Rewriting the Word: American Women Writers and the Bible

By Amy Benson Brown | Go to book overview

Chapter Three
Writing Home: The Bible and Gloria Naylor's Bailey's Cafe and Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon

"The Bible Is an Awfully Large Book"

It is a Bible-quoting battle between a frigid fundamentalist and a quasi-supernatural madam that inspires Bailey, the overarching narrator of Gloria Naylor's Bailey's Cafe ( 1992), to remark on the Bible's size.1 "Awfully large," however, refers not merely to length. Bailey's sardonic response to the interpretive battle being waged in his cafe underlines the breadth and diversity within the ancient text that Naylor engages in her revision of several women biblical characters. With these characters, Naylor examines the constructions of heterosexual identity through which African American women's sexuality, in particular, has been understood. Safely ensconced in the "whore- house convent" (116) that is Eve's boarding house, Esther, Jessie Bell, and two Marys tell their stories of origins. "Home" in each of the women characters' stories represents the site of the construction and control of women's identity and sexuality. Naylor's biblically informed imagination, however, constantly underscores the fact that the production of meaning is always mythical and textual as well social and historical.

Myth is equally important to Toni Morrison's novel Song of Solomon ( 1978).2 Though the novel's title evokes the biblical

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