by Toni Morrison
Lady Jones might seem a cliché at first—like the Michelle Pfeiffer character from Dangerous Minds who becomes a beacon of light to some poor, black kid. But Morrison puts the kibosh on that pretty quickly.
For instance, even though Denver views Lady Jones's school (and Lady Jones herself) as a kind of haven, Lady Jones's motivation to teach the black children in town is kind of self-centered. It all has to do with the fact that she's mixed-race and hates herself for it:
Gray eyes and yellow woolly hair, every strand of which she hated—though whether it was the color or the texture she didn't know. (26.247)
In fact, she hates the white part of herself so much that she does whatever she can to escape it, including marrying "the blackest man she could find" (26.247).
But that doesn't stop her from thinking that "the whole world (including her children) despised her and her hair" or from "dislik[ing] everybody a little bit because she believed they hated her hair as much as she did" (26.247).
Yep. Lady Jones definitely has some issues. And it's fair to wonder: would Lady Jones be as committed to the poor, black children she teaches if it weren't for her self-hatred?
According to our helpful narrator, Lady Jones "sav[es] her real affection for the unpicked children of Cincinnati" (26.247)—including Denver, who totally benefits from Lady Jones's need to do good by the overlooked kids of the town. What's the connection between self-hatred and doing good works? That's something you'll have to figure out on your own. (Hey, we've got to leave a little something for you.)