Commanding the Universe

  • Trudier Harris


In critical discussions of Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters (1980), Velma Henry holds a respectful center as a strong black woman character. Before she slit her wrists and stuck her head in an oven—which must have taken its own peculiarly Sethe Suggs kind of strength—she has held a job that it takes seven people to fill once she is no longer there. She has endured infidelity, assaults upon her psyche, and the physical pain of attempted suicide. As the narrative begins, she sits on a stool in the Southwest Community Infirmary in Claybourne, Georgia, facing Minnie Ransom, a well-known healer, who sits on another stool; they are surrounded by a 12-membered group (representing the signs of the Zodiac) providing spiritual support for Minnie as well as by a collection of medical doctors and curious onlookers. While Velma has received and is certainly deserving of much critical attention, Minnie Ransom is equally important to the narrative, and I will center this discussion upon her as instituting a new breed of strong black women characters. She might qualify as a savior in the extranatural tradition.


Black Woman Sexual Exploitation Real Thing Tender Skin Spirit Guide 
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  1. 3.
    Toni Cade Bambara, The Salt Eaters (1980; New York: Vintage, 1992), p. 1. Subsequent references to this novel appear in parentheses in the text.Google Scholar
  2. 9.
    Oshun is a riverain goddess in Yoruba tradition, identified primarily by the metal brass and a mixture of traits, including witchcraft, that are warring and loving. Oya(e), goddess of the Whirlwind, is also known for her witchcraft. See Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit: African & Afro-American Art & Philosophy (New York: Vintage, 1984), pp. 79–83 and 167. People of African descent in the new world, especially in countries like Brazil, pay regular homage to Oshun. Oya(e), who does not have a counterpart in the new world, shows Bambara’s concern with mixing original African and new world African traditions.Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    J. California Cooper, Family (New York: Doubleday, 1991), pp. 24–25. Subsequent references to this novel appear in parentheses in the text.Google Scholar

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© Trudier Harris 2001

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  • Trudier Harris

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