Your Blues Aint Mine

Your Blues Aint Mine by Bebe Moore Campbell successfully explains the diverse yet equally challenging ordeals brought about by racial segregation in the rural town of Hopewell Mississipi.  Effectively narrated, this story tells its readers that racial segregation favors no one, everyone can be a victim, regardless of your race, color or culture.Bebe Moore Campbell’s Your Blues Aint Like Mine talks about deep racial segregation, and injustices in the rural town of Hopewell, Mississippi.

  The novel discusses the lives of the family members of fifteen year old Chicago born Armstrong Tood.This young boy was murdered because he spoke French words to a Caucasian named Lily Cox.  This story also tackles the lives of the Cox family for thirty years, from 1950s until the 1980s. (Campbell, 1995)The story begins with Armstrong being sent by her mother Delotha, a single mother,  to live with his grandmother Odessa, since she can no longer afford to make ends meet for both of them.

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It later on discusses the events which lead to the murder of Armstrong Todd.  Armstrong Todd, after speaking with Lily Cox in French inside the town’s pool hall for blacks belonging to the husband of Lily- Floyd Cox.This act of Armstrong was his way of convincing his fellow blacks how educated he is.  While Floyd observes Armstrong talking to his wife in a foreign language, he came into conclusion as regards wrongful interpretation of the words, leading to the murder of Todd.  Floyd confronts his wife, slaps her and asks her what the colored boy had spoken to her in French.  Lily replied that she did not understand the words.  This eventually led to Floyd denying his wife Lily to ever step foot in the pool hall again.Clayton Pinochet a journalist who worked for the New York Bulletin for ten years finds his way back to Hopewell, Mississippi.

Clayton begins to contemplate how much he feared his father as a young boy and eventually recalls how he tried to defend a slave from catching a beating from his father at his tender age of eight years old. Todd Armstrong now works for Clayton  as cleaner of  Clayton’s office every evening.Todd who is usually in a talkative mood but was distraught with the confrontation he had with Floyd Cox about talking French to his wife.  Todd told Clayton what happened at Floyd Cox’s pool hall and Clayton told him not to worry about it because Armstrong was considered a “Pinochet.”In the mean time, Floyd and Lily went to the house of Floyd’s parents wherein they received the day’s earnings in the pool hall.  When later on confronted by his brother and father about the incident that previously happened in the pool hall, he answered his father by saying that they have (him and his brother) have a certain way of handling niggers.IdaDisgusted with the flow of conversation in their house, Lily decides to walk Floyd Jr. until they reach the train station.

   At the train station she met Ida Long, a bright skinned black female who was the daughter of a white man. Ida’s biological father was never in her life so a man named “Williams” only stepped in to be a father. Ida told Lily she never met her real father and Williams told her also he never met him. Lily told Ida her story about her uncle Charlie molesting her when she was a young and would give her candy after he touched her. Lily told her mother of her uncle’s actions and whipped Lily for lying. Lily told Ida there was someone who told her husband that a black man said something “fresh to her today” and told Ida it was nothing and everything is alright.

Ida became pale in the face and asked Lily could she describe the boy’s appearance to her. Lily replied he was a tall light skinned colored boy with freckles about sixteen or seventeen years of age. Once, Lily told Ida of the description of the boy she ran off with her son Sweetbabe dangling on her hip.

Ida ran straight to Odessa’s house to warn Todd Armstrong of what she heard from Lily. Odessa was on the porch peeling peas and Todd was in the house packing his clothes to go to Flower City to stay with his cousins to go to school. Odessa stressed to Todd his mother was doing the best she can do to get him back to Chicago and that his father Wydell has not put a quarter down in help keep him.The Death of Armstrong ToddTodd was puzzled with her opinion about his father Wydell.

As Todd sat on the porch he heard a truck pull up and saw three men one short and two tall exits out of the truck. Immediately Todd ran out to the chicken coop staggered and the faster he ran the louder the dogs became. He heard a mans voice say “watchu running fer, nigger?”The three men followed Armstrong at the end of Odessa’s yard and began to beat him. In his confusion he asked the men what wrong he has done.  Floyd Cox explained to him he was caught talking dirty to his wife Lily.  Todd tried to plead his case by explaining to the men that he was speaking to his friends and when he turned around and Floyd’s wife was looking at him. Lester’s face was filled with rage and Todd realized what he said was wrong words to Floyd.

The men began beat Todd Armstrong senselessly. Todd tried to plead with the men and told them he had money in his pocket and Floyd replied, “You think that makes you good as me?” Todd’s lips were too swollen to reply and noticed a shiny silver object in Floyd’s hand. Todd began to beg for his life and Floyd showed no mercy in his face and told him to get on his knees. Once Todd heard a click noise he lost his bowels and heard an explosion fire in his chest and hit the ground. The three men drove out of Odessa’s yard into the truck and sat shoulder to shoulder each smoking a cigarette. Floyd was happy that his father was finally satisfied with him.As Lily observed Floyd stepping out of the truck and walking over to the yard looking down on the ground for something he may have lost. Lily’s heart pounded faster and faster as Floyd approached her and she noticed blood on his shirt.

Floyd’s brother drove Lily and Floyd home and the ride was short and quiet and as John Earl dropped them off not a word was spoken between them. Lily and Floyd went to lie down in the heated bedroom while Floyd Jr. cried for 20 min in the second hand crib.Floyd told Lily he would always protect her and Lily did not respond but heard the fear in his voice and this frightened her. Floyd began to touch Lily’s breast and pushed his hands away from her and got out of the bed.Clayton and MargueriteMarguerite was the only colored woman in Hopewell, Mississippi to be well kept by a white man. As he and Marguerite were making love he felt a great pain and pulled out of her. In the middle of intercourse Clayton thought about a white woman who he was once in love with and was supposed to marry.

