Survival in The Hammer Man
A young girl “ a deviant family” living in “ a deviant neighborhood” is the first person narrator and protagonist in Toni Cade Bambara’s The Hammer Man. The story takes place during a period of time when the girl supposedly gains new maturity, sensitivity, and insight as she develops from a tomboy to a young lady. The focus of the tale is her struggle with a neighborhood antagonist as she describes the events of about a year. At first she speaks in a very self-centered manner and later, relating her final encounter with this rival, she reveals somewhat greater empathy and understanding.
The girl, who is not named in the story, is actually a tough, street smart brat who gets her kicks out of picking on the mentally impaired Manny. Manny is a challenge to her because “ say you were crazy. . .you were officially not to be messed with” (paragraph 2) and she never does what she is officially told. When Manny attempts to retaliate, she fakes illness to avoid him. Rather than facing the consequences of her actions herself, she unrepentingly watches others fight her battles for her. Miss Rose fights with Manny’s mother and her father argues with Manny’s older brother. She accepts this as her due. Her only regret, at this time, is that she “’ve settled for hitting off the little girls in the school yard” (paragraph 3). They are not crazy and would not come after her, forcing her self-imposed illness which is keeping her isolated.
Thus, the girl’s growth and development in the story is influenced by Manny. He is the unknowing and unrecognized catalyst who triggers the change and sets in motion the maturing of this girl.
Crazy Manny is also a product of the same deviant neighborhood. Hi...
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...tion and reverts to her self-centeredness. However, it is a beginning. And although at the end her thoughts of Manny are less than nothing, she is changing. She does not realize, even to herself, how he has influenced this change.
Manny we are told ended up “ some kind of big house for people who lose their marbles” (paragraph 33). How different the ending of this story could have been if the cops had admired his skill, or if he had had a mentor to guide him and to develop his abilities as an athlete, or if he had been given the opportunity to use his hammer as a tool instead of a weapon.
The story is mainly about this tough narrator’s growing up and surviving a hostile environment, but it is also a sad tale of how society fails those, like Manny, who are less able to cope.
Story reprinted in St. Martin's Guide to Writing, 4th Edition, 1994: 390-394.
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