Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird by Toni Cade Bambara, 1971
The magic trick:
Adding a subplot of sorts – the dynamic between the narrator and Cathy
Toni Cade Bambara takes center stage this week at the SSMT site. That means a whole lot of dialect, but I promise I will not cop out and make that the highlighted magic trick everyday.
Today’s feature is a fascinating look at the ownership of one’s narrative. Granny, in this story, does not want the white cameramen to film her family’s life and land for the county movie they are making about food stamps. Fair enough. There is the sense that she will not be a pawn in whatever narrative they are trying to construct. The irony, of course, is that she is now a pawn in the narrative Bambara has constructed, but now we’re just being meta for the sake of being cute.
Back to business… I really like the dynamic between the narrator and Cathy. It’s definitely on the side of the main story, but it’s definitely present. The narrator isn’t the most insightful person in the yard. She is aware, though, of Cathy’s intelligence. She admires it even to the point of jealousy.
This is not the essence of the story – Granny and Granddaddy Cain are. It’s the kind of subsidiary detail that makes a story truly memorable. It rings so true and broadens the story’s appeal and thematic messages. And that’s quite a trick on Bambara’s part.
“So here comes . . . this person . . . with a camera, takin pictures of the man and the minister and the woman. Takin pictures of the man in his misery about to jump, cause life so bad and people been messin with him so bad. This person takin up the whole roll of film practically. But savin a few, of course.”
“Of course,” said Cathy, hatin the person. Me standin there wonderin how Cathy knew it was “of course” when I didn’t and it was my grandmother.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.