She Has the Key
Ruston, Lincoln Parish
RealAudio clip (2:03)
This story was recorded September 16, 1993, by Pat Mire and Maida Owens.
God made man. We were equal with man at one time, but after Eve convinced Adam to eat the fruit, God placed the man over the woman.
So, this woman, she married this man, and he ruled her with a iron hand. He didn't do anything--she had to do all the work--and she could not say a word, she couldn't complain, because God had given them men all the power.
So, she got a little unruly. She started talking back to him. And he decided he better go back and talk with the Lord again, so he'd get just a little more power.
So he went back and told the Lord his wife had started grumbling and talking back to him--he needed just a little more power to keep them under control.
So, the Lord says, "Okay, your wish is granted."
So, he went back home. He was harder on the woman than he'd ever been, because this power. And the lady got to thinking one day, she said, "Why can't I go to God?"
So, she decided, well, I'm just going to go through God and ask him to help me too and give me some of that power. So, she got up, and she walked the stairway to heaven, and she says, "Lord: See, my husband--he work me to death, he's mean, he's hateful, and I can't complain, I can't say anything, because you gave him all that power." She said, "Would you just give me a little power, so I can control him some?"
The Lord thought about it for a while, and he said, "Here." He passed her a key.
So, she looked at the key, went home. She thought about the key and thought, "Now, what good is a key? That's not power."
And the Lord says to her in a quiet voice, "Just lock the door."
So, she locked the door, and that's how the--[laughs] the woman gained control over the man: with the key locking the door. [Laughs.]
African-American oral traditions contain a significant proportion of tales that more or less humorously explain the origins of current social relationships. There are many other tales devoted specifically to the relationships between men and women. This one bears a close resemblance to an African-American tale retold by Zora Neale Hurston in Mules and Men; in Hurston's Florida variant, the lucky woman has three keys of power over her husband: the keys to the kitchen, the nursery, and the bedroom.
This story is usually much longer when Sarah Albritton tells it; she shortened this version to suit the needs of the video documentary.
For more information on this and related tales, refer to the book, Swapping Stories: Folktales from Louisiana, published by University Press of Mississippi.