THE DARKEST CHILD

Delores Phillips

 Rozelle Quinn is so fair-skinned that she can pass for white. Her ten children are mostly light, too. They constitute the only world she rules and controls. Her power over them is all she has in an otherwise cruel and uncaring universe.

Rozelle favors her light-skinned kids, but Tangy Mae, thirteen, her darkest-complected child, is the brightest. She desperately wants to continue with her education. Her mother, however, has other plans. Rozelle wants her daughter to work cleaning houses for whites, like she does, and accompany her to the “Farmhouse,” where Rozelle earns extra money bedding men.

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 Rozelle Quinn is so fair-skinned that she can pass for white. Her ten children are mostly light, too. They constitute the only world she rules and controls. Her power over them is all she has in an otherwise cruel and uncaring universe.

Rozelle favors her light-skinned kids, but Tangy Mae, thirteen, her darkest-complected child, is the brightest. She desperately wants to continue with her education. Her mother, however, has other plans. Rozelle wants her daughter to work cleaning houses for whites, like she does, and accompany her to the “Farmhouse,” where Rozelle earns extra money bedding men. Tangy Mae, she’s decided, is of age.

This is the story from an era when life’s possibilities for an African-American were unimaginably different.

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  • Soho Press
  • Paperback
  • January 2005
  • 462 Pages
  • 9781569473788

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$14.00

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About Delores Phillips

Delores Phillips was born in Bartow County, Georgia in 1950, the second of four children. She graduated from Cleveland State University with a Bachelor of Arts in English and works as a nurse at a state psychiatric hospital. Her work has appeared in Jean’s Journal, Black Times, and The Crisis. She has lived in Cleveland, Ohio since 1964.

Praise

“Filled with grand plot events and clearly identifiable villains and victims … lush with detail and captivating with its story of racial tension and family violence.”
—The Washington Post Book World

“[An] exceptional debut novel…. [Has] a depth and dimension not often characteristic of a first novel.”—Library Journal (starred review)

“Phillips writes with a no-nonsense elegance…. As a vision of African-American life, The Darkest Child is one of the harshest novels to arrive in many years…. [Phillips] buttresses those harsh episodes with a depth of characterization worthy of Chekhov, pitch-perfect dialogue, and a profound knowledge of the segregated south in the ’50s.” —The New Leader

“Evil’s regenerative powers and one girl’s fierce resistance…. A book that deserves a wide audience.” —The Cleveland Plain Dealer

Discussion Questions

 Rozelle Quinn was the child of a rape which left her mother permanently injured. What effect did this have on Rozelle’s upbringing? On her ability to mother her own children? Did she exhibit any maternal feelings toward her children? What instances of good treatment by her mother did Tangy Mae recall?

As the book opens, did Tangy Mae really believe her mother was dying? If she did, how could she have remained so innocent? Would things have been different today? How is the loss of Tangy’s innocence reflected in her telling of the story? Do you think Rozelle would have explained about “the birds and the bees” to any of her children? How traumatic would it have been to be forced into performing sexual acts with no knowledge of what to expect? In matters pertaining to her mother’s sexuality, was Tangy Mae truly naïve, in a state of denial, or neither?

Rozelle has been brutal but she has never killed one of her children until she throws Judy from the porch (Chapter 27). She is convincing when she tells the sheriff it was an accident. Why does Tangy momentarily refuse to believe her own senses? When she thinks “No mother could do that, not even mine. Could she?,” who or what is she questioning?

Rozelle began to have children long before birth control pills were legal. Do you think she would have used “the pill” if it had been available? Rozelle says of Judy’s birth, “It broke something inside me they can’t fix. Had to take it out…said I couldn’t have no mo’, and all I got was a darkie.” Do you think Rozelle hated Judy because she was dark-skinned or because her birth ended Rozelle’s childbearing days?

What effect did Rozelle’s appearance have on her mental condition? What benefit if any did she derive from her beauty? What was the effect upon her of the difference between her treatment by white society and the treatment she would have been accorded if she had been “passing” as white? Did this disparity between appearance and reality have an effect on her mental stability? What does Rozelle expect from life in Pakersfield other than honor from her children?

How is Mushy different from her mother? How did she manage to leave the family to go to work in Cleveland? Did this experience really change her? Is Tangy Mae right to judge her for her drinking? Why has she returned to Pakersfield? What were Mushy’s options?

Did Junior Fess have the right idea? Could he have proceeded differently and still been true to himself? Why did Rozelle keep silent about what she knew had happened to him?

Why didn’t Tarabelle retrieve “the box” while her mother was in the hospital? Why did she wait for her eighteenth birthday? Tarabelle tries to murder her mother. Why is she so much more angry than the other children? Was she justified? Should she have honored her mother even though her mother did not honor her? What were Rozelle’s feelings for Tarabelle?

The Sheriff’s job is contingent on the respect of the townspeople. Could that be the reason he denies Sam as a son? Knowing Rozelle’s history, do you believe Sam was the Sheriff’s son? Is there ever any indication that the Sheriff cared for Sam? Did Sam care for anyone other than his mother? Was the burning of the town’s stores by Sam and his friends an act of protest against racism, a selfish response to Junior’s murder and Sam’s incarceration, or a combination of many things?

Despite her mother’s disparagement, and the demeaning things she has had to endure, Tangy Mae retains her pride and ambition. How has she been able to survive and become a good person? Where does her strength come from? When she leaves at the end of the book, could she have done anything else? Was she selfish to leave? Should she have taken Laura with her?