Marie Delaveaux Wilson

Anjuelle D. Floyd

Edward P. Jones’ short story, Marie, centers on eighty-six-year-old Marie Delaveaux Wilson for whom the “…federal government…every now and again, as if in a whim…” asks “…her to come in so they can take another look at her…” (p. 229)

At the Social Security office, and punctual for her eleven am appointment Marie waits until one-thirty pm until before the receptionist states that Marie “…would have to come back another day…the woman who handle [Marie’s] case was not in…” (p. 233)

Quite bothered and understandably so, Marie asks the receptionist, “Why have me wait here so long if she whatn't here?” who says,“…I know. I know.” Saying …nothing more…Marie leaves.” (p. 233)

Two weeks later, and on time for an eight-thirty am appointment at the Social Security office, Marie waits once more until near one-o-clock. Three times she inquires of the receptionist, Vernelle Wise, if the man she was to see was in. Each time Vernelle answers, “Yes.”

Marie has watched Vernelle make and receive various personal phone calls with topics discussion ranging from a Christian Dior jacket her significant other revered to her, Vernelle’s, attempts to peek at the man’s [her significant others’] fingernails.

When she approaches Vernelle and reiterates how long she had been waiting Vernelle says, while “…pointing her fingernail… ‘I told you you’ll be waited on as soon as
12/04/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’ Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-x)

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Marie Delaveaux Wilson
Anjuelle D. Floyd

possible. It’s a busy day…go back to your seat until we call your name.’ Another secretary laughs. Marie extends her hand “…across the desk and with all her might slapped Vernelle Wise.” (p. 235) Marie fled home and for days afterwards she “…ate very little and asked God to forgive her.” (p. 236) In the following days a young, male college student asks Marie to tell him of her life. Assured that he is not from the Social Security office and there to punish her—he is doing a project for one of his classes—Marie tells of her life and the young man records it.

Against the backdrop of the slow death of the boyfriend of Marie’s neighbor and friend, Wilamena, Marie continues speaking with the student as he records her words. When on one occasion the young man was about to play the “…other side…” of a tape of her stories, Marie “…touched his hand…” and said, “No more.” (p. 238)

Late one night Wilamena asks Marie to come down to the apartment of her, Wilamena’s boyfriend’s and “Sit with…” her and the man, as he lay dying.

“…[P]ropped up in bed…” and in a semi-conscious state the man spoke of a time in his life when he had been“…married for a year to woman in Nicodemus, Kansas.” The man and his wife had been “…the only black people…” in the town of Nicodemus. (p. 239) “‘You should go to Nicodemus,’ [the man] said …as if the town was only around the corner.”
12/04/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’ Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-x)

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Marie Delaveaux Wilson
Anjuelle D. Floyd

The man died four-o-clock that morning. Marie receives another letter summoning her back to the Social Security office. She calls each day until the one prior to her appointment always seeking assurances that if was safe to come in. With each call Marie hears the voice of Vernelle Wise, the woman she had slapped. Marie wants to apologize.

Thankful that Marie has told him of her life, George, the young man who had taped Marie, presents her with copies of all the tapes he has made, and a tape recorder on which to play them.

Marie listens to the tape entitled, Parents; Early Childhood.” The next morning she finds Vernelle Wise’s name in the phone book and for evenings to come Marie dials Vernelle’s number always hanging up before the third ring.

One time “…a little boy answered…” The sounds and words of children who fill Vernelle’s harried life stream over the phone to Marie. Vernelle calls out to the children, and then to Marie when she answers the phone and says, “…I’m sorry… Who is this?” (p. 242)

Marie listens to a tape of her speaking about her life then places“… the tapes in two plastic bags and put them in a dresser drawer with all that was valuable to her— documents certifying her birth, the deaths of other, some silver dollars, insurance policies, photos…” (p. 243)
12/04/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’ Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-x)

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Marie Delaveaux Wilson
Anjuelle D. Floyd

“…[H]owever long she lived, she [Marie Delaveaux Wilson] would not ever again listen to the tapes. She could not bear to hear “… the sound of her own voice.” (p. 243) Marie fears her voice and that fright is tied to a larger anxiety of what might happen should, and when she assert herself upon the world, and advocate for her welfare. It hurts Marie to the core that she has slapped Vernelle Wise, a female African American, like the elder Marie, and struggling. Marie is ashamed of the power and rage that most likely roil within her. At the highest level Marie Delaveaux Wilson symbolizes African American female who has and in many cases still lives at the lowest depths of the American culture. Despite having carried its citizens upon her back and shouldered their worries while conjuring potions and balms to make life safe and secure for others she has no one to advocate for her. She lacks a voice. Marie’s act of slapping another black woman who works for the Social Security office, an extension of the United States Government that for over two centuries upheld and benefited from slavery, most specifically the children to which African American women gave birth to in the holocaust of slavery, is as much a strike at the American Government as it is a symbol of the self-loathing, from which the terror of hearing her own voice both rises and remains embedded in Marie.

The words of Wilmena’s boyfriend to Marie, “You should go to Nicodemus,” point to Marie’s healing. A high priest of the Pharisees and Sadducees who were adamantly against Jesus and his teachings, Nicodemus bestowed favor upon Jesus three times.
12/04/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’ Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-x)

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Marie Delaveaux Wilson
Anjuelle D. Floyd

Nicodemus also visited Christ and night.

It was to Nicodemus that Jesus said, “You must be born again if you desire to see the Kingdom of God.”

The rebirth of which Jesus spoke was not physical, rather spiritual, and what many today would expand to include emotional and mental transformation.

If in the beginning “…there was the Word, and the Word was God and Word was with God…” then Marie Delaveaux Wilson need only to hear her voice, that of God speaking through her and delivering forgiveness for having slapped Vernelle Wise and remaining silent against her desire to apologize.

12/04/2007 (all excerpts taken from Edward P. Jones’ Lost in the City ISBN -00679258-x)

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