Hoo-Doo and It Significance in Mama Day by Gloria Naylor Essay

            Gloria Naylor is an outstanding African-American writer who speaks about racial identity and personal relations, problems of women and social inequality. ‘Mama Day’ is a novel depicting that white people cannot control the world of Willow Springs, their relations and nature. Thesis Hoo-Doo is used as a symbol and frame of racial identity reflecting inner world, religion and historical background of African-Americans.

            In the novel, Hoo-Doo religion and magic is depicted as one of the most powerful tools which have a great impact on all areas of life and human activity including philosophical ideas of the main characters. Hoo-Doo reflects culture of native people and national identity of Willow Springs; it represents a unique combination of historical, economic, political, religious and diverse cultural influences. Hoo-Doo has a strong influence of destiny and religious beliefs: “It ain’t about right or wrong truth or lies; it’s about a slave woman who brought a whole new meaning to both them words, soon as you cross over here from beyond the bridge” (Naylor 1989, 3).

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Through the character of Mama Day Gloria Naylor shows the importance and role of Hoo-Doo for other people. It plays the role of a cultural and historical frame which joins African-Americans and helps them to resist whites: “Cause, see, being we was brought here as slaves, we had no choice but to look at everything upside-down (Naylor 1989, 8).Using the theme of supernatural and natural magic, Naylor underlines that the idea which would be likely to contemporary society is that white people are weak enough to fight with natural phenomenon and religious beliefs of other nations. The philosophy of Hoo-Doo depicts that suffering is undergone in order to expand the human spirit, to delve into matters previously kept hidden, to grow through pain. The sadness elements discussed in philosophy is a necessity of tradition, just as the human’s death and mortality is necessary (Kelley 1999).Hoo-Doo magic unveils that old tradition and rituals shape the culture of Willow Springs and bring significance of the religion to everyday life of a common person.

In spite of the fact that many heroes deny the existence of supernatural forces and magic, Mama Day vividly portrays that magic is a part of our life we cannot deny. She states: “everybody wants to be right in a world where there ain’t no right or wrong to be found” (Naylor 1989, 230). These religious influences and values represent the deepest level of the culture and are pres­ent in the majority of the members of this culture. The mystical philosophy of “Mama Day” can be explained by the fact that Naylor discusses the whole cycle of human life including all important feelings and experience of human beings: love, marriage and children (Kelley 1999).

As the most important, Hoo-Doo represents background of African-Americans and their values. For most of them, Hoo-Doo creates a strict, unwritten code of essential rules followed by generations of African-Americans as their personal religion which helps to control social life and social order. For instance, Naylor includes such philosophical ideas as: “The only miracle is life itself” (Naylor 1989, 43); “Ain’t no hoodoo anywhere as powerful as hate” (Naylor 1989, 157). These ideas and values of Hoo-Doo believers who live in Willow Springs influenced perception of the self and personal values of the whole community. Naylor depicts a contradiction between nature and society unveiling complicated human relations and contrasts between physical existence and spiritual world.Hoo-Doo and mysticism shapes the atmosphere of the novel. Naylor creates sophisticated atmosphere forcing readers to recall eternal values and truths through the character of Mama Day.

For inhabitants of Willow Springs, racial identity means interpretation of the self that establishes what and where the person is in social terms. “Mama Day” underlines the centrality of humankind and the land. The desire to order the universe and the world around them is a remarkable feature of the Hoo-Doo culture. These attitudes towards the land and nature determine the way Willow Springs’ inhabitants respond in a consistent way to a given entity. Stave comments: ”the novel creates situations  wherein characters—most notably George—must reconstruct their realities to account for, if not accommodate” (Stave 2001, 153).Also, Hoo-Doo is used as a symbol of a fight and fighting with whites creating the atmosphere of struggle and tension. This creates a conflict between foreigners and native population that shaped the culture of Willow Springs.

Subconsciously, many people in Willow Springs see whites as invaders who threaten their unity and peace.  The philosophy of Naylor possesses universal wisdom through allegorical and symbolic strategies which add ethical credibility. Hoo-Doo becomes a symbol of imagination continually struggling and contrasted with Reality. Besides, it helps to represents the eternal warfare between Reality and Supernatural.

Universalism of the mystical philosophy creates the eternal inconsistency between the aspirations and the occupations of a human being and his dreams. Hoo-Doo and eternal knowledge expressed through history of slaves is the manifestation of truth and the return of reason (Kelley 1999). The appeal to human virtues and ideals can be considered as a form of higher wisdom.

In the novel, the atmosphere of supernatural reflects inner state of the characters, good and evil, hopes and disappointment, life and death. Many black characters are suppressed by the society, economic decline and personal low spirits which make them dependant upon life struggle. In this case, Hoo-Doo helps them to survive and resist economic tension.In sum, Hoo-Doo symbolizes unity of the nation and its traditions, resistance to foreign influences and interaction. Hoo-Doo can be seen as a frame which sets limits to emotion experience of the characters. The evil side of humanity leaves the stronger impression upon readers. Correlation between personal philosophy and world’s values might be strong enough to sustain a sense of universal wisdom precisely because it is accompanied by mystical dogmas.

Works Cited PageNaylor, G. Mama Day. Vintage Books. 1989.Kelley, M.A. Gloria Naylor’s Early Novels. University Press of Florida, 1999.

Stave, Sh. A. Gloria Naylor: Strategy and Technique, Magic and Myth. University of Delaware Press, 2001. 


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