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In Imperial Chrysanthemum, the main protagonist, Loretta, struggles with ideas of self and justice. Throughout the story, Loretta works for Cutie Young– running errands, checking vitals, keeping her company– as a means to an end. The end being a boat called the Mattaponi Queen. While working for Cutie, Loretta struggles with ideas of justice and how it effects her experience as a whole. Her older sister Ruth has a checkered history with Cutie and this knowledge finds its way into Loretta’s everyday interactions with her. On many days she is patient and caring, if not a little inwardly agitated. On others, she is full of bitterness: maybe bitter about the subtle micro-aggressions Cutie throws her way or carrying the bitterness her older sister held towards Cutie.

She is consistently reminded of her oscillating feelings toward Cutie and her experiences with those Cutie has impacted. Her niece Tamara is the alleged daughter of  Cutie’s son Horace. Thinking of her sister Ruth: how she was treated, how she must have felt to have nothing for herself– not even her child. And thinking of Cutie who in old age, while stubborn, never really causes her any real trouble, creates inner conflict.

There is unfairness in Loretta’s experience as a woman of color. Unfairness in what she carries and how she is expected to behave. This affects the way she perceives justice and her self.  She seems to ask over and over again what the difference between comeuppance– small victories, in this case, maybe not even her own–and revenge is. Is their justice?

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