Mary Elizabeth by Jessie Faucet, 1919
The magic trick:
Bringing slavery into the story’s present tense by using a simple conflict / story about the past / lesson learned structure
The story begins and ends with the marital frustrations of Roger and Sally. In the middle is the story we hear Mary Elizabeth’s tale of loves separated by the horrors of slavery. This of course puts Roger and Sally’s minor squabbles in perspective. It’s a simple but effective way to connect the past to the present and make the present not look so bad. And that’s quite a trick on Faucet’s part.
That shocked me out of my headache. “Four times, Mary Elizabeth, and you had all those stepmothers!” My mind refused to take it in.
“Oh, no-o-me! I always lived with mamma. She was his first wife.”
I hadn’t thought of people in the state in which I had instinctively placed Mary Elizabeth’s father and mother as indulging in divorce, but as Roger says slangily, “I wouldn’t know.”
Mary Elizabeth took off the dingy hat. “You see, papa and mamma –” the ineffable pathos of hearing this woman of sixty-four, with a husband of eighty, use the old childish terms!
“Papa and mamma wus slaves, you know, Mis’ Pierson, and so of course they wusn’t exackly married. White folks wouldn’t let ’em. But they wus awf’ly in love with each other. Heard mamma tell erbout it lots of times, and how papa wus the han’somest man! Reckon she wus long erbout sixteen or seventeen then. So they jumped over a broomstick, en they wus jes as happy! But not long after I come erlong, they sold papa down South, and mamma never see him no mo’ fer years and years. Thought he was dead. So she married again.”
“And he came back to her, Mary Elizabeth?” I was overwhelmed with the woefulness of it.
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