This sample Gloria Naylor Essay is published for informational purposes only. Free essays and research papers, are not written by our writers, they are contributed by users, so we are not responsible for the content of this free sample paper. If you want to buy a high quality essay at affordable price please use our custom essay writing service.
Since the publication of her American Book Award-winning first novel, The Women of Brewster Place (1982), Gloria Naylor has become one of the most critically acclaimed and popular black authors at work in America today. Along with Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, she is one of the key forces in the black feminist literary movement. Her novels characteristically explore the experiences of women struggling against poverty and racism in urban America.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Segregation in the South and the City
Naylor was born in New York City in 1950, the daughter of Roosevelt Naylor, a transit worker, and Alberta Naylor, a telephone operator. Prior to the birth of their daughter, Naylor’s parents had lived in Mississippi, where they worked as sharecroppers. Sharecroppers farmed parcels of land owned by someone else in exchange for a share of the final crop; this system took the place of slavery in many parts of the South after the Civil War, and many sharecroppers existed much like slaves, due to the terms of their agreements with landowners. The Naylors left Mississippi to avoid the widespread racism of the still-segregated Deep South and to seek new opportunities for both themselves and their children in the emerging industries of the north. Naylor was raised in low-income African American neighborhoods in New York City, and her experiences there would inform the later writing of her celebrated novel The Women of Brewster Place.
Reading became a passion for Naylor at a young age mostly due to her mother’s influence. Alberta Naylor struggled to obtain books because, in rural Mississippi, she was barred from taking them out of public libraries. After moving with her family to New York in 1949, she made sure her children got an early introduction to the wonders of reading, and Gloria was given her first library card at about age four. A quiet, precocious child, Naylor began writing prodigiously even before her teen years, filling many notebooks with observations, poems, and short stories.
The Civil Rights Movement and Missionary Work
An excellent student, Naylor was placed into advanced classes in high school. Her first exposure to English classics helped shape the foundation of her later writing efforts. ”The passion of the Brontes, the irony of Jane Austen, and the social indignation of Dickens fed my imagination as I read voraciously,” she said in the New York Times Book Review. However, her evolution as a writer was stalled during her senior year in high school as a result of Civil Rights Movement leader Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination. King’s death had a major impact on Naylor, leaving her bewildered about the black community and her own future. Her search for meaning led her to serve as a missionary for the Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York, North Carolina, and Florida for the next seven years. The Christian society of Jehovah’s Witnesses is a religious organization that emphasizes missionary work; while working as a missionary in New York City and in the South, Naylor became well-acquainted with the issues of poverty and racism affecting African Americans across the nation.
Return to Reading and Writing
Naylor left the mission at age twenty-five and went back to school. As she wrote in the New York Times, ”I had used that religion as a straitjacket—for my budding sexuality, for my inability to accept the various shadings of life—while doing it and myself an injustice.” After taking nursing courses at Medgar Evers College, she transferred to Brooklyn College to pursue her interest in English literature. She helped pay for her schooling by working the night shift as a switchboard operator at various New York City hotels.
College was a pivotal time for Naylor. While there her black consciousness, especially as a black woman, began taking form and compelled her to explore her creative powers. Her eyes were opened greatly by reading the works of black female authors such as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. During this time she read Toni Morrison’s novel The Bluest Eye (1970), which was a pivotal experience for her. She began to avidly read the work of other black women novelists as well, none of which she had been exposed to previously. She went on to earn an M.A. in African American studies at Yale University; her thesis eventually became her second published novel, Linden Hills (1985).
Drawing on these authors as role models, Naylor found her stride as a writer and was recognized for her talent soon after she began writing fiction. One of the first short stories she penned appeared in a 1980 issue of the magazine Essence and helped her secure a contract with Viking publishers. In 1982 Naylor published her first novel, The Women of Brewster Place, to almost immediate success. The Women of Brewster Place is made up of seven interconnected stories, involving seven black women who live in a dreary apartment complex that is isolated from the rest of the city. Though they are from widely varying age groups and social backgrounds and have very different outlooks and approaches to life, the women become a strong support group for each other as they struggle with the pain and frustration of finding their dreams constantly thwarted by the forces of racism and sexism. Naylor’s work won the prestigious American Book Award for best first novel in 1983. After the success of her first novel, Naylor continued to publish fiction that explores the African American experience in America; her novels Linden Hills, Mama Day (1988), Bailey’s Cafe (1992), and The Men of Brewster Place (1998) have received widespread critical attention.
Naylor’s other writings have included one work of nonfiction, as well as essays and screenplays. She is also the founder of One Way Productions, an independent film company that she formed to bring Mama Day and other projects to the screen. After a brief marriage during her years as a missionary, Naylor has decided not to remarry or have children because she feels that her solitude is vital for her work. Her commitment to her craft resulted in her becoming one of the few black women to win the coveted Guggenheim Fellowship for creative writing and has made her one of the most important voices in black feminist literature.
Works in Literary Context
Gloria Naylor is often categorized as a member of the black feminist literary movement of the 1980s and 1990s. Along with authors such as Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, and Maya Angelou, Naylor sought to make political statements about racial and gender issues by depicting the personal lives of African American women. Unlike many of her contemporaries, however, Naylor focuses most of her works on modern urban settings rather than past historical time periods.
