Analysis: Chapters 27–31

San Francisco represents an entirely different world from the rural South. Maya attends an unsegregated school. Her education becomes more varied with the addition of drama and dance to her studies. As opposed to the monotony of life in the South, San Francisco undergoes constant change, especially due to the upheaval of the war. Similar to the Great Migration in the East, the defense industry’s factories went into full swing in California during the war, and they employed willing blacks and whites alike, especially since the Japanese population had been moved unjustly to internment camps. This harrowing scene of constant displacement becomes, somewhat ironically, the first place where Maya feels a sense of belonging, giving her a new boldness and an awareness of herself. Maya has never felt that she belongs anywhere before, and the constant scene of changing faces in wartime San Francisco—the cyclical wave of newcomers—wards off her own sense of alienation and isolation.

Maya’s descriptions of a multiracial apartment building and an unsegregated school might lead one to think that racial relations were not as tense as they were in the South, but she takes care to explain that this was not the case. The outer face of San Francisco did not show the tumult within. Rural whites brought their prejudices with them to the city. Rural blacks came to the city with their distrust of white people, cultivated through years of negative experiences. In the South, blacks and poor whites lived and worked on unequal, opposite sides of the racial divide. In San Francisco, they worked side by side in the war industry.

In San Francisco, Maya encounters a more brash form of resistance to racial inequality. Whereas Momma thought it sinful yet necessary to insist that Dr. Lincoln pay ten dollars in interest when she had not asked for it initially, Daddy Clidell’s friends lie and cheat to make $40,000 off white men. Momma’s quiet rebellions were replaced by the financially rewarding methods of Daddy Clidell’s friends, who catered to racial stereotypes in order to lure racist whites into their con games. They learned to turn white prejudice into a liability for whites. Despite the difference between Momma and the con-men’s methods, Maya shows that in both cases the ethical standard is based on necessity and justifies the means used to produce change. The standard of ethics differs for the black community because if people cannot compete equally in society, they must find ways to advance by manipulating the system. Fair play ceased to have moral value when the rules of the game proved unfair. For the most part, the cotton-field laborers in Stamps accepted their difficult existence with resignation. Their resistance came in the form of personal empowerment and psychological stamina. The wartime generation, however, gained a sense of entitlement and wielded its creative powers to act upon it.

Nearly every scene in these chapters illustrates Maya’s blossoming awareness of, and her love and respect for, herself. Maya’s emboldened sense of self shines forth in her impulsive decision to drive the car back to the U.S. from Mexico. Even though she has an accident, she says that she felt better than at any other time in her life. Maya is so confident in herself and proud of her achievement that she declares that she did not even need her father’s praise at first, even though she becomes angry when he continues to ignore her accomplishment. When Big Bailey asks Maya about her opinion of Dolores, Maya remarks upon Dolores’s pettiness and says that Dolores does not like her based upon her physical appearance. After overhearing the argument between Big Bailey and Dolores, Maya feels heroic and merciful when she tries to console Dolores. Maya has changed from a self-conscious and nervous girl to a defiant young woman, perhaps remaking herself in the image of the strong women who have influenced her. Indeed, besides the obvious parallels to Momma’s dignified nature, Maya acts very much like Vivian, particularly when she warns Dolores before slapping her in the same way that Vivian warned her partner before shooting him.

In these chapters, Maya compares Big Bailey’s lack of paternal graces with Daddy Clidell’s strength as a father figure. Maya’s description of Big Bailey’s reaction to the confrontation and the injury hints at sarcasm and shows that she considers Big Bailey to be utterly selfish, even if he comes across as a likable character. He chooses to take Maya to a friend for treatment of her wound instead of a doctor because he wants to avoid personal embarrassment. He does not directly ask Maya to keep quiet about the incident, but he implies that she should do so, explaining how a scandal could damage his reputation. As if speaking for Big Bailey but with a melodramatic flare, Maya asks the reader rhetorically, “Could I imagine the scandal if people found out that his, Bailey Johnson’s, daughter had been cut by his lady friend?” She ironically exaggerates the response to her question by saying that all black people in the city would hang their heads in shame if Big Bailey’s troubles became known publicly. Daddy Clidell, on the other hand, shows his pride when people think that Maya is his biological daughter. He has no insecurities to hide and no superiority to flaunt. As a result, he gives Maya affection and respect, and she considers him the first real father figure in her life.