Alice Walker Poetry
Self-reflection and Maturity in the Transformation of Celie in the Color Purple, a Novel by Alice Walker
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker tells a story of a young girl named Celie. The book is formatted as an journal so that daily experiences can be shared through the voice of Celie. In the beginning, readers learn that she lives in a life of recurring hardship, confusion, and turmoil. Readers also learn that she is insecure, but hopeful in finding a way to get through these hardships. However at the end of the novel, readers see a transformation that one would call inspiring. Some would say that what made her through this transformation is self reflection and maturity. However, from what readers can see it was because of the growing relationships with Nettie, Mr__, and Shug. Due to them, Celie is able to have a sense of dependency with her sister, forgive the people that hurted her, and to love someone else and herself.
In these entries of her journal, readers can see a shift from speaking about Nettie to God to where she actually has conversations with Nettie and they discuss many things as they write to each other. However the most compelling thing about some of these conversations, is that readers see how Celie has become more attached and more dependent on Nettie. . For example, in the ending of one of her entries she writes “ Pray for me, Your Sister Celie”, it shows that she looks for Nettie’s guidance as she is facing an adversity, similarity when she was looking guidance from God ( Walker 3). This shift also shows that Celie who she thought needed to protect her sister from adversity , has realized that she can not be strong all the time and can now look for protection in her sister because Nettie ended up being her strength.
Also in these entries, readers learn about what Mr____. feels about Celie. He explains to Celie, “ I wanted to kill you, said Mr___ and I did slap you around a couple of times. I never understood how you and Shug got along so well together and it bothered the hell out of me. When she was mean and nasty to you, I understood. But when I looked around and the two of you was always doing each other’s hair, I start to worry..” ( Walker 10). This quotation gives light to Mr______ and the his issues of acceptance toward Celie not meeting up to his expectations of her. Due to this conversation, readers see that Celie and Mr___ are similar in where they have issues of acceptance. In Celie learning about this, she has exclaimed that she does not hate him because by saying that discussion, this has made him into someone who she describes as “ when you talk to him now he really listen” ( Walker 7). Therefore, this discussion with Mr___, it has enable her to later to forgive Mr___ and anyone else that has harmed her.
In the beginning, readers learn that Celie finds a picture of Shug Avery and she makes the goal to be as beautiful as she is and finds herself embodying her in her marriage to Mr___. As she is a lot older now, readers start to see that Shug is with her and they a strong bond to each other. In this quote “ What I love best bout Shug is what she been through, I say. When you look in Shug’s eyes you know she been where she been, seen what she seen, did what she did. And now she know.” it shows that this relationship is embedded in understanding each others struggle and coming back from it with a new pair of lenses. Due to this, sees Shug as an strong, independent woman that she would like herself to be. This bond later taught Celie how to love someone else and potentially herself. In this quote “ My job just to love her good and true myself….I have love and I have been love and I thank God let me gain understanding enough to love can’t be halted just cause some people’s moan and groan….I have love Shug Avery all my life ” it sheds light on how through this relationship it has made her realize that God helped her understand that in order to love someone and herself , it should not be broken because of not so good experiences ( Walker 10).
Through out The Color Purple, readers see the development of Celie from a young girl to a mature woman. They see that as a young girl, she was insecure and she depended on God to help herself and help her cope through her disturbing experiences, but can also see her resilience and her dedication to the things that mean the most to her. Now as a mature woman, readers also see that her transformation would not have been as inspirational if it wasn’t through the influences of her relationships with Nettie, Mr___ and Shug. Through Nettie’s relationship she is able to have talk to Nettie, which enabled Celie to be more open with her sister and have dependence on her . As for Mr__’s she is able to understand him a lot more through their discussions, therefore, teaching her acceptance for the people that have harmed her. Lastly, Shug’s relationship is focused on the love they have for each other, therefore, teaches her how to love someone else and eventually love herself through God’s eyes. In conclusion, in any transition in life, people fail to recognize that relationships are crucial to the overall development of an individual. Whether these relationships are good ones or the bad ones, ( bad ones in Celie’s case) it teaches lessons that can not be taught through self reflection or maturity, but lessons that can be taught through the relationships of other people.
