The Story Of A Scar by James Alan McPherson, 1973
The magic trick:
Presenting three (not particularly appealing) paths to success for African-Americans in the mid-20th century
“The Story Of A Scar” uses what I would judge an annoying framing device. The narrator has preconceived notions about the woman with the scar. It seems these are shattered by her story, though I confess I don’t totally see how. The conclusion wasn’t as surprising or altering to me as it was to the narrator. Mostly, the whole frame just gets in the way for me.
That complaint aside, the story of a scar that sits within that frame is very interesting. I appreciated the three ways of getting ahead for mid-20th century African-Americans presented in the story. We have Billy Crawford who is adamant to the point of being obnoxious that the only way up is to be very ambitious and serious about your education. Teddy Johnson is a playboy, making money through illegal gambling. And then there is the woman who incurs the scar. In lieu of pursuing her own success, she’s left to dodge lecherous co-workers and pick what kind of man to attach herself to.
None of the three options is appealing. Each causes problems for the character in question, and all of it is a lot more difficult than the paths available to middle class whites of the same era. In that sense, the scar belongs to more than just the one woman in the story. And that’s quite a trick on McPherson’s part.
“Red Bone tried to push me closer to him, but I am not a sneaky person and didn’t pay her no mind. She’d say, ‘Girl, I think you and Eldorado ought to git it on. There ain’t a better-lookin’ dude workin’ in the post office. Besides, you ain’t goin’ nowhere with that professor Billy Crawford. And if you scared to tell him to keep off you, I’ll do it myself, bein’ as I am your sister and the one with your interest in mind.’…”
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