Muriel Spark - The Black Madonna
The short story “The Black Madonna“, written by Muriel Spark, gives a (vivid) portrait of the dormant and hidden racism of British inhabitants in the 1950s. It can also be understood as a criticism on people who pretend to be religious but do not behave like that.
To start with, the narrator is omniscient and the narrative tense is in the past. Moreover, the mode of presentation is realism. Additionally, the tone is frequently ironically and sarcastic. The presentation of events in the story is chronological. The plot involves only a few characters (the characters are exceptional, not average) and it is focused on one significant incident, a decisive moment of their lives, which entails a fatal blow.
In the Catholic Church of the Sacred Heart in Whitney Clay, a small town in Liverpool, inhabited by mostly conservative people, a Black Madonna is inaugurated (installed). This Black Madonna is appreciated as an unusual work of art by most of the people (in this town and in general). The Madonna is regarded to have magic abilities. For example, the newspaper names the instance that the Black Madonna was able to heal a kid`s leukaemia.
Raymond and Lou Parker, a Catholic couple, are living in Whitney Clay and leading a cultured lifestyle. Ray was a foreman at the motor works and was on the management committee. This couple is some kind of exceptional because Ray and Lou are the only one of five Catholic couples in their block of flats that has no children. Although they want but do not have children (what was unusual in this time), Lou and her husband Raymond perceive their marriage as happy.
They get to know Henry Pierce and Oxford St. John, two Jamaicans. Black people are not everywhere considered very high in this society. Despite of this, Raymond and his wife Lou develop a close relationship to the Jamaicans, especially to Henry Pierce.
Raymond and Lou Parker visit Lou´s sister Elizabeth, which she had not seen for nine years. Elizabeth is widowed and had eight children. She is living in a dilapidated apartment and they, especially Lou are full of compassion for Lou´s sister.
Henry is now a good friend of the Parkers and even comes with them on their holiday to London.
Henry visits the Parkers ofttimes, although some of the neighbours call him a “nigger”.
As religious people they dislike that Lou is not religious and so Lou prays in front if the Black Madonna for the return of faith to Henry Pierce.
Lou and Raymond feel some kind of abnormal, having no children. This fact differs from the norm and standard in this society. They have tried several times and ways to get children, submitted themselves to medical tests but nothing was successful.
Lou and Raymond read in the newspaper that the Black Madonna even helps childless couples and makes it possible for them to get children.
After six weeks of praying Lou indeed has her first sick turn, which is a symptom for being pregnant.
The Parkers are full of anticipation for the baby to come.
But when the child is born Ray and Lou are astound and shocked, seeing the baby´s black skin colour. Their first reaction is to refuse and not to accept that this would be their baby. After this Raymond accuses Lou of having had an affair with probably Henry Pierce or Oxford St. John.
Even after having found out about a black relative in Lou´s side of the family, Lou and Ray are still not able to “simply even like” their baby.
The conflict leads to the final solution going to the adoption society with the aim to give the baby away (up) for adoption.