Equality for African American Women
The theme of equality for African American women in their communities are similar themes for Paule Marshall and Alice Walker. They both connect with women of the past and these indentities they connect with.Both women’s identification is related to the exposure of African American culture throughout their lives. Walker states that: Therefore we must pull out of ourselves and look at and identify with our lives the living creativity some of our great-grandmothers were not allowed to know. I stress some of them because it is well-known that the majority of our great-grandmothers knew without even “knowing” it, the reality of their spirituality, even if they didn’t recognize it beyond what happened in the singing at church (Walker, 1996: 2318-2319).
Alice Walker believe it is important to identify with the subconscious and spirituality of African American women. Alice Walker expresses creative spirituality and culture through her writings which became a bridge that connects the gap between African-American women of the past their search for self-expression. Even though she had the opportunity and freedom to write, she could identify with the racism faced by her ancestors. She is connected with the hardship and tribulations that African American women was subjected to and this is how she identifies herself with the ancestors of African American women. She defines a creative spirt as an expression of African American women through everyday things such as songs and quilt-making, “Everyday Use” because these were an expression of art to African American ancestors and could not be taken from them.
Paule Marshall’s African-American ancestor’s identification is from her mother and her mother’s friends. Her essays identify with her mother’s African-American tradition she expressed. She describes the kitchen setting in “Poets in The Kitchen” she was exposed to as a child and the strong self-expression is a form of art in keeping African tradition alive was in integral part of their lives. (Marshall, 1996: 1948) Marshall’s felt independence is through ‘the spoken word’ which was the ultimate expression of art and a sense of power because during her mother’s era women were powerless and they would express themselves in their kitchens. These conversations taught Marshall her first lesson in narrative art. She states, “They trained my ear. They set a standard of excellence. That is why my best work must be attributed to them; it stands as a testimony, to the rich legacy of language and culture they so freely passed on to me in the word shop of the kitchen” (Marshall, 1996: 1952). Alice Walker’s essay, “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens” and Paule Marshall, “Poets in The Kitchen” focus on African-American women of the past and how these women had impacted their writings. These women inspired both to become African American writer which uses to different means of expression, Alice Walker expresses independence through creative spirit and Paule Marshall through spoken word to celebrate these women’s lives.
In conclusion, both of the African American writers express the importance of identity, independence and inspiration. They have connected with their ancestors and found a common identity and found them as an inspiration to their writings. They both many similarities as well as differences but have the goal as to inspire women and tell their stories.
Defining a Woman in the Color Purple
If asked, most people would say women are strong, passionate, loving, but not all of these positive traits truly define who they are. Their nature is deemed the most difficult to define because they have negative aspects that contribute to their strength, passion, and ability to give love. In The Color Purple, Alice Walker uses foils between multiple main characters, literary devices, and divisive imagery to communicate that femininity and being a woman are both defined by a variety of personal and societal standards.
Walker purposely creates female characters that are different from each other to create a holistic view of femininity. The main character Celie is a woman who embodies the oppression of females. In many instances throughout the book, Celie is disrespected by the male characters. After she is beaten by her father for winking at a boy in church (11), she affirms “I don’t even look at mens. The truth is I look at womens though cause I’m not scared of them” (11). Celie builds her life primarily on the fear of men and their power. Because of this, she quietly serves and does not confront her oppression portraying a cowardice characteristic that most women have tried to overcome. In contrast to Celie however, Sofia is a bossy and independent female who speaks her mind. Celie says “I like Sofia, but she don’t act like me atall. If she talking when Harpo and Mr. come in the room, she keep right on” (27). Sofia, like Celie, is beaten by the men in her life, but she chooses to stand up for herself. Celia admires Sofia’s strength and this foreshadows her desire to emulate Sofia’s attitude in the future. Shut Avery is substantially different from the other women in the book. Shug Avery represents the two familiar characteristics of females, desirability and confidence. As Celie gives her a bath Shug Avery tells her to “take a good look. Even if I is just a bag of bones now” (35). This shows Shug Avery’s comfort-ability with herself. Unlike her, Celie is fond of being called ugly belittling any sense of self worth she has. These three women are different in character, but they play off each other to create a balanced definition of a true woman through the tests of time.