Feminism Shattered Stereotypes
Naylor’s The Women of Brewster Place is a saga of seven women of different ages, backgrounds, and lifestyles and how they confronted poverty, racism, sexism, and domestic strife both alone and together. Chief among Naylor’s goals in The Women of Brewster Place was to shatter stereotypes about black women and demonstrate that their experience is as varied as that of any other demographic of American society. The novel is set on a symbolically dead-end street that is cut off from “accepted” society by an ugly brick wall, much as blacks are pushed into ghettos by white society. Throughout the novel, the women of the neighborhood must balance concerns regarding money and livelihood with more intimate issues related to marriages and children. Naylor covered the entire gamut of human experience, from Kiswana Browne, who defects from a comfortable middle-class existence to ally with the people of the street, to Cora Lee, whose overriding passion is the care of her beloved babies.
Many critics have pointed out that Naylor’s works take their inspiration from the classics of English literature: Linden Place has been compared to Dante’s Divine Comedy, while Bailey’s Cafe has led reviewers to point out similarities with Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth. The plot twists and thematic concerns of Mama Day have led several reviewers to compare the work to that of Shakespeare, particularly The Tempest. By incorporating classic allusions into work that focuses on African American experiences, Naylor makes an argument for the democratic nature of language and its ability to inspire all members of society no matter what their race, gender, or age.
Works in Critical Context
Many critics, such as Vashti Crutcher Lewis, have commented on the “brilliance” of Naylor’s first novel, and praised her for ”her rich prose, her lyrical portrayals of African Americans, and her illumination of the meaning of being a black woman in America.” In The Women of Brewster Place and her other novels, Lewis states that Naylor focuses on
themes of deferred dreams of love (familial and sexual), marriage, respectability, and economic stability, while observing the recurring messages that poverty breeds violence, that true friendship and affection are not dependent on gender, and that women in the black ghettos of America bear their burdens with grace and courage.
The Women of Brewster Place
The Women of Brewster Place was both a critical and popular success. Publishers Weekly called it ”a remarkable first novel.” The book appeared on the Publishers Weekly trade paperback bestseller list, and was later made into a television movie starring Oprah Winfrey. Assessing Naylor’s appeal, Washington Post reviewer Deirdre Donahue observes: ”Naylor is not afraid to grapple with life’s big subjects: sex, birth, love, death, grief. Her women feel deeply, and she unflinchingly transcribes their emotions.” Lewis describes The Women of Brewster Place as ”a tightly focused novel peopled with well-delineated, realistically portrayed African-American women. Naylor’s use of authentic African American vernacular and precise metaphors are hallmarks.”
Naylor’s third novel is named for its main character—a wise old woman with magical powers whose name is Miranda Day, but whom everyone refers to as Mama Day. New York Times Book Review contributor Bharati Mukherjee states that ”the portrait of Mama Day is magnificent.” Writer Rita Mae Brown states in the Los Angeles Times Book Review that the strength of the book is ”that the women possess the real power, and are acknowledged as having it.” Mukherjee concludes that ”Gloria Naylor has written a big, strong, dense, admirable novel . . . designed to last and intended for many levels of use.”
The Men of Brewster Place
Naylor revisited her first success in 2000 with The Men of Brewster Place. Male characters were very marginal in her first novel, functioning mainly as people who wreaked havoc upon the lives of the women of Brewster Place. In The Men of Brewster Place, the author fills in the background of those characters, giving insight into their actions. African American Review writer Maxine Lavon Montgomery calls Naylor ”a skillful writer adept at creating a range of uniquely individual characters.” The author’s look at the plight of the black man is rendered ”in such a way as to render a compelling fictional expose of his dilemma.” Black Issues in Higher Education reviewer Jackie Thomas praises The Men of Brewster Place as ”a profound work that explores the other side of the gender issue.” He approves of Naylor’s depiction of them as rational beings who ”are able to think for themselves and who realize that they have problems they must solve.”
- Fowler, Virginia C. Gloria Naylor: In Search of Sanctuary. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1996.
- Hall, Chekita T. Gloria Naylor’s Feminist Blues Aesthetic. New York: Garland, 1998.
- Brown, Rita Mae. Review of Mama Day. Los Angeles Times Book Review (February 24, 1985).
- Donahue, Deirdre. Review of The Women of Brewster Place. Washington Post (October 21, 1983).
- Montgomery, Maxine Lavon. Review of The Men of Brewster Place. African American Review (Summer 1994): 173.
- Mukherjee, Bharati. ”There Are Four Sides to Everything.” New York Times Book Review (February 21, 1988): C25.
- Thomas, Jackie. Review of The Men of Brewster Place. Black Issues in Higher Education (December 10,1998): 31.
Free essays are not written to satisfy your specific instructions. You can use our professional writing services to order a custom essay, research paper, or term paper on any topic and get your high quality paper at affordable price. UniversalEssays is the best choice for those who seek help in essay writing or research paper writing in any field of study.