Written by former plantation mistress Julia Peterkin, Scarlet Sister Mary is a novel of intellect, individualism, coltish word play, tradition and most importantly, respect. The novel, like, Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Color Purple, is written in an old southern vernacular, and it tells the story of Sister Mary or Si May-e, a young and sprightly woman at the novel's start. It is some time after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and freedon (used loosely, historically speaking), has come for those individuals who were field slaves or indentured servants. Their opportunity to flee has come, to seek opportunities for self and financial betterment. For some, however, betterment is not up north or anywhere else in the country; it is exactly where it is: the native coastal terrain of South Carolina - the setting for the novel. Religion, faith, folklore, generational history and magic are the ties that bind the folksy and hard working men and women of the Quarters. Dignity and peacefulness does not come from being nomadic, as was in the case of the pioneers to the Midwest and far West; it is closer. It is in the hoeing, the field labor, the mud between the crevices of the rough and crackling flesh. It is in the earth. To combat the joyous harshness of the work is love and a family. And thus, Sister Mary comes into the picture; she is at the marrying age, and July, her suitor, is ready to be her protector and provider. Or so one would believe. Using faith in lore and mythology, Sister Mary's marriage is almost doomed from the start: "'Do, Master, look down and see what a rat is done!' Mary's heart flew up into her mouth. Cold chills ran over her as she ran to see what happened. There it was, a great hole gnawed deep into the bride's cake's tender meat...she fell into bitter dumb sobs...Such bad luck was hard to face." (p.29) And it only advances to something worse via the aid of a love charm and another woman's insatiable lust for the groom's affections. Time passes, and Mary is all alone with her son Unex (shortened for Unexpected). A suffocating cover of depression smothers Sister Mary, and as time heals old wounds, Mary rises into a life of self-satisfaction and sexual gratification. She enters the dominion of sin and religious transgression; she is altered in the eyes of those around her. From Sister Mary, she becomes Scarlet Sister Mary - red with hungry passion as the adjective implies. She has a flock of children, but they are not heart children, as in the case of Unex, but they are passion, lust children. Redemption is nil, and her destiny upon her final breath (in the eyes of her brethren) is clearly understood; her spirit, her soul, is scudding rapidly to the flaming and billowing sulphur pitts of hell. Can redemption and acceptance ever come into her grasp? Will peace ever rectify the wrongs incurred in her heart and mind? Her somewhat sardonic life philosophy and world-weary actions narrow down the chances for hope. But that hand-clenching curiosity does get solved. Banned in Boston when it was first published in 1928 and winner of the 1929 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, Scarlet Sister Mary is a classic among classics - lyrical in prose and description, vivid in the intellectual exploration of the "Negro question" - (vii) and complex as well as humane. But it is by no means an accurate representation of a specific catagory of people. Consequently, the work, although brilliant, is slightly antiquated and beguiling.
Written by former plantation mistress Julia Peterkin, Scarlet Sister Mary is a novel of intellect, individualism, coltish word play, tradition and most importantly, respect. The novel, like, Their Eyes Were Watching God and The Color Purple, is written in an old southern vernacular, and it tells the story of Sister Mary or Si May-e, a young and sprightly woman at the novel's start. It is some time after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and freedon (used loosely, historically speaking), … more
Pulitzer Prize winner Peterkin was a pioneer in writing candidly, yet unsentimentally, about black women, including their sensuality. Debuting in 1924 and 1928, respectively, these two titles offer a collection of short stories and a novel. Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.