The use of literary devices in The Color Purple further explains factors that make up the definition of the feminine experience. At one moment Celie uses a metaphor to express her situation; “He beat me like he beat the children” (11). Celie is disciplined like she is a small child and gains no respect despite her age. Because of her lack of confidence, she is mocked by Albert’s children, making it hard for her to act as a mother. Celie has hardships, however when she is finally able to break from the patriarchal setting she was living in, she decides to start selling pants. Pants symbolize a sort of liberation from the “ideal womanly look” created by society. Alice Walker also uses God as an allegorical device to have Celie believe in something bigger than her. She begins every letter with the words “Dear God”, asking him questions and hoping for a better future than her present. Most women find strength in their significant others but Celie forms an unbreakable bond with God. The multiple literary devices used in the book form a broad understanding of female struggles and perseverance.
Moreover, Walker uses imagery as an appeal to the reader’s sense of common beliefs to the personal femininity. When Shug Avery is coming back home as a surprise for Christmas Celie is frustrated trying to fix her hair when she hears the motor vehicle outside (61). She says “It too long to be short, too short to be long. Too nappy to be kinky, too kinky to be nappy. No set color to it either…”(61). Celie, like most women, does not appreciate the hair she has. This imagery helps us understand that femininity is in line with caring about outward appearance. In an expression of newly found excitement for freedom, Celie describes Shug Avey’s house to Nettie by saying, “She got statues of folks I never heard of and I never hope to see. She got a whole bunch of elephants and turtles everywhere. Some big, some little, some in the fountain, some up in the tree’s”(101). Celie is shocked at how unique this place is, and I think she was mesmerized that a little confidence could give a woman the ability to build a home as extravagant as she likes. In The Color Purple, imagery thus conveys the personal definition of femininity because it contributes to the explanation of emotions that the main characters face at different moments.
In light of such trial and tribulation, the perseverance and hope for a bright future are the criteria that Walker uses to define a true, dignified woman. If you look at the overall storyline, Celie, the character who was the most oppressed succeeds. Society may put a label on what women are meant to be like and this may affect personal views of femininity. I think the complexity of females that people do not understand is what makes them feminine. Alice Walker uses foils between multiple main characters, literary devices, and divisive imagery In The Color Purple, femininity and being a woman are both defined by a variety of personal and societal standards.
The-color-purple-alice-walker : Ikram BNS : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive.; Internet Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.
A Look at Stitching to Gain Freedom
Sewing is often viewed as a proper pastime for married women to engage in, even if it can often be laborious to do for hours on end. Yet, the women in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple managed to turn this monotonous activity into something profitable. Celie begins to use sewing as a way to bond with the other women who come into her life and, eventually, as a way to make herself economically secure without the help of a husband. In this way, the prominence of sewing in The Color Purple is used to symbolize the means through which the women formed a sisterhood and gained independence from the men that were dominating their lives.
One of the first positive interactions between Celie and Sofia is facilitated through the act of making a quilt together. Celie had previously told Harpo that he should beat Sofia because Celie was jealous of Sofia’s strength and assertiveness. When Sofia approaches Celie about her actions, she suggests that they “make quilt pieces out of… messed-up curtains” as a way to start with a clean slate (42). Seeing Sofia and Celie sew together prompts Shug join in, and soon after, the three women are making a quilt together with a pattern that Celie calls Sister’s Choice, a name which represents the sisterhood that Shug, Celie, and Sofia are symbolically creating with this quilt. As the women work on the quilt, Celie begins to feel a sense of empowerment, declaring to God that “for the first time in [her] life, [she feels] just right” (57).
Through her friendship with the other women, especially with Shug, Celie begins to find value in herself and realizes that she can hope for a life without Mr.___. After Shug suggests that Celie should own a pair of pants to wear while plowing the fields, the two begin a daily routine of sewing and reading Nettie’s letters. The fact that Celie is sewing something that she knows Mr. ___ would not consider proper for her to wear serves as a catalyst to speed up the process through which Celie asserts her independence. She begins to question God, one ideal that she always had complete faith in, and when Shug exclaims to Celie, “You coming back to Tennessee with me,” Celie realizes that she not afraid to go with her (177). The fact that Celie and Shug have shared secrets and sewn together has caused them to form a very close bond.
