Clover – Dori Sanders

Author Background

Dori Sanders was born in 1936 in the peach farm that her school teacher father bought in 1915. He began cultivating peaches on it in 1920, a tradition Dori Sanders follows to this day though she is a bestselling novelist who has won many awards. The heroine of her novel, Clover, also grew up on a peach farm. Sanders writes about race conflicts but what is unusual is that she has an important white character who struggles to find acceptance among the blacks. Usually, black literature is all about African Americans. Dori Sanders writes in the language a ten year old would normally use. Several of the minor characters also have well defined roles.

Relevance of the Title

Clover is the name of the ten year old protagonist of the novel. Her growth through the novel is organic. Like a plant she begins hesitantly, putting out a leaf here, a shoot there. But she grows up straight and strong instinctively knowing what is good for her. Clover is a name that can hence be interpreted symbolically. Very often, novels are named after their protagonists.

Main Themes

Racial Divide

Clover is the ten year old black girl who has been promised a surprise by her father. She expects a purple cycle but gets a white stepmother instead. She has to contend with loss and uncertainty. Though Sara Kate means well, she is herself confused. She has lost her husband who had been married to her for just a few hours. There is his little girl to care for. Sara Kate takes her responsibilities seriously. But her husband’s family does not know what to make of her. Aunt Everleen considers her a fancy woman who will not last long among them. She resents Sara’s presence in Clover’s life.

Culinary Differences

It is Sanders’s view that the differences among people in Clover are not just about color but also involve cultural and culinary differences. Sara Kate cooks and eats food that strikes her new family as strange. The family has clear notions about what white people eat. The culinary differences relate to not just black and white food but also rural and urban food. Clover has to get used to not just her step-mother but also the food she cooks in the house.

Cultural Divide

Since Sara Kate is the only significant white person in the story and the story is related from the perspective of ten year old Clover, we come to know more of how the coloured people view the white than the other way. Sara Kate internalizes her sorrow; she does not make a spectacle of herself crying out loud unlike Gaten’s black family. They consider that Sara’s sorrow is less than theirs. For a time, Clover too thinks that way. But as she passes weeks andmonths in her white stepmother’s company, Clover realizes that Sara Kate grieves in a different way. It is not necessary to cry at funerals. Gaten’s family considers only farm work to be real work. When Sara Kate talks of her work as a textile designer, Aunt Eveleen considers it “piddling work”.

Characters

Clover

Clover is the ten year old colored girl who loses her father in an accident hours after he marries his white girlfriend. Clover’s Aunt Eveleen who has been caring for her since her mother’s death tells her that the white step-mother will go back to where she has come from. But that is not quite what happens. Sara Kate, the step-mother decides to stay on and care for the girl just as she had promised her husband, Gaten before she married him. Clover is confused by the derogatory remarks her aunt makes of her step-mother. But she does not want to offend her father’s family. There are times when Clover is rude to her step-mother. That’s when Aunt Eveleen steps in and makes Clover apologize. Clover realizes that people are different; these differences are sharpened by racial and cultural divides.

Summary

Sara Kate, a white woman has married Gaten Hill, a black elementary school headmaster. Within hours of the marriage, he is killed in an automobile accident. His family who could anyway not comprehend the marriage expects Sara Kate to go back to her earlier existence. But Sara Kate moves into his house to look after Clover who has now lost both parents. Sara Kate had promised Gaten she would care for his little girl. With this starts a long process of understanding. Sara Kate is a textile designer; Gaten’s family owns a peach orchard in which they work. Clover considers her step-mother ‘strange’ – a view that she has picked up from her Aunt Eveleen who has cared for her till now. Eveleen resents Sara Kate’s presence in Clover’s life. She looks down on Sara Kate’s resumed superiority. Her reaction to her sister-in-law is conditioned by white stereotypes. She thinks that all white women do is laze around doing nothing more strenuous than play tennis and golf. The hard physical labor is all done by the colored people. She does not value the work Sara does as a textile designer.

Apart from obvious racial differences, there are cultural and culinary differences – the latter assuming an importance larger than the other, at times. Some of the culinary differences are urban Vs rural. Sara Kate is from the city while the Hill family is rural. Sara has never eaten some of the things that is served at the wedding feast. But she desperately seeks their approval. After overeating, she is “sick as a dog”. Sympathetically, Clover brings her a glass of foaming Alka- Seltzer. It takes living together to make Clover accept and appreciate and accept her step-mother. The more Clover moves towards Sara Kate, the more Eveleen becomes prickly. Eveleen is confusing in her behavior towards Sara Kate. Though she is very critical most of the time, when Clover is rude to her step-mother, Aunt Eveleen reprimands her for it. This confuses Clover. At the end, when Sara Kate saves Uncle Jim Ed’s life, Aunt Eveleen cannot but approve of her sister-in-law.

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