Publication Date

August 2011


Dorothy Noyes, in her essay "Tradition: Three Traditions," notes that the word "tradition" implies "handing over" or "delivery" (Noyes 233). Furthermore, tradition is identified as a communal belonging that involves "the transfer of responsibility for a valued practice or performance" from one generation to the next (233). This essay will apply the characteristics and role of "tradition," outlined by Noyes and others, to develop a critical understanding of two acts of oral tradition pivotal to the spiritual transformation of Avey Johnson, the protagonist of Paule Marshall's Praisesong for the Widow. These two interconnected acts, the story of Ibo Landing and the ritual of Beg Pardon, are instances of oral memory that are shared and transmitted between peers and to future generations through story telling and performance. Among other purposes, the oral traditions in Praisesong for the Widow give Avey a sense of belonging to the African diasporic and African American community, help her recreate and reclaim her cultural heritage, and finally, preserve the experiences of the enslaved Africans and their descendants in North America. In the novel, Marshall also sounds a warning to her readers about the need for vigilance in protecting oral traditions in the face of materialism.