Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Prequel to Alice Childress' “All About My Job” (Julie E. Pennella)

(Note: In Jennifer Semple Siegel's African-American Literature class, students were offered the option of writing a prequel or sequel to a story assigned for the course. Julie Pennella chose to write a prequel that retained the original dialect, still from Mildred's perspective.)

Well, Marge, I was walkin’ home tonight from Miss Jennie’s and, wouldn’t ya know, it was gittin’ cooler out and so I put my coat on. I hate that raggedy ol’ thang, but it wasn’t doin’ me no good carryin’ it, so’s I put it on anyhow. I dug my hand into the pocket and, do ya know what I found, Marge? There was a ticket for that fancy movie theatre over on Main Street. And with the ticket I found a note from Miss Jennie. It said, “Thank you for all your hard work this week. See a movie on Thursday night. My treat.”

Can you believe that, Marge! Miss Jennie treatin’ me to a movie. How nice! Well, come to think of it, she probly is just tryin’ to keep ma mouth shut about Mr. Dixon stoppin’ by the house this afternoon. Miss Jennie’s husband don’t like it when that man talks to Miss Jennie. Actually, he gits aweful mad at her for it. Miss Jennie don’t seem to care much though. Mr. Dixon already been over to the house twice this week and both times Miss Jennie would fluff up her hair and put on her red lipstick before she answer the door. I don’ know why she likes that color on her lips anyhow. It looks like her mouth is bleedin’ or somethin’.

But, anyhow, Marge that’s not all I wanted to tell ya. As I said, I was walkin’ home tonight and I found the ticket in ma pocket. I was holdin it in ma hand as I was a walkin’ and this nasty wind came and blew it right outta my grip! I was so mad at that wind I could’a kicked it if it had a physical bein’ to it. Marge, I looked around where I was standin’ and around where I looked for damn near ten minutes for that thang! I was too damn dark to see nothin’ and that ugly wind was blowin ma hair in ma face. Finally I seen it lyin’ in the middle of the street.

Well, Girl, I walked over to it, to grab it before the wind blew it up again and before I knew it I was gettin’ tackled to the groun’! Ya know what happened, Marge? A car almost took my out! That’s right, it almost ended me right then and there. Luckily, this man quick pushed me outta the way of the car. It hurt some, but I’s just thankful to be alive! Marge, I tell ya, the man saved my life!

Well, I got maself collected again and we stood on the sidewalk talking for ‘bout a half hour. He was a nice man, Marge…good lookin’ too. Tall and big with great big hands and shoulders and deep dark color skin, like chocolate. Yeah, Girl, he was a looker! And he looked like the kind’a man who has a good appetite. Someone who be needin’ a housewife to cook for him and take care of him. Well, Marge, we got to talkin’. I told him my name was Mildred and he says I looks like a Mildred. Do ya think I looks like a Mildred, Marge?

Anyhow, he told me his name is Henry and we got to talkin’ bout this-n-that and where I was headed and everything else in the universe. But, Marge ya know what happened next? I told him I was a houseworker comin’ home from Miss Jennie’s. I know…ya thinkin’ so what. Well, soon as I told him that, he said he had to be gettin’ home to his wife! His wife, Marge! I’ll be damned if he actually got a wife! He was talkn’ to me for bout a half-hour on that side walk and he wasn’t wearin’ no weddin’ ring on his finger! He ain’t got no wife, Marge! He was just usin’ it as an excuse to stop talkin’ to me. That’s what men do, Marge…it’s easy for em’ to just say they takin’. Gotta be getting’ home to ma wife! Men like him, they don’t want no houseworker. They want a pretty-face, size-ten or so, red lip stick-wearin’ girl who ain’t no houseworker with a free movie ticket.

Damn he was a good man though, Marge. He was a good man needin’ a wife. Girl, you been married before…Ya think he has a wife? Ya think he really is takin’? I suppose it could be the truth. Girl, thank the Lord I got a friend like you, cuz Lord knows when men like that come ‘round we be needin’ friends to keep us goin’.

Epilogue (Author's note)

I chose this piece as a springboard because I really liked the sense of pride that the main character portrayed throughout the story. In the beginning of the story, she says that she hates her job as a houseworker, but by the end, she changes her mind and realizes that she should not be ashamed of her occupation. I felt like I could relate to the story in this way because I grew up on a farm, working hard for my parents all my life. My mother was always a homemaker, keeping busy with the farm; she never had a paying job outside of our home. While I knew some other children whose mothers were housewives, it was not too common among families. Most children had mothers who were dentists, teachers, hairstylists, and even artists. Growing up I was somewhat ashamed of the lifestyle my family lived; however, I look back now and realize that I am proud to have grown up under those conditions. It instilled in me a sense a pride and a good work ethic.

I also liked the stylistic aspects of this writing. I enjoyed reading the story because I felt like the main character was personally having a conversation with me. The story is written in a kind of stream-of-consciousness manner. It takes on the form of a person talking to another. The main character rambles on with her thoughts, sometimes going on tangents. I tried to simulate this style of writing as I composed my prequel to the story.

I also tried to write using the dialect that the main character uses in the original story. As I wrote the prequel, I used words that are grammatically incorrect and some sentence fragments here and there. It was a little difficult to keep the writing legible, but it was actually quite fun. As I was writing, I was talking in my head with a southern accent! It actually helped!

There were also many elements of the story that I used to create an idea for the plot of the prequel. I wanted to include Mildred’s negative feelings toward housework in the prequel, since that is where the original story begins. I also wanted to end the prequel with Mildred feeling thankful to have a friend like Marge, since this is also mentioned in the beginning of “All About My Job.” I chose to include an encounter with a potential mate for Mildred in the prequel because, in the story, she talks about her need for a husband and mentions that Marge has been married once. She also talks about her weight, referring to herself as a size fourteen. I used all of these elements to come up with a plot for my prequel; however, I added some unrelated elements of the story such as, the character of Miss Jennie, and the story about the movie ticket.

In all, this piece was very fun to write and I think that it is a pretty decent prequel to the original story.
LIT203 African-American Literature, Spring 2007
Published with permission

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