‘Maggie Of The Green Bottles’ by Toni Cade Bambara

Maggie Of The Green Bottles by Toni Cade Bambara, 1972

The magic trick:

Giving us a narrator who can reflect an outsider’s sympathy for Maggie but also communicate the family’s frustrations

This story shows its magic trick in the first paragraph. The first word is Maggie. You’ll note that Maggie also features in the title. So it’s her story, right?

Yes, but, quickly the reader realizes that this is not a third-person narration. We’re getting this from Maggie’s great-granddaughter. So it becomes a skewed portrait. Skewed in the best possible way. We’re getting this from inside the family. It’s a sympathetic narration, but still one who brings a total understanding of the family’s prejudices and frustrations regarding Maggie. That’s absolutely crucial to her life. Maggie wouldn’t make sense from an impartial outside perspective. The entire point was how she related to and rebelled against her family. As such, this narrator is perfect.

And that’s quite a trick on Bambara’s part.

The selection:

I am told by those who knew her, whose memories consist of something more substantial than a frantic gray lady who poured coffee into her saucer, that Margaret Cooper Williams wanted something she could not have. And it was the sorrow of her life that all her children and theirs and theirs were uncooperative – worse, squeamish. Too busy taking in laundry, buckling at the knees, putting their faith in Jesus, mute and sullen in their sorrow, too squeamish to band together and take the world by storm, make history, or even to appreciate the calling of Maggie the Ram, or the Aries that came after. Other things they told me too, things I put aside to learn later thought I always knew, perhaps, but never quite wanted to, the way you hold your breath and steady yourself to the knowledge secretly, but never let yourself understand. They called her crazy.

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