The differences between the two novels Women of Brewster’s place by Gloria Naylor and As I lay dying by William Faulkner are many and varied. They differ in their tone, style, handling of characters and overall continuity. That, however, is not the topic of this essay. What I will be assessing is how these two authors handle the theme of family. Do they find that family is a support or a trap for the individuals in the story? Maybe both. Do they differ in their way of thinking or are they of one mind on the subject? I will start by dissecting each story based on these ideas, then I will compare the two ways of thinking.
In Gloria Naylor’s Women of Brewster’s place, there are quite a few individuals, each with her own story and her own trials and tribulations. I will follow the flow of the story and talk about the characters in the same order as she has. Mattie Michael has had a hard life. She persisted on loving her son, even though he brought her no end of grief. In that sense, she was trapped by her love for him, but that same love, when transferred onto Ettae Mae Johnson, did bring joy in the form of companionship in her later days.
Also, she was the impromptu mother-figure for most of Brewster’s place but more specifically that of Luciella Louise Turner, who, when faced with the loss of her only child, had decided to give up on life. With nothing but love, willpower and an unspoken sense of family, was Mattie able to snatch her back from the brink of death. In the case of Kiswana Browne, we find both support and entrapment. Although she was supported and loved by her family, Kiswana saw them as an impediment to her life as seen by her independent eyes.
She could not deny her parents love for her, but at the same time could not abide by their passive role in the African-American community. Later, we see that the love of her parents was unconditional to the point of accepting her life in the shoddy apartment where she lived. Not only did they understand what she was going through, but they also were willing, albeit indirectly, to support her financially. That might be the only case in both stories where love of family outweighs the traps that come along with it. Cora Lee’s family was plainly a trap for her.
A trap due to her own limited outlook on life. The denial of the fact that babies do grow up had limited her choices and subjugated her to a life of almost slavery. Her unlikely salvation came in the form of Kiswana Browne. Cora Lee’s pride could not allow her to let Kiswana find her a bad example of motherhood, and so she took it upon herself, if only for a little while, to fix her children up for the play. That could also be interpreted as support, since Kiswana was the closest thing Cora Lee had ever had to a family since she moved out of her parent’s apartment.
In the case of Theresa and Lorraine however, little could be said except the fact that they depended on each other for a sense of family and belonging since they could not count on anyone else accepting them for what they truly were. Although some support did spring up after the rape, that was mainly sympathy and not really true understanding On the whole, the people of Brewster’s place tried to take care of one another and they did have an overall sense of family. They all belonged to these streets, not many wanting to be here and most knowing they could never get out.
In Faulkner’s As I lay dying, the sense of family is far easier to find since most the characters in the novel are of the Bundren’s family. I will talk about some of them individually first, then about all of them as a whole. Anse Bundren, the father figure of the family, has been more of a burden to the family than anything else. His laziness forces the other members of the family to do his chores in his place and thus constitutes a trap for the rest of the family. The closest example we could find of Anse in Gloria Naylor’s novel would be Luciella’s husband.
They both are irresponsible and care more for their own well being than the rest of the family. The linchpin of the family, alive as well as dead, was Addie Bundren. Alive, she took care of the household as well as did field work, thus supporting her family in lieu of her lazy husband. Dead, however, she linked her family in an effort to bring her to Jefferson and thus became more of a burden than anything else. The closest equivalent, while alive, in Gloria Naylor’s novel would be Mattie Michael, while when she is dead it would have to be the death of the baby.
The event that brought all of Brewster’s place together. Jewel, one of Addie’s sons, seems trapped by his love to his dead mother. He can’t think, except in anger, of anything but her. He has a very hard time accepting anyone else’s love for his mother. Overall, the Bundrens find themselves trapped by the promise of Anse to Addie to bring her to Jefferson. A promise that they intend to keep, if only to pay her back for all the support she had given them while alive. While keeping that promise, though, they find themselves having to rely on each other’s support and subsequently grow somewhat closer as a family.
Even in her death, Addie Bundren manages to keep her family together. Finally, as to comparing Gloria Naylor’s and William’s Faulkner’s view on family, I find that they both perceive it very much alike. In Women of Brewster’s place, we find many stories with entrapment in them, but ultimately the family, whether direct or indirect, comes through. Mattie is a surrogate mother, Etta Mae a loving sister, Kiswana a loving child, Ciel a needy daughter, Cora Lee a confused child and Theresa and Louise the odd couple.