MARY HELEN WASHINGTON


Rage and Silence in Gwendolyn Brooks' Maud Martha

Then emotionally aware
Of the black and boisterous hair,
Taming all that anger down.
Gwendolyn Brooks

When Gwendolyn Brooks' autobiographical first novel, Maud Martha, was published in 1953 it was given the kind of ladylike treatment that assured its dismissal. Reviewers invariably chose to describe the novel in words that reflected what they considered the novel's appropriate feminine values. The young black woman heroine was called a "spunky Negro girl" as though the novel were a piece of juvenile fiction. Reviewers, in brief notices of the novel, insisted on its optimism and faith: Maud's life is made up of "moments she loved," she has "disturbances," but she "struggles against jealousy" for the sake of her marriage; there is, of course, "the delicate pressure of the color line," but Maud has the remarkable "ability to turn unhappiness and anger into a joke." Brooks' style was likened to the exquisite delicacy of a lyric poem. The New York Times reviewer said the novel reminded him of Imagist poems, of "clusters of ideograms from which one recreates connected experience."

____________________
From The Massachusetts Review 24, no. 2 (Summer 1983). © 1984 The Massachusetts Review, Inc. (Original title: "'Taming All That Anger Down': Rage and Silence in Gwendolyn Brooks' Maud Martha.")

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