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Ma Rainey

Ma Rainey


by Sterling Brown

Ma Rainey

Symbol Analysis

Okay, okay. We know she's a person. And how can a person be a symbol? Well it's pretty clear here that the speaker and the people in Ma Rainey's audience aren't all that interested in who this woman is as a person. They're much more interested in what she means to them, which can only mean one thing: she's a symbol.

  • Line 1: There she is, right there in the first line. Here the speaker tells us that she's such a popular singer that people will come from far and wide to hear her in person. Now that's fame.
  • Line 8: If there's one thing we do know about Ma the person, it's that she's crazy talented. She does her stuff. 
  • Line 25: When Ma comes on stage, she's got a big old grin on her face. That tells us that the blues are about more than just being down in the dumps. But still, we don't really know why she's smiling (maybe it's all those adoring fans?). That remains a Ma Rainey mystery that we'll never solve. 
  • Section 3: Section 3 reads like an extended request from these audience members. They want Ma to sing songs that will ease their troubles. That tells us that to these people, Ma and her music are solace. They heal. It's not that they like Ma, per se, but they love what she means to them, and how she makes them feel.
  • Line 52: Well, this line pretty much speaks for itself, don't you think? The idea here is that these people can't always put into words what Ma means to them, but whatever the case, she touches them with her music—on a deep level.

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