The Black Maddona

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The Black Madonna by Muriel Spark

Brief summary

Lou and Raymond Parker are a Catholic working-class couple with middle-class aspirations (D.: Bestrebungen) . They flaunt /display (D.: zur Schau stellen) their progressiveness and tolerance by befriending two newly arrived Jamaicans, Henry Pierce and Oxford St.John and they also introduce them to their friends. As Lou is jealous of her neighbours` and her sister`s children, Lou prays to the newly installed and consecrated Black Madonna – a statue with apparent miraculous power of granting the wishes to those who pray to her – for a child. To her and her husband`s horror, Lou gives birth to a black baby. Although tests prove that Oxford St. John is not the father of the baby, Lou imagines the neighbours`gossip when she brings the child home.Elizabeth, Lou`s sister , informs her that a distant relative descended from a black person, but this does not improve the situation. Neither Lou nor Raymond can feel any affection for their daughter, and give her up for adoption.

Structure of the plot

Exposition p.142-143 The story begins with a classical exposition. In the first part the reader is introduced to the congregation (D.: Kirchengemeinde) of the Church of the Sacred Heart. There is disagreement whether the new statue is contemporary art or old-fashioned. The Black Madonna is compared to the Madonna at Lourdes and is found as not as nice.People claim to know what they are talking about, but in actual fact they are ignorant (D: unwissend). Spark wants to prepare her readers that not everything is to be taken at its face value. Quite the contrary , the reader must be prepared to read between the lines. In the second part of the exposition (p.143-146/19) Spark gives a detailed account of the Parkers`way of life. The fact that the author states one thing,but implies the exact opposite (p.146/ll.4-6) is also called irony. The reader is constantly busy reading the text and goes hunting for signs which point to what might happen next. In this way tension is sustained throughout the rising action. The climax is reached with the news that the baby is black. (p.159) Although this is not a surprise for the reader. The falling action is full of questions such as: “Who was it?” and “How can it be?” . Lou`s language becomes more and more vulgar and reveals her working - class background. The reader can anticipate (D: ahnen) the ending.

Point of view
The story is told by a third-person narrator who focuses on Lou but he always remains detached (D: losgelöst) and never comments directly. Imagery
The most striking symbol is the Black Madonna herself. The Jamaicans who arrived on the SS Empire Windrush were by no means the first black people to come to England. The first were brought in the 3rd century AD by the Romans,and belonged to an African division of the Roman army. From the 16 th century onwards slaves who had escaped or been freed, servants and other Blacks began to settle in Britain . The Black Madonna is carved from bog oak which had lain concealed in a bog for hundreds of years, and in this way can be seen as a metaphor for the latent blackness in the population (and in Lou`s DNA). As a religious symbol, the Madonna stands for justice and is a warning that one should not tempt fate.

The Black Madonna by Muriel Spark

Setting
The story is set in the New Town of Whitney Clay,which is somewhere inland near Liverpool. Its paper mills,canning factories and motor works attract workers from Liverpool and also new immigrants, such as the two Jamaicans Raymond meets at work. The Parkers live in a high block of flats – council flats in Manders Road, a pleasant area. The fact that the Parkers live in subsidized housing is a first hint that they may not be entirely honest. Lou`s sister Elizabeth lives in a very downward quarter in London (p.148 and p.150). Her flat is the image of Lou`s own past (“She was reminded with startling clarity of her hopeless childhood...
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