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Summary Of The Life Of Muriel Spark

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1945 words Published: 24th Apr 2017

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Give a brief summary of the authors life. Consider any issue which relates to the particular era of colonialism and identify any aspects of language which reveal colonial mindest.

Muriel Sarah Camberg ( now Muriel Spark) was born in 1918 in Edinburgh, to a Lithuanian Jewish father an a British Protestant mother.She was educated at James Gillespie’s High School for Girls. In 1934-1935 she took a course in “Commercial correspondence and précis writing” at Heriot-Watt College. She taught English for a brief time and then worked as a secretary in a department store.In 1937 she sailed to Africa to marrie Sydney Oswald Spark.She followed him to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and had a son with him, but their marriage was a disaster. She returned to the United Kingdom (Liverpool) in 1944 and worked in intelligence during World War II. In 1954, she decided to join the Roman Catholic Church, which she considered crucial in her development toward becoming a novelist. After living in New York City for some years, she moved to Rome where she met the artist and sculptor Penelope Jardine in 1968. In the early 1970s they settled in the Italian region of Tuscany and lived in the village of Civitella della Chiana, where she died in 2006.

Summarise the main events of the short story allocated to you and state the main themes.

In Muriel Spark’s short story, The Black Madonna, Lou, an infertile housewife living in a new town outside Liverpool, prays to the local Black Madonna to give her a child.

At the same time, she and her husband become friends with two Jamaicans who have come to work at the local plant. The black men are, at first, curiosities – a welcome respite from the banality of small-town life. Lou defends them against hostile neighbours as she attempts to educate them in the ways of their new country.

Gradually, the two Jamaicans demonstrate an unfortunate trait: each has a mind of his own. This leads them to express opinions and to make choices that Lou finds increasingly difficult to accept. She comes to realise that she can no longer speak for them and mediate between them and the town. They have got away from her. They have become their own people.

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And then the miracle happens. The Black Madonna answers Lou’s prayers and she becomes pregnant. The child is born, a girl as dark as midnight, the same colour as the Madonna. Lou angrily rejects both her child and her former Jamaican friends. She puts the child up for adoption just as one of the men, disillusioned by Britain, returns home.

Spark leaves Lou pondering her adoption plans, but there is also an unwritten ending: Lou will return to the Black Madonna, oblivious to what she has done to the real, flesh-and-blood black people in her life.

Identify devices of reduction and explain how these contribute to the allover aim of ‘unity of effect’.

Muriel Sparks story, The Black Madonna, is a short story because people who read it should think about the ending.At the end of the story, Lou release her dark child for adoption, so we do not know about her life with her husband Raymond after the adoption.(p.163 line 46-p.164 line 13)

The second point which makes the story short is that there are only two maincharacters (Lou & Raymond) and there´s just one topic about them. The largest desire of the catholic married couple is to have a perfect family, but Lou do not become pregnant.Her sister Elizabeth has got 8 children and Lou is very jealous(p.148 line12). One day after praying to the Black Madonna she become pregnant. But she gets a black child and it was very frightened for her. She and her husband are white so it is a dishonor for the family.

At third there is to add that there is not an exact map reference.Mostly the characters speak to each other and the place is secondary matter.

Describe the settings and explain how it contributes to form the story line. Include conflicts situations in particular and visualise the plot.

The opening paragraphs of the short story describe the black Madonna as if she was one of the main characters. It is only after this lengthy depiction of this bog-oak statue as well as a rather detailed description of the imaginary city of Whitney Clay that the two principal characters – Raymond and Lou Parker, a middle-aged couple, who have been married for 15 years – appear. An omniscient narrator then informs us at length about this childless couple, their habits and their daily life. Thus the story’s exposition is rather traditional. The reader slowly glides into the action after having gained a general impression of the story’s setting, central object and principal characters. Soon after the couple’s habits have been described, two new characters — Henry Pierce and Oxford St. John, Raymond`s Jamaican colleagues at the motors works — show up and trigger off the plot. The childless couple become more and more attached to these two black colleagues and end up spending a major portion of their time with them, showing them off to all of their friends although, as their novelty wears off, the couple’s relationship to them becomes more and more distanced. Lou especially is glad that Henry is sent off to a sanatorium in Wales and will soon leave the country and that Oxford is going to Manchester. Only one thing is missing in the couple’s life – children. Finally Lou hears about the black Madonna’s miraculous powers and, by praying to her, the couple finally manage to have a child of their own. Soon after the birth of their daughter, however, it becomes clear the child will be black. The genetic explanation for this, proven later by blood tests, is that an ancestor of Lou’s was black, but the neighbours of course attribute the child’s colour to Henry’s and Oxford’s regular appearance at the Parkers’ apartment, thus putting the couple’s alleged liberalism and openness towards blacks to the test. Not willing to raise a black child, which, although it is their own, everybody else thinks is not, Lou decides to put the child up for adoption.

