Gather Together in My Name

Gather Together in My Name

Infobox Book |
name = Gather Together in My Name


image_caption =
author = Maya Angelou
country = United States
language = English
genre = Autobiography
publisher = Random House
pub_date = 1974 (1st edition)
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages = 214 pp Hardcover 1st edition)
isbn = ISBN 0-394-48692-7 (hardcover 1st edition)
preceded_by = I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
followed_by =

"Gather Together in My Name" is an autobiography by Maya Angelou. It is the second book in Angelou's series of six autobiographies, and takes place immediately following the events described in "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Written three years after "Caged Bird", [Lupton (1999), p. 131] the book "depicts a single mother's slide down the social ladder into poverty and crime." [Lauret, p. 120] As Angelou's biographer, Mary Jane Lupton, states, "She was able to survive through trial and error, while at the same time defining herself in terms of being a black woman." [Lupton (1998), p. 6]

Explanation of the novel's title

The book's title is taken from Matthew 18:19-20: "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (King James version).

Critic Selwyn Cudjoe believes that the title of this book may have an additional significance. A prevailing them in "Gather Together" is how one black female was able to survive in the wider context of post-war America, but it also signifies how all black females survived in a white-dominated society. As Cudjoe says, "It is almost as though the incidents in the text were simply 'gathered together' under the name of Maya Angelou".

Plot summary

The book opens in the years following World War II. Angelou, still known as "Marguerite," or "Rita," has just given birth to her son, Guy, and is living with her mother and stepfather in San Francisco. The book follows Marguerite from the ages of 17 to 19, through a series of relationships, occupations, and cities as she attempts to raise her son and to "find her niche," or place in the world. It continues exploring the themes of Angelou's isolation and loneliness begun in her first volume, and the ways she overcomes racism, sexism, and her continued victimization.

Rita goes from job to job and from relationship to relationship, hoping that "my charming prince was going to appear out of the blue" (p. 114). "My fantasies were little different than any other girl of my age" Angelou wrote. "He would come. He would. Just walk into my life, see me and fall everlastingly in love... I looked forward to a husband who would love me ethereally, spiritually, and on rare (but beautiful) occasions, physically" (p. 141).

Some humorous and potentially dangerous events occur throughout the book. While living in San Diego, Rita becomes an "absentee manager" for two lesbian prostitutes. When threatened with incarceration and losing her son for her illegal activities, she escapes to her grandmother's home in Stamps, Arkansas. Her grandmother sends her back to San Francisco for her safety and "protection" after physically punishing Rita for confronting two white women in a department store. This event demonstrates their different and irreconcilable attitudes about race, paralleling events in Angelou's first book. Back with her mother, Rita attempts to enlist in the Army, only to be rejected during the height of the Red Scare because she had attended the California Labor School as a young teenager.

Another event of note described in the book was, in spite of "the strangest audition" (p. 117), her short stint dancing and studying dance with her partner, R.L. Poole, who became her lover until he reunited with his previous partner, ending Rita's show business career for now.

A turning point in the book occurs when Rita falls in love with the Episcopalian preacher, L.D. Tolbrook, who seduces Rita and introduces her to "the life" of prostitution. Her mother's hospitalization and death of her brother Bailey's wife drives Rita back to her mother's home back in San Francisco. She leaves her young son with a caretaker, Big Mary, but when she returns for "the baby", she finds that Big Mary had disappeared with Guy. She tries to elicit help from L.D., who puts her in her place when she finds him at his home and requests that he help her find her son. She finally realizes that he had been taking advantage of her, but is able to trace Big Mary and Guy to Bakersfield, California, and has an emotional reunion with her son. She writes, "In the plowed farmyard near Bakersfield, I began to understand that uniqueness of the person. He was three and I was nineteen, and never again would I think of him as a beautiful appendage of myself" (p. 192).

The end of the book finds Rita defeated by life: "For the first time I sat down defenseless to await life's next assault" (p. 206). The book ends with an encounter with a drug addict who cared enough for her to show her the effects of his drug habit, which galvanizes her to reject drug addiction and make something of her life for her and her son.

Themes

"Gather Together in My Name" was not as critically acclaimed as Angelou's first autobiographical volume, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings". As feminist scholar Mary Jane Lupton states, "the tight structure" of "Caged Bird" seems to "crumble" in this book, and that Angelou's "childhood experiences were replaced by episodes which a number of critics consider disjointed or bizarre". Lupton's explanation for this was that Angelou's later works consisted of episodes, or "fragments", that are "reflections of the kind of chaos found in actual living". Lupton continues, "In altering the narrative structure, Angelou shifts the emphasis from herself as an isolated consciousness to herself as a black woman participating in diverse experiences among a diverse class of peoples".cite web | title = Maya Angelou (1928- ) | publisher = Poetry Foundation | url = http://www.poetryfoundation.org/archive/poet.html?id=180 | accessdate = 2008-02-16] Cudjoe notes, about "Gather Together", that it moved from the "intense solidity and moral center" found in "Caged Bird" to "conditions of alienation and fragmentation". [Lupton (1999), p. 130] This movement affected the book's organization and quality, making it a "less satisfactory" sequel. [Lupton (1999), p. 130]

