Elizabeth Kata

A Patch of Blue

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A Patch of Blue Summary

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Elizabeth Kata’s novel A Patch of Blue (originally titled Be Ready with Bells and Drums) (1961) was adapted into a film version in 1965, which was nominated for several Academy Awards, winning Best Supporting Actress for Shelley Winters’s performance as the main character.

The story is told by Selina D’Arcey, who begins by informing the reader that she knows what the colors blue, red, and black look like, but no other colors. She recounts the time when she was five years old and her father came back unexpectedly from the war to find her mother, Rose-Ann, in the company of another man. In the ensuing fight, Rose-Ann threw acid at her husband and missed, blinding Selina. Salina’s father killed the man her mother was with and was taken off to jail. Selina recalls red as the last color she ever saw, the color of the dead man’s blood.

Rose-Ann works as a prostitute, although she has a legitimate job working as a ladies’ room attendant. Selina and Rose-Ann live with Rose-Ann’s father, Ole Pa, who works as a men’s room attendant and spends his evenings getting drunk. Their city apartment is small, hot, and uncomfortable. Selina has rarely been outside of it; she spends her time cooking and cleaning and threading beads into necklaces for a small income from Mr. Faber who lives in the building. Selina remembers being out of the apartment once when she was nine years old; she met a girl named Pearl and was friends with her until she learned Pearl was black—then she hated her due to the influence of Ole Pa’s attitudes.

Ole Pa and Rose-Ann fight constantly. Selina was sexually assaulted by one of Rose-Ann’s customers, and Rose-Ann has treated her poorly ever since, although she rented a separate room to conduct her liaisons after that.

After hearing Mr. Faber talk about the park, Selina convinces him to take her there. When she comes home, she stops working, wanting only to go back to the park. Rose-Ann punishes her for not working, but Selina refuses until Ole Pa agrees to take her back to the park, warning her that she is disfigured from the acid burns. This upsets Selina, but she starts working again, threading beads at the park.

One day, a bug crawls under Selina’s clothes, and she spills her beads everywhere at the park. A young man comes to help her, introducing himself as Gordon Ralfe. Ralfe helps her thread, and they talk the rest of the day. The next day, Rose-Ann is suspicious because, between the two of them, Ralfe and Selina did all of the beads for Mr. Faber, making Rose-Ann think Selina has been shirking her work all these years.

The next day at the park, Gordon is not there. Selina is sad, but he shows up later and helps her again. They talk more, and Selina tells him that she has a new favorite word: friend. He tells her that his favorite word is tolerance. That night, Rose-Ann’s friend Sadie comes over, which Selina dreads. Sadie makes fun of Selina and enjoys tripping her. Luckily, Sadie and Rose-Ann go out, and Selina has a peaceful night to herself.

At the park the next day, Gordon gives Selina a music box as a gift. Selina confesses to Gordon that she was raped, and Gordon cries for her in response. Later, a storm breaks out and Selina is terrified. Soaking wet, she is rescued by Gordon, who carries her to a shelter. When Gordon returns her to the park, she tells him she loves him, but he tells her they are strangers to each other. Selina is upset; Gordon confesses that he does, indeed, have feelings for her.

The next day, Ole Pa refuses to take her to the park again. At first, she tries to work, but then decides she will go to the park herself. She tries, but no one will guide her there, and, eventually, she is taken home. Angry and upset, she screams at Rose-Ann and Ole Pa when they come home. The next day, she receives a message from Gordon that he wants to see her. She is happy that Mr. Faber has agreed to take her. Mr. Faber takes her to the park and tells her to take a day off from beading—with pay. Selina wishes he were her real father.

Gordon comes and takes her to his apartment, which is nicer than hers. She wonders if he is rich, but he denies it. Selina feels more deeply in love with him. At home, Selina is disgusted by her life in comparison to Gordon’s. When Rose-Ann comes home, she is unhappy and depressed; she begins beating Selina until the neighbors come to rescue her. Rose-Ann tells her that Selina will work with her and Sadie as a prostitute and that they plan to leave Ole Pa, who is dying of cancer. Selina is sad about this. She has affection for Ole Pa and tries to think of a way to save him.

At the park, Selina listens to two women talk. When they leave, Gordon arrives. Horrified by her injuries, he takes her to his home again. His brother Paul insists that he has to get rid of Selina. They tell each other they love each other and kiss. Gordon informs her that he is arranging to send her to a special school, and Selina is elated. She tells Gordon she would have been horrified if Rose-Ann had forced her to sleep with black men. Gordon is upset. When they return to the park, she falls, and as Gordon is helping her up, someone shouts. Selina realizes Gordon is black.

Selina is horrified at herself and knows her time with Gordon is over. She vows to be better. She finds Pearl and apologizes to her.