Identify the narrators point of view and explain its purpose for the story. Give examples which support your findings.

Told by an omniscient narrator, who comments ironically, if not cynically, on the story’s plot from time to time, we see the story from a detached point of view, allowing us to see the characters’ flaws and hidden feelings. It is typical of Spark to use the omniscient authorial voice in a whimsical, unexpected way, jerking the reader about on the end of a string.

Often the reader has to infer what the characters are really like from Spark’s indirect hinting at things: “All along he had known she was not a snob, only sensible, but he had rather feared she would consider the mixing of their new black and their old white friends not sensible.” (p. 146 line 17-20)

This is a very indirect way of describing Lou’s racial prejudices, which later drive her to give away her own child. The same goes for the following sentence: “He kept referring to himself as black, which of course he was, Lou thought, but it was not the thing to say.” (p. 152 line 35-37) (Spark applies the same method of indirection when she describes Lou’s husband.: “Their visitors now were ordinary white ones. ‘Not so colourful;’ Raymond said… (p.156 line 32 )

Characterise the main characters describe the role of the protagonists.

Lou Parker: Lou is at the beginning of the book thirty-seven years old and catholic. She lives together with her husband Raymond in Liverpool, which has a large proportion of Roman Catholics. But there is one problem : Lou does not become a baby. That is so bad for her because she wants to be perfect. Most of their neighbours have more than three children. It is like a degradation for her. That is why she always pray to the Black Madonna, for getting a child. Lou and her husband do not have a television receiver ore anything else which they can afford. She only has her religion, the Black Madonna and the hope to get a child. After long praying and hoping she get pregnant.With the birth it is noticeable that her child is black. That was like a world fall because the parents are white and there is no explanation why the baby is black. Finally Lou decides for an adoption.

Raymond Parker: Ramond Parker had been married for fifteen years to Lou. He live with her in flat twenty-two on the fifth floor of Cripps House. Raymond is a foreman at the motor works, and is on the management committee.(p.143,line 43-46)He is very surprised about his black daughter and suspected the jamaican Oxford.

Henrie Pierce & Oxford St John: Henrie and Oxford come from Jamaica to Liverpool for work at the motor works.Both are unmarried, very polite and black. The quiet one is called Henry Pierce and the talkative one, Oxford St John.(p.146, line 14-15) They become friends with Lou and Raymond ,always met together and drove in vacation to London. Later it is described that they move away because of a new job offer. At the end of the book Oxford is suspected as the father of the black child because he and Lou have a very good relationship to each other.(p.160 line 15)But Oxfords blood and the babys do not tally.(p.161 line 62)

Comment on the short storys theme. Relate the theme to the ideas of the colonial mindest discussed in class.

By the earlier enslavement of the black ones, these are not as outstanding until today still long as the white society. In the story “The Black Madonna” the skin color likewise plays a large role. Lou and Raymond met two black men who become friends but the longer they know each other, they do not like them.”Poor Elizabeth´s place”…”That sort, said Henry, never moves.Its the slummentaly, man. Take some folks I have seen back home-“,”There is no comparison, Lou snapped suddenly, “This is quite a different case.”(p.152 line 18-22)The married couple is not sad about the departure of the Jamaican because they do not want to be more badly in the society. Another point is, that the Roman Catholic pray to the Black Madonna altought they do not like the black Catholic.


The Black Madonna in Spark’s Story

The black Madonna in Spark’s story lends itself to a number of these interpretations. Of course the reference to the ancient earth-goddess representing fertility is more than obvious, but perhaps it is no coincidence that the miraculous powers of the black Madonna, said by some Catholics to owe their existence to the biblical line: “I am black, but beautiful” provide the desperate, childless couple with a black baby The black Madonna in the story is very powerful in performing miracles, as black Madonnas are said to be, even though Lou and Raymond Parker are confronted with a miracle that turns out quite different from what they anticipated, thus ultimately revealing their shadow self or their dark side, another feature connected with the black Madonna.

1.757 words

Source Listing:

Internet -> www.wikipedia.de

One language – Many voices

Chronik der Menschheit -> Chronik Verlag Harenberg

Langenscheidt’s Power Dictionary English – German

German – English


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