Gloria Naylor's Mama Day takes place in two distinct environments, each characterized by the beliefs and ideologies of the people who inhabit the seemingly different worlds. The island of Willow Springs, comprised solely by the descendants of slaves, is set apart from the rest of the United States and is neither part of South Carolina nor Georgia. As such, its inhabitants are exempt from the laws of either state and are free to govern themselves as they see fit. Only a worn-out bridge built in 1920 connects the inhabitants to the mainland, but the people of Willow Springs are entirely self-sufficient. They believe in the ways of their African ancestors and respect the heritage of Sapphira Wade, the original "Mother" who convinced her master to deed the island to his slaves. They live in the present yet believe in the power of supernatural forces and herbal or root medicine. Mama Day, whose imposing presence in Willow Springs is felt by all of the inhabitants, best understands that her world is founded upon the power of belief. Belief in that which may seem to defy all rational or logical sense.
In New York, however, Cocoa finds herself amongst a group of people who seem distant and interested in only themselves. Stemming from many different backgrounds, the people of New York are always in a rush and "moving, moving, moving ---and to where?" (19). No one knows for sure. Just like the subways, racism in New York moved underground, and Cocoa experiences it as she desperately searches for a job. After having lived in New York for seven years, Cocoa still has not found a suitable mate. Only when she meets George does she start believing again in the goodness and sincerity possessed by some. George is t...
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... that Ruby is the source of Cocoa's illness, and admits to Dr. Buzzard that he only believes in himself (292). When he finally visits the other place, he is appalled by Mama Day's "mumbo jumbo" but after seeing Cocoa's condition worsen, he eventually submits to her plan. His inability, however, to understand that a pair of empty hands are all that Mama Day needs costs him his life.
George's inability to believe in that which he could not understand leads to his demise. Unfortunately, as Naylor reminds us, "Rational America" insists that everything should have a rational basis. As products of this rational society, we never accept things at face value because we constantly dig deeper in hopes of completely understanding that which may be eluding us. Sometimes, however, it is best to cast aside reason and accept things for what they are and what they represent.
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