Mama, the narrator of the story, is a strong, loving mother who is sometimes threatened and burdened by her daughters, Dee and Maggie. Gentle and stern, her inner monologue offers us a glimpse of the limits of a mother’s unconditional love. Mama is brutally honest and often critical in her assessment of both Dee and Maggie. She harshly describes shy, withering Maggie’s limitations, and Dee provokes an even more pointed evaluation. Mama resents the education, sophistication, and air of superiority that Dee has acquired over the years. Mama fantasizes about reuniting with Dee on a television talk show and about Dee expressing gratitude to Mama for all Mama has done for her. This brief fantasy reveals the distance between the two—and how underappreciated Mama feels. Despite this brief daydream, Mama remains a practical woman with few illusions about how things are.
Just as Dee embraces an alternative persona when she renames herself “Wangero,” Mama rejected a traditional gender role when she worked to raise and provide for her daughters and took on an alternative, masculine persona. She is proud of her hardy nature and ability to butcher hogs and milk cows. In the story, she literally turns her back on the house, the traditionally female space. She feels that it confines her too much. Despite her willingness to operate outside of conventions, Mama lacks a broad view of the world and is, to some extent, intimidated by Dee. She doesn’t understand Dee’s life, and this failure to understand leads her to distrust Dee. Dee sees her new persona as liberating, whereas Mama sees it as a rejection of her family and her origins. It is not surprising that she names familiar Maggie as the caretaker of the family’s heritage.