Mary Agnes (Squeak)

A small woman?

Although Mary Agnes is a less significant character, she too displays the individuality and resilience of the female spirit. When Sofia leaves Harpo, he begins a relationship with Mary Agnes, whose nickname, Squeak, signifies her potential as another female victim. Physically Mary Agnes is small and quite submissive, with a faint voice. Looking after Harpo and Sofia’s children when Sofia is imprisoned puts a severe strain on her and her self-confidence is diminished.

Her first encounter with Sofia in the juke joint illustrates not only the great physical difference between the two women, but also their different temperaments. Squeak tries to assert her claim over Harpo by slapping Sofia’s face, probably expecting Sofia to be suitably chastised. Unfortunately Squeak seriously underestimates Sofia’s capacity to absorb punishment and loses two teeth when she is punched in the face by Harpo’s indignant first wife.

Developing strength

When Sofia is imprisoned, we see a more resilient aspect of Squeak’s character. Showing the generosity of women towards one another, it is Squeak who visits her white uncle, the prison warden, to try to get Sofia released from prison. Although she is raped by him in the process, she is ultimately successful in getting Sofia transferred to serve as a maid in the Mayor’s household.

From this point onwards, Mary Agnes insists that she is called by her given name. Reclaiming it symbolises her new strength and shortly afterwards she begins a singing career in the juke joint. Her singing voice is described as being like ‘panthers if they could sing’, an interesting comparison that suggests the subdued ferocity underneath a sleek wild animal.

In the pivotal Letter 74, Mary Agnes joins the other female assertions of independence by declaring that she is moving north to be a professional singer, with Shug’s assistance, while Sofia looks after Susie Q, the child that Mary Agnes had by Harpo. Relatively young and with paler skin (as the product of a mixed race liaison), Mary Agnes is regarded as attractive and becomes a subject of male lust from Shug’s husband Grady, but uses this to her own advantage. For a while, he provides both emotional and financial security.

Although she almost succumbs to the lure of constant reefer smoking which dulls her senses and causes concern amongst her friends, ultimately Mary Agnes reclaims her life. She leaves Grady and the plantation in Panama, succeeds in her singing career and eventually moves back to her family in Memphis, collecting Susie Q so that her relatives can take care of her daughter when she’s away. Unlike Shug, but similar to Sofia, her commitment to her offspring is stronger than her loyalty to any man.

Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.