Relativity. Subjectivity. These two words seem to permeate Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day. In her novel, the narration provides readers with multiple viewpoints. These viewpoints include Ophelia/ Cocoa and George and an omniscient narrator.
Ophelia/Cocoa and George’s viewpoints are done in first person narration and seem apt because readers see the subjective nuances of each character.
The omniscient third person narrator who discloses the events that happen in Willow Springs seems apt too because that type of narration provides a certain amount of credibility for what happens in a place that is in “another world” (175). This narrator provides Miranda’s thoughts, but the narrator changes viewpoints to the subjective I when providing these thoughts.
This can throw a reader off guard as she or he tries to figure out who the pronoun is. Nevertheless, the multiple viewpoints are effective because they provide no absolute truth; the truth is distorted through each retelling, just as Cocoa and George’s fight in Willow Springs is distorted by Bernice: “[George] calls you filthy names, knocks you over a chair, and then hits you in the head with a vase” (144).
Willow Springs is a back-woodsy place that is populated with strange characters.
The strangest character is Miranda/Mama Day. Miranda’s name seems significant: it is based on the Latin verb miro or miror. Both have roughly the same definition: to wonder at, to marvel. Miranda creates a sort of mystery, something to marvel, to wonder, at by using mysterious medicine/herbs from the natural world and being a quasi-witch-like figure.
She is also mysterious because of her excessive age and the lightning storm, which we are suppose to believe she created. Miranda’s actions bring to mind another Latin phrase: Post hoc ergo propter hoc, which translates after this therefore because of this. This means that because one thing happens after another, the first event was a cause of the second event. For example, it is not logical to say that Bernice’s “womb is good and strong–all my [Miranda’s] star grass and red raspberry tea–sized right, shaped right, moves about like it should” (76). The logic that follows is this: Because Bernice used Miranda’s “star grass” and tea, her womb, therefore, is in good shape. This logic is fallacious because the womb could have been strong to start with or it could have gradually gotten stronger through various causes or...
Finally, Mama Day seems to have elements that are akin to Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, and I think Naylor drew upon Their Eyes when writing her novel. Too many similarities exist; I will list a couple: Tea Cake and George can both be seen as savior-type figures; one figure suffers hallucinations–in Their Eyes, the figure is Tea Cake and in Mama Day, the figure is Cocoa; a hurricane is in both novels; Tea Cake and Janie’s relationship is not based on male or female rule, just as Cocoa and George’s isn’t. Although these similarities exist, how and why does Naylor revise them?