Lost in the City: An Exploration of Edward P. Jones's Short Fiction

Section 3: Jones’s Short Fiction & Gender Politics

The chart above provides a broad overview of Jones’s two collections of short stories, Lost in the City and All Aunt Hagar’s Children. At the top right hand of the chart, there is a bar chart that compares the total number of words and words types in each collection. Below, in red and blue, is a gender analysis of the characters. The red bars represent the number of words spoken by female characters. The blue bars represent the number of words spoken by male characters. These side-by-side comparisons provides insight into the character dialogue in Jones’s stories. At the bottom, the red and blue symbols represent the gender of the protagonist in each story. Hovering over each symbol will reveal the story title and protagonist name.

By Lauren Phelps & Mohammed Ali H Sumili
Data Visualization Constructed by Peace Ossom-Williamson

Women play consequential roles in Jones's stories; their experiences of D.C. give new insights into the lives of the Black community. Jones's depiction of women is mainly influenced by his mother, Jeanette Jones. Women conserve the shared African American heritage and keep it alive through storytelling, as Jones depicts them in "Dark Night" and "Marie". Jones reinforces the figure of the Black woman, especially the mother, as community caretaker and educators traditionally portrayed by female writers like Alice Walker and Toni Cade Bambara.

Jones clearly privileges female characters; women are rarely overshadowed by their male counterparts. Eleven of the fourteen stories have women as the primary character, and, of those eleven, nine have women as the primary speaker. There are three stories with female primary characters and male primary speakers: "An Orange Line Train to Ballston", "The Sunday Following Mother’s Day", and "His Mother’s House"; however, there is also one story in which the primary male character yields speakership to a female character: "The Store". Mapping this trend above, only 7% of the total number of words written by Jones are spoken by men, while over 12% are spoken by women. Jones’s use of female characters is a unique feature in his writing, as fiction has historically privileged male protagonists and male speakers.

Jones’s ability to represent the female voice is even more impressive than could be gleaned from close reading and analysis. Traditional reading may lead to the conclusion that Jones writes primarily about other men due to the number of male characters that appear in the stories; however, once we consider the prominent role of women as both primary characters and primary speakers, we realize that these male characters are often taking a backseat to the daughters, sisters, and mothers that take the wheel in many of the stories.

The risk of getting lost in the city echoes in the background of the majority of the stories. Interestingly, being lost is mostly attached to gender. Gender also plays a role in determining movement across the city. Female characters moving alone make up 49% of the movement in NW, while male characters, on the other hand, move 34% of the time. This mobile disparity indicates that Jones empowers female characters to move and speak through his writing. Interestingly, the difference is reversed outside NW, suggesting that this freedom is limited to the confines of the established community for women, while men move more freely throughout the city. NW having the highest percentage of characters’ movements while mobility is more limited outside this locus. Walking in NW reaches approximately 29% compared to driving which only makes up 10% of the movement within the NW; characters only need to drive if forced outside their geographic community.

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