Art is the reflection of the inner world of the person who creates something. Thus, the works of literature may be the manifestation of one’s emotions, feelings, and concerns. Apart from that, they may also show one’s vision of historic events or certain situations as well as the prediction of their outcomes, which may serve as the warning for the readers. This paper discusses how the life of Bebe Moore Campbell is reflected in her novel Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine. Moreover, the essay shows how the novelist’s vision of the social life and her personal problems are transformed into the problems in the lives of the book’s characters. In this work, the biography of the author and the plot of the book are described and then juxtaposed.
It is necessary to describe the author’s life in order to see which facts of her life are entwined with the work. Elizabeth Bebe Moore was born on February 18, 1950, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her mother was a social worker, and her father was the country farm agent. For almost a year, they lived in North Carolina. Later, Bebe Moore’s mother found out that her husband was an alcohol addict. When the future novelist was nearly a year old, her father got into a car crash that left him paraplegic (“Bebe Moore Campbell Biography”).
In 1953, Bebe Moore’s parent divorced, and the girl and her mother moved to her maternal grandmother to Philadelphia. During the summer vacations, Elizabeth went to her father who remained to live in North Carolina. As Bebe Moore mentioned later, spending time in both North and South provided her with the unique opportunity of seeing racial segregation in the United States from different perspectives (“Bebe Moore Campbell”).
When Bebe Moore Campbell’s mother was promoted in Philadelphia’s Department of Welfare, she bought a new house in a multiethnic area. The future novelist lived there with her mother, grandmother, and a cousin. In that neighborhood, the two children experienced strong segregation for the first time. The white inhabitants of the neighborhood actively started to sell their houses, because African Americans began to settle there. Apart from that, the big signs forbidding African Americans to enter restaurants and movie theatres as well as drink from water fountains were posted everywhere. However, the girl’s paternal grandmother taught her to stay positive. She told the girl that the water for the whites was hot and untasty (Nelson 77 – 78).
After graduating Philadelphia’s Girls High School, Bebe Moore Campbell entered the University of Pittsburg. She was the only African American in the dormitory, so she felt uncomfortable and joined the Black Action Society. The writer graduated with Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and worked as a teacher for several years. However, after attending the class by the African American author Toni Cade Bambara, the young girl decided to become a writer (“Bebe Moore Campbell”).
The future novelist started developing her writing skills when she wrote the letters telling the stories from her life to her father who had always told her they were good. Bebe Moore Campbell started her writer’s career with writing magazine articles. When she moved to Los Angeles in 1984, she started writing articles about gender- and race-related issues. Her first book Successful Women, Angry Men: Backlash in the Two-Career Marriage was published in the late 1986 by Random House (“Bebe Moore Campbell Biography”).
The author published eight books; three of them were recognized as The New York Times best sellers. Among the awards she had received were 1978 Professional Woman’s Literature Award and 1980 National Endowment for the Arts Literature grant. Campbell passed away in 2006 at the age of fifty-six from brain cancer (“Bebe Moore Campbell”).
About the Book
The story described in the book is based upon real-life facts. In 1955, a 14-year-old African American boy from Chicago, Emmett Till, was brutally beaten, murdered, and thrown into the river. According to the reports, Emmett Till had whistled at a white woman whose husband was one of the two people who had committed the crime. The articles about this event were in the newspapers throughout the country. The disaster drew government’s attention to the struggle with racism in the South. The bigger part of the story in the book is fictional and focused on the two families – the Cox and Todds, and what happened to them after the boy’s death. This work written by Campbell reminded the people throughout the USA that racism was a serious crime (“Bebe Moore Campbell Biography”).
The major characters of the story are Armstrong Todd (the murdered boy), Lily Cox (the woman whom the murdered boy talked to), Floyd (Lily’s husband), Stonewall Pinochet (one of the richest men in the state of Mississippi), Clayton Pinochet (Stonewall’s son), Doreen (Lily’s daughter), Delotha Todd (Armstrong’s mother), Wydell Todd (Armstrong’s Father), and Wydell, Jr. (Armstrong’s little brother).
The Reflection of the Writer’s Life in Her Work
Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine reflects numerous problems experienced or observed by the author, both general and her personal ones. Among them one should mention the problem of racism, the problem of gender equality, and the problem of upbringing.
The first issue to be discussed is the one of racism. As it has already been mentioned, the author of the book witnessed humiliating attitude towards African Americans during her whole life since she was a young child. She saw how the space was divided in public places, living areas, transport, and so on for the Whites and African Americans. At the time when the writer lived in Philadelphia, African Americans were not allowed to do many things that were normal for the Whites. They were brutally punished for the smallest faults and their offenders sometimes did not carry any responsibility for that.
