Summary and Analysis
More strides toward independence bring Maya closer to self-knowledge. Parallel urges drive Bailey into irreconcilable conflict with Vivian. Maya's impotence to intercede impels her to seek an outside job to escape the misery of a home without Bailey. The set piece that plays out between Maya and the Market Street Railway Company receptionist demonstrates a new savoir faire in Maya, who denies to be brushed off by mere racism. With a surprising show of charity, she accepts the receptionist as a fellow victim of racism, which refuses employment to black applicants.
The tour de force of becoming San Francisco's first black trolley conductor fails to quell Maya's yearning for some kind of success and proof of womanhood. The decision to have sex with a neighborhood boy ends "youth's vague malaise" and leaves her pregnant after a single intimacy. Trusting to faulty logic ("if I could have a baby I obviously wasn't a lesbian") and deception, she weathers impending motherhood alone in a state of denial, "in which days seemed to lie just below the water level, never emerging fully." The eventual bonding with her three-week-old son produces a satisfaction that she has sought throughout her bumpy adolescence.
zoot suits flashy, disproportionate men's fashions of the early 1940s featuring oversized shoulder pads, thigh-length jackets, and drastically narrowed pants.
sloe gin a fad drink of the early 1940s composed of grain alcohol flavored with the rosy, sweet fruit of the blackthorn.
Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington major black musicians of the Big Band era.
entangled in the Oedipal skein ensnared in a psychological complex, which Sigmund Freud described as an unconscious attraction between mother and son. He based his term "Oedipus complex" on Oedipus, king of Thebes in Greek mythology, who inadvertently kills his father and marries his mother, sires children, then blinds and exiles himself for his crimes.
open sesame a foolproof method, derived from the magic command that opens the door to the robbers' lair in Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.
pavane a slow, stately dance.
taking low being humiliated or berated.
in alum drops that is, bitterly.
claque a person, or persons, hired to applaud a theater or opera performance or an actor.
en garde a fencing term indicating that opponents have taken their places for a duel.
inferno dwelling that is, living through the childhood hells of humiliation, hate, and abuse.
like Hamlet and Laertes in the final scene like the conclusion to Shakespeare's tragedy in which neither party survives the duel.
gray rococo façades housed my memories of the Forty-Niners, and Diamond Lil, Robert Service, Sutter and Jack London The ornate surroundings call up memories of San Francisco's post-Gold Rush heyday, when Diamond Lil earned fame for saloon performances and writers like Robert Service and Jack London preserved the atmosphere in picaresque poems, stories, and novels such as "The Cremation of Sam McGee," "The Shooting of Dan McGrew," Songs of a Sourdough, Tales of the Fish Patrol, and Martin Eden.
aphorisms short statements of wisdom, such as "God helps those who help themselves."
cat's ladder an intricate web, like the finger games children play with a looped string.
Rorschachs ink-blot tests which utilize respondents' interpretations of unstructured shapes to diagnose their mental states.
The Well of Loneliness Radcliffe Hall's 1928 novel about lesbianism.
libido sex drive.
hermaphrodite a person born with both male and female sex organs.
crabs body lice that live in the pubic area.
dykes and bulldaggers slang terms for aggressive lesbians.
Richard Arlen character actor (1898-1976) who played in Man from Montreal, Dangerous Game, Mutiny in the Arctic, and Men of the Timberland.
Veronica Lake blond film actress (1919-73) made famous in the 1940s for a hairstyle that concealed one side of her face. She appeared in This Gun for Hire, Hold that Blonde, and The Blue Dahlia.
V-Day V-J Day, August 15, 1945, celebrating victory over Japan and marking the end of the Pacific phase of World War II.