My Man Bovanne by Toni Cade Bambara
Length: 1031 words (2.9 double-spaced pages)
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The short story entitled "My Man Bovanne" was written by Toni Cade Bambara published in Gorilla, My Love (1972), a collection of Bambara's short stories. The piece is not at all lengthy but the content hits you like a ton of bricks. The subtle hints of ageism and racism are scattered about all of her writing. This story tells a fictional tale of a woman named Hazel Peoples and her tribulations dealing with a world that seems to have forgotten the importance of elders.
Miss Hazel, the protagonist of the story, whom is a mother pushing 60 years old, is confronted by her children for dancing with an elderly blind man at a political party. She is faced with many emotions while her kids prosecute her. She feels like she is being harassed by the police on two accounts, almost as if she is put on the stand and being judged by her own offspring. Her children say that she is dancing "like a bitch in heat" (136). Obviously showing no respect for there own mother. Hazel even knows this and doesn't exactly know how to tackle the situation. She does at one point say "Terrible thing when your own children talk to you like that" (136), but all the while trying to keep her composure and defend herself to her moderating children.
Hazel and her family have problems far beyond what is told in this short story. Her daughter Elo and she have issues that go far back. Elo doesn't say much to her mother anymore after an argument they had over Hazel wearing wigs.
Elo sneaks in a couple snide comments but at the end of there argument she puts her hand on her mother's shoulder "not sure it was supposed to be there" (137). Hazel goes on to explain that her and Elo were very close and she can't believe that it came to this, Hazel explains, "she can't put a sure hand on me and say Mama we love you and care about you and you entitled to enjoy yourself cause you a good woman?" (137). This exemplifies what Hazel wants out of the disagreement. The rest of her kids don't show a whole lot of respect to their mother. I can imagine that their father died the children tried to replace him by being authorities to Hazel. This would explain why all of Hazel's kids talk down to her and try to tell her what to do and how to do it.
Hazel is an older woman, and she defiantly feels out of the loop of the new political movement that her kids are so focused on, which is the Grass Roots party. She is treated as merely a sprocket in a large machine. In example, her son Task tells his mother that she was supposed to talk with Reverend Trent about using his basement for campaign headquarters. Hazel has no reason to do this because she doesn't respect the reverend and she feels used by her own kids and she didn't agree to anything before Task said that she was supposed to do this.
Nisi, the grass roots political leader, knows that she needs the elders because they are a sizeable group of people involved with the community. By her saying that Hazel should "encourage the elders to form a Council of Elders to act as an advisory" (137). is really a plan to just keep the older people feeling like they are important. In reality it is to keep them from complaining that they don't do anything, not that they would actually be doing anything real. Hazel sees through this, and that is why she left the party to help out Bovanne and show everyone that elders were more important than what they were doing.
Bovanne is treated as a inadequate person. The people at the political gathering don't really care that he is there and they believe that he doesn't have anything valuable to offer. One of Hazel's children declared that Bovanne needs to wear sunglasses because no one wants to look into his sordid eyes. They also pick on him behind his back by calling him an uncle tom, as if Bovanne is afraid of white peoples, as the African slaves and servants were in the US. Hazel is the only person that actually gives the old man respect and affection, regardless of his age or disability.
Bovanne represents all of the elderly everywhere. He is the most important part of this story. No one gives a damn about him, all the folks at the rally care more about Hazel dancing with Bovanne than they do about the political agenda. They are trying to do good in making the political party the most important part, but they are neglecting the fact that Bovanne has nobody to wash his back or treat him kindly. Hazel's children think they are doing the "right" thing, but they are missing the point.
The tone that Bambara uses is critical to how her story ought to be interpreted. She uses Hazel's character to fulfill her own stances on race and age. Bambara makes use of the African slave dialect to portray a more real sense of African roots within Hazel as to imply that Miss Hazel has been around and back again. It almost certifies that Hazel has more credibility and experience when it comes to racism and life all together. At the conclusion of the story Bambara's own feelings really come out through Hazel about protecting the voice of the elderly: "Cause you gots to take care of the older folks. And let them know they still needed to run the mimeo machine and keep the spark plugs clean and fix the mailboxes for folks who might help us get the breakfast program goin, and the school for the little kids and the campaign and all. Cause old folks is the nation"