Ever since leaving with Shug to Tennessee, Celie finds herself unable to stop sewing pants to the point where she now has “pants all over her chairs, hanging all in front of the china closet. Newspaper patterns and cloth all over the table and the floor” (212). This mania for sewing is symbolic of how, now that Celie has taken her first step towards being liberated from Mr.___’s clutches, she cannot stop finding new ways to become more independent and self-sufficient. The pants that Celie has sewn are a physical manifestation of how much Celie’s search for independence has inspired the other women to search for happiness as well. Celie first begins to sew pants for Shug and Squeak, two women who were heavily influenced by Celie on their own search for independence. Soon enough, as Mr.___ notes, “everybody in the family just about wearing pants [she] made,” which symbolizes that sisterhood the Celie created with all of the women in the family (254). The most prominent sign that a woman no longer needs a man in her life is when she is able to achieve financial security on her own. Economic independence is something that women, especially black women, rarely possessed in rural Georgia, and it would not have been possible for Celie to achieve had she not embraced her gift for sewing. The start of Celie’s business coincides with her getting her own house to live in. This, along with the fact that Celie is now sewing primarily for profit, shows that she succeeded in creating a life for herself completely independent of men.
Traditionally, the ability to sew was a skill that was prized in wives. Wives could make their husbands’ clothes or they make linens and curtains to make the house beautiful for when their husband had guests over. Not many women enjoyed sewing, yet they spent most of their days engaged in this activity because they believed it was a part of being a good housewife. Celie transformed this feminine duty into something that she could do not just to make her husband happy but herself as well. Through her sewing, Celie was able to create a lifelong friendship with so many women that empowered her and design a path to independence and liberation from her confining past.
Sex Versus Spirituality in the Color Purple
In Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Shug Avery introduces the novel’s protagonist, Celie, to the concept of religious embodiment. Critic Anne-Janine Morey, in her book Religion and Sexuality in American Literature, defines embodiment as “the unreconciled relation of body and spirit” (3). In Western theology, God (the Word) and the flesh are conceived as binary oppositions, with the divine operating on a metaphysical plane. While popular theology asserts that the body, with all its attendant yearnings and desires, is completely separate from the soul, which is typically associated with spirituality and the divine, analogies and metaphors that link the spiritual with the sexual can be found in the Bible itself, such as in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians and the Song of Songs. Both of these Biblical texts explicitly and metaphorically compare Christ’s relationship with the Church to the relationship between two lovers. This analogy considerably complicates the Judeo-Christian narrative that spiritual fulfillment and sexuality are diametrically opposed, positing instead that the achievement of the former is largely contingent on the recognition and indulgence of the latter.
Shug Avery’s theological persuasions follow this more sex- and body-positive interpretation of God’s Word. For Shug, God is not an immutable, abstract entity; rather, He is present in all material things, especially the human body. In one of the novel’s key scenes, Shug asks Celie, “[H]ave you ever felt God in church? I never did. […] Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God” (Walker 193). Shug’s articulation suggests that God is other people, and only through human connection can this divine presence be encountered. Shug then asks Celie what she imagines God to look like, to which Celie responds, “He big and old and tall and graybearded and white. He wear white robes and go barefooted” (194). Shug answers, “[T]hat’s the one that’s in the white folks bible” (194), which implies that people make God in their own image rather than the opposite. She sums up her philosophy: “God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it” (195).
Shug’s philosophy influences Celie’s own spiritual rebirth, which is inextricably bound to her sexual awakening. Prior to Shug’s appearance, Celie endures a loveless half-existence with her husband, Albert. Given the sexual abuse Celie endures at the hands of her stepfather, it is unsurprising that she never imagines sex as a conceivably pleasurable experience. When Celie describes her sex life with Albert to Shug, she remarks, “Why, Miss Celie. You make it sound like he going to the toilet on you” (77). Only through Shug does Celie finally experience the possibility of a pleasurable sexuality and unearth her own latent lesbianism. It is Shug who initiates Celie’s transformation from an oppressed and sexless housewife to a liberated woman, represented by the scene in which Shug compels Celie to inspect her own vagina in the mirror. By uncovering the source of her femininity and the nexus of her repressed desire, Celie begins the process of finding God through self-knowledge.
