Essay: Praise for the Widow by Paule Marshall

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This essay is on Praise for the Widow by Paule Marshall. Marshall does not criticize African Americans achieving economic success and rising out of impoverished conditions, but what bothers her is that they disregard their cultural legacies in the process.

After reverse journeying through cultures, the story concludes with Avey joining forces with her ancestral heritage, signified by taking back her full name, Avatara, and a pledge to impart to her children, grandchildren, and any interested in reverence a rich African-island-American lineage, the lessons she learns. Rogers again evaluates the adoption of Avey’s full name:

Avey’s full name suggests the idea of an avatar, meaning the manifestation of a deity or the embodiment of a concept. With her name shortened its signification was obscured, its power abbreviated. Her acknowledgment of her name returns the power to connect with the past. Such an invocation appears to have occurred when Avey’s dancing figure summons recognition and adulation. This incident and Avey’s claiming of her birth name reinforce the notion of Avey’s body as a repository of memory. She embodies the concept of an African past lost and the longing to reclaim it. (Rogers 89)

The transcontinental cultural connections, the meticulous attention to African cosmology and ritual, as well as African American ritual and belief and the power of possessing a moral and spiritual honesty that Marshall encourages her readers to realize. Consequently, in order to reconnect with her past, Avey must recognize her spiritual and familial destiny, participate in a renovation of the Middle Passage, travel to foreign lands, and submit to and participate in centuries old rituals, dance with African gods and goddesses.

Marshall does not criticize African Americans achieving economic success and rising out of impoverished conditions, but what bothers her is that they disregard their cultural legacies in the process. Throughout the novel, she disparages the Johnson’s not for making a more contented life with the money they earn, but for letting go of their old practices, beliefs, their values, and their cultural appreciations. To disregard the past is unpardonable.

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