Playin With Punjab by Toni Cade Bambara

Playin With Punjab - Toni Cade BambaraIn Playin With Punjab by Toni Cade Bambara we have the theme of power, fear, struggle, equality, responsibility and sacrifice. Taken from her Gorilla, My Love collection the story is narrated in the first person by a young black girl called Violet and from the beginning of the story it becomes clear to the reader that Bambara may be exploring the theme of power. Punjab is a loan shark and wields a lot of power in the neighbourhood. If somebody doesn’t pay him back he ends up beating the person up. At no stage of the story, except for Miss Ruby, does the reader suspect that Punjab has the respect of others. People are afraid of him and as such give him a wide berth. It is also clear to see that everybody in the block, with the exception of Punjab, is struggling. The block is a difficult place to live in and there is a lot of trouble and criminality. It is for this reason that Violet wants to get a summer job as a typist.

The block as symbolism is important as Bambara may be using the block to highlight the degrading living conditions that some black people live in. If anything they are the forgotten people. With no, jobs, no prospects, no hopes and no equality. Though Violet, possibly due to her age, is optimistic as too is Miss Ruby who has a soft spot for Punjab, as he does for her. Theirs is the only interracial relationship in the story and the fact that Miss Ruby goes missing may be Bambara’s way of suggesting that Punjab likes control, particularly over white women. If anything Punjab could have made Miss Ruby to disappear permanently. That being he may have killed her.

The theme of responsibility is self-evident in the story. Miss Ruby takes responsibility for other people’s actions or rather their lack of actions. It is she who tries to organize a poverty committee so that the neighbourhood can be improved. She also helps neighbours to the church basement in order to pick up some much needed food. To say that Miss Ruby is a good and kind person is an understatement particularly when she is compared to Punjab who is a gangster. The most important thing in Punjab’s life is money and the most important person in his life is himself. Even when he is trying to court Miss Ruby.

The end of the story is interesting as the reader realises that Miss Ruby has made a sacrifice with her life. Punjab having been unhappy at not getting on the committee and possibly because Miss Ruby had monies outstanding to him, decides to do something sinister to Miss Ruby. We know that Punjab has the potential to kill having previously killed Jackson on the day he returned to the neighbourhood after leaving the army. So there is every chance that Punjab has killed Miss Ruby. Miss Ruby may have also turned Punjab down or ended their relationship. Another reason for Punjab to kill her. What is also interesting is that things carry on normally. Nobody informs the police of their suspicions when it comes to Punjab. This would further highlight how afraid people are of him.

Cite Post
McManus, Dermot. "Playin With Punjab by Toni Cade Bambara." The Sitting Bee. The Sitting Bee, 16 Apr. 2022. Web.

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