Celie’s newfound sexuality complements her spiritual transformation. The aforementioned scene in which Celie finally looks at her vagina echoes Shug’s later injunction that only those willing to search inside themselves discover God. For Shug, and, later, for Celie, spirituality is contingent on a healthy sexuality. When Celie reprimands Shug for speaking suggestively during their theological conversation, Shug rebuts, “God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves ‘em you enjoys ‘em a lot more. You can just relax, […] and praise God by liking what you like” (196). The two seemingly irreconcilable forces of sex and spirituality become fused in an almost Whitmanesque fashion. Toward the end of the novel, after Shug returns to Celie after a six-month excursion with a new lover, Celie prefaces her final letter with the declaration: “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear everything. Dear God” (285). Celie takes the sexual energy that Shug awakens within her and channels it into an overwhelming love for everything that is both spiritual and physical, thereby uniting the two polar opposites of sexuality and spirituality into a more complete whole.
- Morey, Ann-Janine. Religion and Sexuality in American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.
- Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. Orlando: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006. Print.
African American Women’s Empowerment in Literature
“We’re people, we’re just like the birds and the bees, We’d rather die on our feet, Than be livin’ on our knees” (“James Brown Lyrics”). These lyrics for James Brown’s classic soul hit “Say It Loud (I’m Black And I’m Proud)” could have easily been written after the viewing of Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun” or a reading of Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use.” Both literary works are about African-American families that are trying to stay together as the family members slowly begin to part from each other. The family in Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” is comprised of all females, and the backbone of the Younger family in “A Raisin in the Sun” is the female characters (Hansberry; Walker). The female characters in each literary work are attempting to define themselves as African-American women while also trying to define themselves through the issues of poverty and racism.
There are three major female characters in both Alice Walker’s “Everyday Use” and Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun.” These women are very similar and easily comparable. In both stories, there is a mother and two daughters/daughters-in-law (Hansberry; Walker). In the short story written by Alice Walker, the mother is the storyteller; consequently, she is not known as anything but “Mama.” The two daughters are Maggie, a shy girl who lives at home with her mother, and Dee or Wangero, who is returning from college to visit her family (357-63). The mother in Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun” is Lena Younger, who is also called “Mama” by her family members. Ruth is Lena’s daughter-in-law, Walter Lee’s wife. She is most closely comparable to Maggie, and Beneatha Younger to Wangero. Beneatha is Lena’s biological daughter, and has set her sights on becoming a doctor (Hansberry 1198-1260).
The two mothers are the strength of their respective families. Both mothers identify African-American women as religious, and each is the religious backbone of her family. Lena Younger will not have God being disgraced within her home, which is evident when she “powerfully” slaps Beneatha across the face for saying that there “simply is no blasted God” (Hansberry 1212). Lena then makes Beneatha repeat, “In my mother’s house there is still God” (1212). It is obvious that the mother in “Everyday Use” is also a religious woman. She hypothesizes that whenever Maggie marries John Thomas she will just sit and “sing church songs to [her]self” (Walker 359). Also, when she tells Wangero that she can not have the quilts, something hits her and she relates it as a feeling similar to when “the spirit of God touches” her and the spirit causes her to become captivated and begin to shout (363). The two mothers are also the final arbiters of good and bad. Neither of them is educated, but both decide what will happen in the household. Mama Younger is the head of the household until the very end of the play when Walter Lee starts to rightfully take over as the man of the house. She teaches Beneatha and the audience an important lesson when she implores, “There is always something left to love. And if you ain’t learned that, you ain’t learned nothing” (Hansberry 1257). Maggie and Wangero’s mother shows that she also has the final say in her household when she seizes the quilt from Wangero’s hands and drops it in Maggie’s lap. The mothers personify the strength of the African-American woman.
