"Sweet Town" is narrated by a woman named Kit, who remembers the days of her youth.
Kit thinks back on the spring and summer when she was 15. She would write her mother notes using unconventional materials like charred matches and candle wax. One day, her mother returned her message with a doting note made of cake frosting and marmalade. The note encouraged her to paint the fire escape, even though they did not have one. That summer, she vowed to love her mother forever.
She also became involved with a boy named B.J. One day, B.J. suggested that he, Kit, and their friend Eddie hitchhike to California to start a career in films. Over the course of the summer, the three friends became wilder, and alienated their other acquaintances with their crazy plans.
One night, B.J. threw pebbles at Kit’s window until she appeared to speak to him. He tearfully explained that he was running away with Eddie, and leaving her behind. Kit called Eddie a “shithead,” but let them go (125).
For years afterwards, she would daydream about traveling the country searching for B.J., until he finally learned about her quest and returned to her.
“Sweet Town” is Bambara’s first published story. It was released in the magazine Vendome in January, 1959 – a few months before she graduated from college. Her school awarded her the John Golden Award for Fiction for this story. Given this background, it makes sense that “Sweet Town” is one of Bambara’s most intensely personal works. Narrated in the first person by a creative teenager, the story’s language is vibrant and poetic. Although it is unknown whether the events of the story are autobiographical, it is likely that the young Bambara identified with the excitable, aesthetically-minded narrator.
Bambara’s limited use of irony in this story suggests that there is less of a divide between the author and the narrator than there is in Bambara’s later works. In other words, the young narrator's words are not meant to be assessed but simply taken at face value. In “Sweet Town,” Bambara seems to take the mournful eulogy for the narrator’s “betrayed youth” seriously (125). In her later work, also narrated from the perspective of young people, there is a greater sense of remove. For example, in “Gorilla, My Love,” the reader and Bambara both know that Hunca Bubba never intended to marry Hazel. Hazel is the only one who is surprised by this development. Bambara exploits this kind of irony in many of her stories about children, but it does not play much of a role in “Sweet Town.”
“Sweet Town” is perhaps most notable for its stylistic experimentation. The narrator’s fanciful way of describing her surroundings verges on magical realism, and the story includes many whimsical moments, such as the narrator’s mother writing the note in cake frosting. Bambara also relies quite heavily on inverted and otherwise unusual syntax in this story. One of the best examples of her sophisticated syntax comes at the end of the story: “Days other than the here and now, I told myself, will be dry and sane and sticky with the rotten apricots oozing slowly in the sweet time of my betrayed youth” (125). The multiple prepositional phrases in this sentence encourage the reader to focus on individual words and ideas rather than on the sentence’s meaning as a whole. These stylistic factors push “Sweet Town” towards prose poetry, a line that Bambara also toes in some of more lyrical flashbacks in "The Survivor."
Like “Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird,” this story features a young girl with an eye for language and storytelling. Kit edges closer to maturity as a result of the experiences she has in “Sweet Town,” a narrative arc that can also be detected with Cathy in “Blues.” Bambara makes Kit’s development explicit by referring to her “betrayed youth;” the betrayal, she suggests, is B.J. and Eddie’s decision to run away together without her. Although Kit may have a long way to go before she reaches adulthood, Bambara makes it clear that the events of that summer are a pivotal moment in the character’s progress toward maturity. These experiences shape not only that summer, but also the way she will remember her youth. In this way, the story's primary theme can be considered memory itself.
An important difference between “Sweet Town” and “Blues” is the role of the narrator. In “Sweet Town,” Kit’s unique way of perceiving the world gives the story its distinctive, fanciful style. She also plays an important role in the action of the story – that is, her choices affect the way the plot plays out. The narrator of “Blues Ain’t No Mockin Bird” is more of an observer; in fact, she plays the smallest role of any of the characters in driving the story’s action. Her straightforward, regionally inflected way of speaking is very similar to those of the narrators in “Raymond’s Run,” “Gorilla, My Love,” and “The Hammer Man.” Because “Blues” was published twelve years after “Sweet Town,” the juxtaposition of the two stories reveals how Bambara’s approach to narration changed over time.