The case, which the story was based upon, occurred when Campbell was just five years old, but it was not the only case of such type. It is obvious that the writer had contemplated such brutal attitude towards African Americans for years, since not only did she describe the case, but she also wrote about the lives of the characters and the conditions they were brought up in, so that the reader could understand where such problems as segregation originated from. The author states that the main reason of the racism crimes is the decades-long tradition of upbringing. This idea may be proved by the following fact. Although Mamie Cox lived in the conditions not better than those African Americans lived in, it was still a startling thing for her to think of that the Whites could be equal to those they had considered to be subject to them by all laws. As Campbell wrote,
In North Ca’lina them niggers is trying to eat at the Woolworth’s with white folks. Sit-in, they call it. Lordy, Lordy. What is this world coming to? And they say that Kennedy is on their side. He’s gon’ try to make them as good as us. (237)
Bebe Moore Campbell decided to describe one of the most serious racist crimes to draw the attention to the problem, since minor cases, while numerous, were never discussed on the level of the entire nation. In the writer’s opinion, racial segregation is the evil that destroys White society in the first place.
Gender equality is another important issue that Campbell had to face in her life. Her mother and grandmother took the biggest part in the future novelist’s bringing up, since the girl saw her father rather seldom. Thus, she witnessed no problems in the relationships between men and women at home: her mother was an independent woman, earning money and supporting her family by herself. However, the writer’s first husband, Ellis Gordon Jr., could not put up with his wife’s career. As Bebe Moore Campbell later said, “the backlash is men's angry reaction to the feeling that women care more for their jobs than for them” (“Bebe Moore Campbell Biography”). Campbell did not want to follow her husband’s desire for her to obey him, and the marriage ended up with the divorce.
In the discussed book, on the example of Lily Cox, the author sheds the light on what might happen if women keep on obeying their men. Lily Cox her father beating her mother when she was little. When she grew up, she was molested by her uncle, and when the woman got married, she always had to do and say whatever her husband wanted. Lily was afraid to ask for anything as well as to express her own point of view. All she was taught to do throughout her entire life was to praise her husband and do anything possible to please him, whereas Floyd treated her as if his wife were his property. The worst thing was that Lily did not even realize that her relationships with the husband were not normal, she thought he treated her well: “She felt frightened and weak when he was away from her. It was as though she didn’t exist when he was absent” (Campbell 2). She was the victim of Floyd as well as Armstrong.
The next problem addressed in the novel is the one of upbringing. First, it is worth mentioning that despite the fact that Whites had constantly humiliated African Americans, most of African American families had never taught their children to hate the white people. Campbell’s grandmother, for example, just tried to persuade her granddaughter that the things allowed to the whites were worse, so that the girl did not feel upset; she never encouraged her to be violent in response.
In Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, the author describes the upbringing that is contrasted with hers. When Clayton Pinochet sees his father beating the African American servant almost to death, he asks him to stop. However, Mr. Pinochet replies that Clayton should learn to treat the servants this way and that African Americans were not worth his protection. Therefore, one could see that parents taught their children that cruelty was normal.
Although the event the story is focused upon is a tragic one, it is obvious that the author hopes for the happy future. Campbell witnessed how the situation with both racial and gender equality was rapidly changing. Despite the prejudice and disrespect towards African Americans, she managed to get good education and become famous. First, the novelist made the teaching career, and then, she became a writer, although her husband had never supported that. Bebe Moore Campbell saw how African American society gradually rose from the status of slaves to the one of free citizens.
The novelist’s positive expectations are also reflected in her work. After the death of their son, the Todd family starts their life all over again. Although there is much trouble that they have to go through, as their younger son went to live in the city and joined the criminal gang there and Wydell started taking too much alcohol, they managed to solve all their problems in a peaceful manner, and they were on the way of becoming a happy family.
For the contrast, the white population of the city described in the book gradually degraded. Men became violent, women were too scared to express their opinion, and overall, the Whites were too blind to see that the authorities managing their city had been stealing money from them. They were even too ignorant to realize that if they had found a job elsewhere, they would have been able to avoid poverty. In this way, the author warns White American society what may happen to them if they do not change their way of life.
However, Campbell believes that the people of the United States can only be happy when everyone is happy. This idea is reflected in the story. The characters representing the new generation in the book (Doreen Cox, Clayton Pinochet) are not afraid of the changes coming to society. They want to live in the environment free of prejudice where everyone is equal despite their race and gender. Doreen is an independent woman who wants to find job so that she does not have to give her money to the authorities anymore; Clayton wants to protect the rights of African Americans.
To conclude with, the ideas, concerns and problems faced by Bebe Moore Campbell are reflected in Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine in numerous and different ways. First, the author thinks that American society can only be happy when it is united and its each member is respected. Secondly, the novelist addresses the issues she had to cope with in the real life: race segregation and gender equality. Campbell warns the readers of what might become to their society if it does not become free of violence.