In her autobiographies, motherhood is a "prevailing theme," and this emphasis begins in "Gather Together in My Name." This volume describes Rita's changed relationship with her own mother, the woman who had abandoned her and her brother as children, indicated when Rita returns to her mother at the end of the book, "after she realizes how close to the edge she has come, as a woman and as a mother". [Lupton (1998), p. 12] Rita's relationship with her mother becomes more important in this book. Vivian Baxter cares for Rita's young son as Rita attempts to make a living, and as Lupton states, "one gets a strong sense throughout "Gather Together" of [Rita's] dependence on her mother". [Lupton (1999), p. 138] Angelou has compared the production of this book to giving birth, an apt metaphor given the birth of her son at the end of its predecessor. Like many authors, Angelou views the creative writing process and its results as her children. [Lupton (1999), p. 131]

All of Angelou's autobiographies, especially this volume and its predecessor, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings", was "very much concerned with what [Angelou] knew and how she learned it". [Lupton (1998), p. 16] Critic Mary Lane Lupton compares Angelou's informal education described in this book with the education of other black writers of the 20th century. Like writers such as Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and James Baldwin, Angelou did not earn a college degree and depended upon the "direct instruction of African American cultural forms". [Lupton (1998), p. 16]

"Gather Together" holds onto the freshness of "Caged Bird," but has a self-consciousness absent from the first volume. As author Hilton Als states, Angelou "replaces the language of social history with the language of therapy". The book exhibits the narcissism and self-involvement of young adults. It is Rita who is the focus, and all other characters are secondary. Els insists that these secondary characters, often presented "with the deft superficiality of a stage description", often pay the price for Rita's self-involvement. Much of Angelou's writing in this volume is "reactive, not reflective" According to Lupton, Angelou chooses in "Gather Together" to drop more conventional forms of autobiography, which has a beginning, middle, and end. For example, there is no central experience in her second volume, as there is in "Caged Bird" with Angelou's account of her rape at the age of eight. Lupton believes that this central experience is relocated "to some luminous place in a volume yet to be". [Lupton (1999), p. 130]

Feminist scholar Maria Lauret states that "the formation of female cultural identity" is woven into Angelou's narrative, setting her up as "a role model for Black women". Lauret agrees with other scholars that Angelou is reconstructing the Black woman's image throughout her autobiographies, and that Angelou uses her many roles, incarnations, and identities in her books to "signify multiple layers of oppression and personal history". Angelou begins this technique in her first book, and continues it in "Gather Together in My Name", especially her demonstration of the "racist habit" of renaming African Americans. Lauret sees Angelou's themes of the individual's strength and ability to overcome throughout Angelou's autobiographies as well. [Lauret p. 120-121] When Angelou was concerned about what her readers would think when she disclosed that she had been a prostitute, her husband Paul Du Feu encouraged her to "tell the truth as a writer" and to "be honest about it". [Lupton (1998), p. 14]

Author Hilton Els insists that while Angelou's original goal, beginning with her first autobiography, was to "tell the truth about the lives of black women",cite news | last = Als | first = Hilton | title = Songbird: Maya Angelou takes another look at herself | work = The New Yorker | url = http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2002/08/05/020805crbo_books?currentPage=all | accessdate = 2002-08-05] her goal evolved, in her later volumes, to document the ups and downs of her own life. Els also states that Angelou's autobiographies have the same structure: they give a historical overview of the places she was living in at the time and how she, as a model, coped within the context of a larger white society and the ways that her story played out within that context. Critic Selwyn Cudjoe agrees, especially in regards to "Gather Together". He states that Angelou is still concerned with the questions of what it means to be a black female in the US, but focuses upon herself at a certain point in history. As Cudjoe says, "It is almost as though the incidents in the text were simply 'gathered together' under the name of Maya Angelou".

Angelou's autobiographies, including this volume, have been used in narrative and multicultural approaches in teacher education. Dr. Jocelyn A. Glazier, a professor at George Washington University, has used "Caged Bird" and "Gather Together in My Name" to train teachers how to "talk about race" in their classrooms. Due to Angelou's use of understatement, self-mockery, humor, and irony, readers of "Gather Together in My Name" and the rest of Angelou's autobiographies wonder what she "left out" and are unsure about how to respond to the events Angelou describes. Angelou's depictions of her experiences of racism force white readers to explore their feelings about race and their own "privileged status". Glazier found that although critics have focused on where Angelou fits within the genre of African American autobiography and on her literary techniques, readers react to her storytelling with "surprise, particularly when [they] enter the text with certain expectations about the genre of autobiography." [cite journal | last = Glazier | first = Jocelyn A. | title = Moving closer to speaking the unspeakable: White teachers talking about race | journal = Teacher Education Quarterly | volume = 30 | issue = 1 | pages = 73–94 | publisher = California Council on Teacher Education | date = Winter 2003 | url = http://www.calfac.org/allpdf/teqwinter2003/glazier.pdf | accessdate = 2008-02-18]

References

* Angelou, Maya (1974). "Gather together in my name". New York: Random House. ISBN 0-394-48692-7
* Lauret, Maria (1994). "Liberating literature: Feminist fiction in America". New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415065151
* Lupton, Mary Jane (1998). "Maya Angelou: A critical companion". Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-30325-8
* Lupton, Mary Jane (1999). "Singing the black mother". In "Maya Angelou's I know why the caged bird sings: A casebook", Joanne M. Braxton, ed. New York: Oxford Press. ISBN 0-1951-1606-2

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