One can easily tell that Beneatha Younger and Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo are very similar because each wants to be independent and is searching for her individual identity. Beneatha is a twenty-year-old girl who is currently enrolled in college and studying to become a doctor (1204-5). Wangero is also an educated young woman who has either graduated from or is currently attending Paine College in Augusta, Georgia (Walker 358). Both young ladies are also attractive girls who draw the attention of young men. When Wangero comes back to visit her mother and her sister, she comes with a possible male suitor in the Muslim man who has accompanied her (359-60). The narrator, her mother, also notes the “furtive boys in pink shirts” who were around on washday when Dee was in high school (359). Throughout “A Raisin in the Sun,” Beneatha has two male suitors who come and go. Joseph Asagai, the young Nigerian, even asks Beneatha to marry him at the end of the play (Hansberry 1252-53). The difference in the two girls’ relationships is that while Beneatha is more submissive to the men, Dee dominates her peers. While in high school, she actually did the courting instead of the male. While courting Jimmy T, she “turned all of her faultfinding power on him” and “he flew” (Walker 359). Both of the young women are strong-willed to an extent that it sometimes gets on others’ nerves. Dee read to her sister and mother before she left for college, but as her mother says, “She… read …without pity; forcing words, lies… upon us two” (358). Dee is attempting to impart some of the knowledge she is learning upon her family members, but she does it in a demeaning way that makes them feel like dimwits. Beneatha is determined to become a doctor, but she becomes very cynical whenever anyone in the family, especially Walter Lee, tries to discuss anything about her schooling (1205-6).
Beneatha and Wangero are each searching for individual identity in a culture that is different than that of their respective families. When Wangero steps out of the car in the midst of hot and muggy summer weather, she is wearing a brightly colored dress and bracelets that clank together when she lifts her arms (Walker 360). Beneatha also dresses in interesting and unique attire. Joesph Asagai gives Beneatha a Nigerian dress and headdress that he sent home for and got from his sister’s personal wardrobe (Hansberry 1216-7). Beneatha is ecstatic. She even goes as far as cutting her hair short to make it more “natural” (1226). The rest of the family is in disbelief when they see what she has done. Wangero’s hair is also unfamiliar to her family. Her hair is standing straight up, and she has two long pigtails that are wrapped into buns behind her ears (Walker 360). Dee then acknowledges her mother with a Muslim greeting, as does her male acquaintance. Then Dee gives news that is astonishing to her mother – she has changed her name. No longer is her name Dee but now Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo. She has changed her name because she cries that she “couldn’t bear… being named after the people who oppress me” (360). However, Dee was a name that had been passed down through the family since before the Civil War. In actuality, Dee/Wangero just does not want anything to do with the tradition of her family. She wants her own unique tradition and only wants artifacts from what has become her prior family tradition. Beneatha changes her appearance and does not share her family’s religious beliefs, but she still is trying to keep her heritage. For instance, she becomes angry when her other suitor, George Murchinson, talks badly about the Ashanti tribes and tells her that her heritage is “nothing but a bunch of raggedy-assed spirituals and some grass huts!” (Hansberry 1226) To get their own unique identity and independence, Wangero has become Muslim and Beneatha is becoming deeply immersed in southern Africa tradition and history (Walker 360; Hansberry 1224-6). This is their individual ways of becoming true AFRICAN-American women.
Maggie and Ruth are the outspoken girls of each family. Both Maggie and Ruth have had occurrences in their lives that have caused them to lose the beauty that they once had. The fire that consumed her family’s previous home has scarred Maggie. She was burned on her arms and legs and now walks like a lame animal (Walker 357-8). Ruth was once a beautiful girl, “even exceptionally so.” However, Ruth has been worn down by the woes of her life and “disappointment has already begun to hang in her face” (Hansberry 1199). One thing that Maggie strives for is to please her family. After first being upset at Wangero’s wanting of the quilts that were promised to her, Maggie comes into the bedroom where the other family members are and offers to give up the quilts to Wangero (Walker 362). Ruth is similar in that she tries to appease everyone. She wants Beneatha to be able to go to college and become a doctor. She wants the house that Lena also wants, and she also tries to talk her mother-in-law into considering Walter Lee’s liquor store investment (Hansberry 1208-9). These two try to define themselves by making everyone around them happy.
