Dual Vision in Gwendolyn Brooks's Maud Martha

Since its publication in 1953, Gwendolyn Brooks's Maud Martha has been a novel in search of a critic. Major studies of the black American novel have either completely ignored it or have included only brief, general remarks. Noel Schraufnagel is typical when he devotes a page to Maud Martha, briefly mentioning a few episodes and concluding that "Maud Martha is the type of enduring black woman that has become a stereotype." Only Barbara Christian recognizes significant value in Brooks's novel. Although she does not provide an extensive analysis, Christian speaks favorably of the novel as a work that "heightens our awareness of the wonderfulness of the commonplace." Christian also recognizes the importance of family life and cultural roots for Maud. In contrast to Schraufnagel, she correctly perceives that Maud Martha "is not reduced to a stereotype either in the grand heroic style or the mean downtrodden mode.... In Maud Martha, Brooks deflated the mystique of heroism and grand defeat by illuminating the commonplace and thus created a new type of black woman character." The only full-length critical article on Maud Martha, Annette Oliver Shands 's "Gwendolyn Brooks as Novelist," is not perceptive. Shands treats the novel only as opportunity to quote parallels from Brooks's poetry. The comparisons are obvious and fail to provide the reader with any insights into Maud Martha as a work of fiction.

From Critique 25, no. 4 (Summer 1984). © Helen Dwight Reid Educational Foundation.


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