Mamba’s Daughters’ Story Trumps Technical Flaws

In Mamba’s Daughters, Du Bose Heyward takes readers inside America’s black community in the first quarter of the 20th century.

Mamba, a lower class black woman, attaches herself to an impoverished but genteel South Carolina white family, the Wentworths. Through them, she inveigles a job for herself and protection for her daughter and granddaughter.

Mamba terrorizes her brawny, dull-witted, liquor-loving daughter, Hester, into putting granddaughter Lissa’s interests above her own. Through the Wentworth’s son, Mamba gets Hester a job mining phosphate. Both women’s incomes go mainly to a fund for Lissa’s education.

Lissa is raised a “light black” snob but part of her longs for the fun-loving “full black” life. Mamba’s quick thinking and Hester’s muscles rescue Lissa from being raped. They send Lissa off to pursue a singing career in New York City.

As literature, Heyward’s work has plenty of technical flaws. Foremost among them is Heyward’s failure to maintain a consistent point of view. A 360-degree perspective on  black gentrification is more useful for the student of history than for the reader of literature.

Not only does the viewpoint shift, but Hester’s final assertion of her mother’s role shows more mental acumen than she had proven capable of to that point.

However, Heyward puts his tale of the rise of black professionals in a story that rises far above technical failures.

Mamba’s Daughters will knock your socks off.

Mamba’s Daughters
By Du Bose Heyward
Doubleday, Doran,  1929
311 pages
1929 bestseller # 7
My Grade: B+
© 2009 Linda Gorton Aragoni
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Linda Aragoni

I read. I write. I think. I make big ideas simple. I help teachers teach expository writing to teens and adults. In my free time, I read and review old novels.

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