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It has been said before that opposites attract when it comes to love. In Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day, two people who would seemingly never end up together somehow find a way to form a relationship that eventually leads to a marriage. George and Cocoa, the two lovers featured in this book, come from backgrounds that could not be more unlike the other. How they end up falling in love is close to a miracle, but because of their huge difference in background, they bring to each other what they wish they could have in themselves. While George is a man who comes from the diverse and strictly governed big city atmosphere of New York, Ophelia is a woman who was raised on the island of Willow Springs which is inhabited by descendants of slaves and is subject to racism and disregard for normal conduct in society. New York is a place where science and facts control the decisions of life; Willow Springs has many rituals based on magic and superstition. Because the two locations are so incredibly opposite from one another, it is difficult for George to believe in anything that Cocoa was raised on. However, in order for George to get Mama Day’s approval, he must believe and understand magic as it exists in Willow Springs both in its physical form and as a form of belief.
The biggest influence of magic on the island of Willow Springs is Mama Day. A descendant of the legendary Sapphira Wade, Mama Day is said to have convinced her master to give the land that is Willow Springs to the slaves, for which she “…bore him seven sons in less than a thousand days, to put a dagger through his kidney and escape the hangman’ noose, laughing in a burst of flames.” (Naylor 3) The influence of Sapphira’s magic is carried over into Mama Day, as it is said that she could, “…walk through a lighting storm without being touched; grab a bolt of lightning in her hand; use the heat of lightning to start the kindling going under the medicine pot.” (Naylor 3) For a rational minded person like George, this and some of the other traditions can be hard to accept. One such example of George’s ideas of normal human behavior clashing with Mama Day’s occurs when Mama Day and Grandmother Abigail give the married couple a quilt made entirely of articles of clothing from past generations.
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"Ethnics and Heritage Destroyed George in Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day." 123HelpMe.com. 12 Dec 2019
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To do this, George becomes more involved in the society and experiences some things from the people of the island that are very different to him. It’s very difficult for him to do this, of course. A prime example of this is his reaction to the customs of Willow Springs when he witnesses a funeral for a child. The ceremony involved the mother carrying her dead child to Mama Day’s home when the child was obviously dead. His reaction tells his horror; “No, this was the stuff of dreams. I spoke because I needed to hear the reality of my own voice, although my question was as insane as the answer I received: ‘She’s going to the other place.’” (Naylor 258)
An even more extreme case of George’s failure to accept magic occurs later when Cocoa is sick. He cannot believe that the herbal conjure of Mama Day will cure her better than modern medical equipment, and he confronts Mama Day about this saying, “It’s cruel to play these games when it’s your own niece who is sick.” (Naylor 296) This expression tells exactly how George feels about conjure. He fully rejects it and sees it as a game and not reality. Cocoa’s opinion of herbal treatment, however, is opposite to that of George’s. She accepts the healing techniques from Mama Day and exclaims to George, “My God, these were the women who raised me- I would trust them with my life and so whatever Mama Day had done is was for a good reason. But you refused to share my optimism…” (Naylor 273) For her, this was what life was like growing up. She knows that Mama Day’s techniques work, and that Mama Day cares about her and wouldn’t use them unless they did. In a similar way to how George fails to accept the conjure techniques of Mama Day, Cocoa cannot accept George for doing this.
Mama Day’s conjure is a part of Mama Day that separates the main characters. George and Cocoa’s differences are so heavily defined by their backgrounds that it’s clear why they have problems when it comes to the issue of magic. Cocoa’s childhood was involved a great amount of Mama Day’s healing techniques. George, on the other hand, was raised in a boy’s shelter with rules and regulations. Such behavior as that displayed by Mama Day and the other people of Willow Springs is something that he had never had to deal with before. Likewise, Mama Day rejects the ideas and values that George has. She feels it is a testament to her magic and conjure if she can convince George that the powers she inherited from past generations really works. This idea, however, is too much for George, and he dies, ending his marriage. Naylor’s regard for magic in this book brings forth the idea that it is real, and exists in society as faith in the unbelievable and the ability to create miracles. This is what separates Willow Springs from the mainland, and what separated George and Cocoa.