Ben and Mattie: Naylor's Ancestors
In Toni Morrison’s essay, “City Limits, Village Values,” she explains the difference between black and white literature. She states that in black literature the focus is more on the social aspect where as in white literature it is noble to be independent and isolated. For blacks, the focus is on the group due to the fact that in order to overcome segregation they must stick together. Morrison names these small groups within a city to be “villages.” In a “village” there is one necessity, an ancestor. This ancestor is a tie to the past and is seen by the community as, “the advising, benevolent, protective, wise Black ancestor” (39.) These Black villages become, “frustrated, defeated, devastated, and unregenerated” when they cannot touch or be communicate with the ancestor (39.) Readers see evidence of this in Naylor’s “The Women of Brewster Place” with both the characters of Mattie and Ben.
Mattie serves as a piece of string in the novel, tying everyone’s stories together. Initially, the reader gets her story about the relationship with her father and the parallels that relationship has with the relationship between herself and her son, Basil. Mattie comes in contact with many characters initially, when they are growing up, such as Lucielia, and also later, she meets many new characters who move into Brewster Place. Mattie held the truth and honesty of the “village” of Brewster Place. The discussion between herself and Lucielia exemplifies that although the people of Brewster Place may not always agree with her opinions they know her opinions hold vast amounts of truth. Luciela states, “ You could take her words however you wanted. The burden of their truth lay with you, not her” (96.) Mattie was not the only ancestor seen in this novel. Ben represented and ancestor in that it was necessary for him to always be around but no one understood him.
The point is made very clearly that if Ben has always inhabited Brewster Place. Naylor illustrates, “Ben and his drinking became a fixture of Brewster Place, just like the wall. It soon appeared foolish to question the existence of either- they just were” (4.) The reader notes that the presence of this ancestor allows the people of Brewster Place to stay in their village without overcoming the boundaries of the wall. At the end of the novel, there exists a direct correlation between Ben and the wall. The women say that his blood is all over the wall and proceed to do everything to rip it down. This lack of ancestor brings a sense of frustration toward the outside world. They riot against the wall that has been holding them in for so long due to the fact that Ben, their ancestor, is dead.