Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Margaret Walker’s Uncanny Molly Means

By Briana Whiteside

Lately, I have been thinking about the idea of “uncanny” black women. These women would be viewed as unusual, mysterious, unfamiliar, or alien-like. Black women who are simultaneously familiar and foreign are unsettling, if not scary. In short, they are uncanny.

Margaret Walker’s “Molly Means” presents an uncanny black woman character that is feared by everyone in the town “both young and old.” She is feared because she is believed to be a “chile of the devil,” and she was “born with a veil on her face,” which meant she had the ability to “look through unnatural space.” Molly Mean’s “unnatural” abilities contribute to the idea that she is uncanny.

Molly Means is described as having “blazing eyes” that were “black as pitch” and hair that “hung thick in ropes.” And that she was an “Imp at three and wench at ‘leben” signals that she is a shape shifter, and in these different bodies, “she counted her husbands to the number seben.” The “evil look” in her “coal black eyes” always leaves those who come in contact with her in fear and suspense that they may be the next victim of her “evil deed.”

She is also known for her “black-hand arts and her evil powers.” In particular, she “put a spell on a young gal-bride just come to dwell,” and the young girl was left “barking like a dog and on all fours like a common hog.” All of her evil deeds are done at night where she “rides alone on the winter breeze” where her wrath leaves the young children “afraid at night.”

Although her spell was reversed on her and she died, no one was able to kill her spirit. From the grave, “you could hear her holler and whine and cry,” and those sounds continued to “bring terror to the young and old.”

The unnatural abilities and strange appearance of Molly Means make her an uncanny woman whose undying presence leaves people unsettled and unnerved.

Related: Who's Afraid of Black Women?

Briana Whiteside is a graduate student in English at SIUE and a contributing writer for the Black Studies Program.   

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