To Da Duh in Memoriam: Socio-political Commentary through Relationships and Dialogue

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For this writing analysis I will be looking at short passages from the semi-autobiographical short story To Da Duh in Memoriam by Paule Marshall. To Da Duh in Memoriam was published in 1966. The author Paule Marshall has written multiple novels and short stories with To Dah Duh in Memoriam being one of her most acclaimed stories. For this analysis I will be looking at the story’s theme and Marshall’s use of character relationship, dialogue, action and voice to deliver a message of Culture and Tolerance. Marshall’s To Da Duh in Memoriam follows Marshall’s not so accurate experiences in Barbados, for the first time. The story focuses on Marshall’s first visit in Barbados and the story and the conversations she had with her grandmother whom everyone referred to as Dah Duh.

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Paule Marshal is considered to be one of the most important black writers in American history. Her works Brown Girl, Brownstones, published 1959, influenced a new age of writing by black women. With her works being the critical bridge and cadre of African American and Caribbean writers such as Maya Angelou and Alice Walker (Hawthorne, 2000). Part of Marshall’s brilliance is her ability to incorporate socio-political topics in her work which is evident in To Da Duh in Memoriam particularly with the story’s dialogue. The dialogue provides social commentary that would have been relevant to the time of its publication, as some of its themes would have coincided with the questions being raised by social movements such as the Civil Rights Movement led by Martin Luther King at the time. The dialogue demonstrates the social climate of its time, raising questions about culture and accepting others. For example, in this extract….

“ Da-duh watched me a long time before she spoke, and then she said very quietly, “All right, now, tell me if you’ve got anything this tall in that place you’re from.”

I almost wished, seeing her face, that I could have said no. “Yes,” I said. “We’ve got buildings hundreds of times this tall in New York. There’s one called the Empire State Building that’s the tallest in the world. My class visited it last year and I went all the way to the top. It’s got over a hundred floors. I can’t describe how tall it is. Wait a minute. What’s the name of that hill I went to visit the other day, where they have the police station?”

“You mean Bissex?”

“Yes, Bissex. Well, the Empire State Building is way taller than that.”

“You’re lying now!” she shouted, trembling with rage. Her hand lifted to strike me.”

In the dialogue extract, we can interpret Da Duh’s hostile reaction to Marshall’s comment about the empire state building as the racism and the problems African Americans faced at the time. At the time African Americans suffered from segregations and poor treatment from the white majority with infamous examples such as the Rosa Parks bus scandal and the killing of Emmet Till. Though as not severe as the African American minority’s suffering, Da Duh’s hostile reaction to Marshall’s comment reflects the attitude of some white majorities to the Civil Rights movements as some of them were hostile to the Civil Rights Movements with examples such as the resistance to the Selma to Montgomery marches back in 1964. Other than dialogue, Marshall’s character provides a distinct voice that creates an interesting relationship with Da Duh that works with the main message of the story.

Marshall’s voice particularly her description of her relationship with Da Duh in the story is very complex and entertaining. Marshall utilizes this relationship dynamic between her and Da Duh to deliver her message of Culture and Tolerance in the story. In the story Marshall writes Da Duh in a very antagonistic way. Their relationship is more of a rivalry rather than a grandmother and grand daughter relationship. Throughout the book Marshall and Da Duh try to convince each other that their way of living is better than others. Marshall cleverly shows this through her careful choice of vocabularies. For example, in this scene where Da Duh Had just finished showing and making her point to Marshall that some fruits in Barbados cannot grow in New York…….

“No,” I said, my head bowed. “We don’t have anything like this in New York.”

“Ah,” she cried, her triumph complete. “I din’ think so.

The utilization of ‘Triumph’ shows the nature of Marshall’s relationship with Da Duh which is competitive. “’No’ I said, my head bowed” indicates Marshall’s feeling of defeat with Da Duh which further demonstrates their rivalry like relationship. Another important aspect to consider about the two characters’ relationship is that they both want to convince the other to accept that their way of living is better, as we can see through the two characters’ dialogue and actions as they both try to prove something. This reflects the entire point of the social movements at the time which was having their voices and thoughts heard and having their way of living be recognized. For example, in this extract we can see Marshall’s desperation in trying to impress or “triumph” over Da Duh. “Describing at length and with as much drama” shows how far Marshall will go to try and convince Da Duh about her culture and lifestyle. Relating it back to how Marshall’s story relates to the social climate and experiences of the African Americans in the 60s, this extract reflects the activities by Civil Rights Movement and their attempts at trying to get their voice heard and their rights and needs heard.

“sensing my chance, and then I told her, describing at length and with as much drama as I could summon not only what snow in the city was like, but what it would be like here, in her perennial summer kingdom.”

In conclusion we can see how To Da Duh in Memoriam would have been relevant to the social climate of the time of its publication. Through the distinct voice of Marshall and her complex relationship with Da Duh and their numerous conversations throughout the story we see a reflection of the struggles of African American people of the time and their battle to have their voices heard. 

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 To Da Duh In Memoriam: Socio-political Commentary Through Relationships And Dialogue. (2021, Dec 29). Retrieved February 2, 2023 , from

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