October 2, 2014
Her name is Miranda (“Mama”) Day — yes, that Miranda, the one who said, “Oh, wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beauteous mankind is!”
Gloria Naylor is not the first to take on Shakespeare, of course. Aime Césaire’s Une Tempête (1969) first performed at the Festival d’Hammamet Festival in Tunisia, had casted Ariel as a mulatto and Caliban as a black slave. And George Lamming’s Water With Berries (1971) had featured a protagonist, Teeton, from the the Caribbean island of San Cristobal.
But Naylor is the first to imagine what the world would have been like if Prospero’s magical powers had passed on to his daughter, giving her access to alternate realities, ghosts and spells. This Miranda is over 100 years old. At this age, even once fierce storms are now less tempestuous: ”Miranda. Sister, Little Mama, Mama Day. Melting, melting away under the sweet flood waters pouring down to lay bare a place she ain’t known existed: Daughter. And she opens the mouth that ain’t there to suckle at the full breasts, deep greedy swallows of a thickness like cream, seeping from the corners of her lips, spilling onto her chin. Full. Full and warm to rest between the mounds of softness, to feel the beating of a calm and steady heart. She sleeps within her sleep.”
So Mama Day is about making peace, about alternate realities in a different sense — that to every conflict there’s got to be “four sides: his side, her side, an outside, and an inside. All of it is the truth.”