Clayton’s father did not approve of Dolly because Pinochet’s did not marry her kind and would not look right to see the planter’s son marry the rednecks daughter. Clayton knew he wanted to marry Dolly because her body made him drunk from all the “cooing and twittering” she did when they made love. Clayton told her he could not marry her and six months later she told him she was pregnant.Jake from the Pool HallJake was not sorry for telling Floyd Cox what the boy was speaking French to his wife. Jake did not like to see niggers act white. Early on Saturday Jake was at the pool hall playing his harmonica and singing a song about love and betrayal. Jake had not spoken to anyone since he left the Cox’s the night before.

The pool hall was empty that morning and afternoon and felt the place would be back to normal on Monday. As Jake played his harmonica in the empty pool hall he imagined himself to be a handsome musician that everyone knew and loved. The door opened and Reverend Tolbert and two other men came to talk to Jake about what happened with the death of Armstrong Todd and what his side of the story was. Jake told reverend Tolbert he did not know that boy. They began to pray for Jake and he became angry and told Reverend Tolbert he did not need nigger’s prayers.Wydell Todd: A Father’s ContemplationWydell sitting at the bar thinking if he was back in Mississippi with Armstrong things could bedifferent.

  He could have run inside the house got the gun and scared the crackers off.  Thebartender was telling him that a beautiful lady was in about a week ago looking for him.  He toldhim that must have been his wife.The bartender asked was there any children?  Wydell stated yes, no that his son was killed bysome white men.  Others in the bar area heard Wydell story and gave him their sympathy.

The thought of Delotha looking for him re-entered his mind once again.  He thought she wantedto apologize for not being a good mother.  He drinks a lot to keep Armstrong out of his head butthe thought would not go away.Wydell went back to work a day after the funeral.  He arrived early to explain to Danny why hewas not there. He told him there had been a death in his family.

  Danny (his boss) did not believehim.  He told him this was the last chance he would get and for him to stay off the bottle.He did not drink for three days straight; he went to work and stayed as long as he could.

  Hewould come home, eat his supper and go directly to bed.  He did not want to think.  He wantedArmstrong’s ghost to be at rest.  He worked a lot of overtime.

  When he walked past the whitemen at the mill it reminded him of the men who killed his son.AnalysisAs the title suggests, the book examines the different “blues” of the characters in the book, and the thoughts of Todd’s family grieving and challenges in the lives of the Cox family and some other relevant members of their little society such as Clayton Pinochet, Marguerite and Ida.  The story slowly unfolds the different veils of each race- the blacks and the whites and their equally yet different struggles that they have to live with. (Jones, 2004)After the death of Armstrong, Delotha reunites with her husband Wydell and bears a new son, who Delotha fondly calls as Armstrong even though his real name is Wydell Jr.

  The couple begins to struggle with the fear of losing their son Wydell Jr. to racism in the streets of Chicago.  Despite all the protection, eventually they have also lost their second child.This time too, they decided to have a fresh start, by Delotha convincing Wydell to give up drinking and to go to a barber school so they can put up a salon together.In the mean time, in the lives of the Cox family, Lily struggles in her life with her husband Floyd and contemplates on leaving him.

  However, she is having a difficult time making up her mind because she is very much dependent on her husband in almost all the things in her life.Lily begins to seek for more excitement outside her family life, since she is no longer getting the kind of satisfaction she wants, (sexually, emotionally, spiritually).  At this point, Floyd is also struggling in getting a permanent job.  Thus inevitably, this ordeal takes a toll on their family life (Gussow, 2002).In the mean time, Clayton and Ida are in conflict after Ida finds out that she is Clayton’s half sister.

  Despite the fact that Ida is of black race, she begins to demand equal right to the inheritance after the death of their father.  Clayton swears to fight Ida.  Later on the series of their conflict,  he realizes though that he is just like his father- patriarchal and supremacist.The different characters in the book depict their personal struggles in accepting racism and its impacts.

  The Cox family is forever changed with the murder of Armstrong Todd.  Todd’s family on the other hand, continuously struggles psychologically.Clayton in the mean time, struggles with his inability to commit to a black woman- Margurite whom he loves.  Whereas Marguerite and Ida who are both poverty stricken, struggle to leave the life provided for by Clayton in lieu of freedom.

The Author has therefore succeeded in showing the various downs (blues) of each person in the book and to an extent, their race and contrasted them with the blues of another character in the same story but of a different race (Metress, 2002)Each character in the story in my opinion, becomes a victim of his own shortcomings and prejudices.  Armstrong’s death, for example, was triggered by his wanting to show off, which further on irritated the people who hear him, particularly Lloyd Cox.  Lloyd Cox too is a victim of his personal fears and his cravings for his father’s favor.  Ida’s plight over the inheritance is not just for money purposes, but also particularly to have some sense of belonging or affirmation of her lost identity through her father’s wealth.  Marguerite’s blind love for Clayton.

  And Clayton’s inability to commit to Marguerite because he is so much immersed in what the society, particularly his father, will have to say about his choice of women.  While Jake’s prejudices, eventually led to the demise of Armstrong Todd.This  story indeed tells its readers that racial segregation favors no one, everyone can be a victim, regardless of your race, color or culture.  Obviously, each of the characters’ personal biases and the way they allowed themselves to be victimized by the ghost of their pasts, has continuously haunted them and eventually affected the way they perceived the situations in their life.

We must remember that maybe for most of the time, we have no control over what other people have to say, how others will react or how they will look at us.  But definitely, we will always have the choice on how to look at the situation and how to react on things that will happen to us.

Author: Daniel Gibson


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