The Pill: Genocide or Liberation?” The Black Woman: An Anthology, edited by Toni Cade Bambara, Washington Square Press, 2005, pp. 203-212.
Holmes, Linda Janet. A Joyous Revolt: Toni Cade Bambara, Writer and Activist. PRAEGER, 2014.
Maierhofer, Roberta. “Barbara’s My Man Bovanne.” The Explicator, vol. 57, no. 1, 1998, pp. 57-59.
Muther, Elizabeth. “Bambara’s Feisty Girls: Resistance Narratives in Gorilla, My Love.” African American Review, vol. 36, no. 3, 2002, pp. 447-459.