The females in both families have to fight and strive to identify themselves amidst the social problems of their times, including poverty and racism. Neither of the families is so poor that they have to fight daily just to stay off of the streets and to put food on the table. However, both families are lower class African-American families. What Maggie and her mother consider home is a three-room house with a tin roof that sits in the middle of a pasture. Instead of real windows, the house has holes cut in the side of the house that are not any certain shape or size (Walker 359). The five member Younger family lives in a three-room apartment on the South Side of Chicago that is appropriately described as a “rat trap” (Hansberry 1209). The family’s living room was once “arranged with taste and pride,” but now, “weariness has, in fact, won in this room” (1199). The room and its furniture have had to “accommodate… too many people for too many years” (1199). This is one of the reasons that Lena Younger’s dream is a house, on which she puts a down payment with the insurance money from her husband’s death (1231-2).
Racism is also a concern for both families, indirectly for Maggie and her mother and directly for the Younger family. Maggie’s mother tells the reader about the Muslims who live down the road from her home. She reports that the Muslims stayed up all night with rifles after some white people poisoned the Muslims’ cattle. She shows her admiration and/or disbelief for this act as she walks a mile and a half just to view the sight of these African-Americans taking a stand against the racist violence (Walker 361). Racist violence is a future threat to the Younger family because they are moving into an all white neighborhood. Also, in the newspaper there have been several reports lately of bombings aimed towards black families who have decided to occupy the wrong areas (Hansberry 1200, 1235-6). Racism is most prominent in the community that is represented by Mr. Karl Lindner, the representative of the Clybourne Park Improvement Association. This association comprised of the current white homeowners in the Clybourne Park. Members of this association sent Mr. Lindner to offer to buy the house from the Younger family because they do not want to have blacks in their community (1242-4). However, like the Muslims in “Everyday Use,” the Younger family will not be denied and decide to move in anyways.
Both “Everyday Use” by Alice Walker and Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” are literary works of families who are striving to identify, classify, and define themselves as African-Americans. Each family attempts to characterize itself through the social issues present in their surroundings, a struggle most visible through the female characters of each story. In both Hansberry’s play and Walker’s short story, women are the ones who keep their families from – as James Brown said – “livin’ on their knees.”
Evaluation of “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”, an Essay by Alice Walker
For this assignment, I was to read two pieces; The Flowers by Alice Walker, and Superman and Me by Sherman Alexie. Both poems were drastically different, and each has its merits, but I preferred to read The Flowers. I have always been a fan of symbolism and allegories, so choosing this work was pretty obvious for me. While I did find Superman and Me charming and inspiring, I found it to be a tad cliché. The Flowers is a work I’ve never read before, and it gave me a very good opportunity to explore the author’s hidden meanings in the story.
As stated before, I very much enjoy symbolism and allegories, which would explain my love for Chris Nolan movies and Avatar: The Last Airbender. The way that people choose to represent the different aspects of a story often tells a lot about them and what they are going through. In The Flowers, Myop is a ten year-old girl who wanders into the woods to pick flowers and venture out to see nature. She ends up a mile or so away from home, and decides to turn back. On her way back, though, she discovers a dead body, which presumably belongs to a man who hanged himself. As she looks around, she notices the parts of the noose the man used amongst a pink rose. In the end, Myop put down her flowers, and it is stated that “the summer was over.”
Symbolism like this is extremely miraculous and charming to me. One of the more obvious clues is Myop’s name, which is likely short for “myopic.” Being myopic is essentially being near-sighted. Myop is a young and innocent ten year-old who is more than likely ignorant to the dangers and struggles in the world around her. The flowers represent her innocence, and when she puts them down after seeing the body, it’s symbolic of her losing her innocence. Myop’s distance from her house could represent the distance of this from anything else she has felt before. It would be extremely hard for someone to convince me that reading this and figuring that out isn’t enjoyable.
Do I like to read literature? Well, that depends on how you define literature. Many people (including myself) imagine boring, old, and complex stories when we hear the word. Last semester, in my Greek Civilization class, we read a few pieces of Greek literature. I did not enjoy those due to their intricacy and odd choice of wording. I do, however, enjoy stories and the occasional poem. I like reading about heroes and sacrifice, and literature has a ton of stories involving those. Literature is so much more than what many of us consider it to be. I think it’s impossible for one to not enjoy literature; one just has to find the kind of literature they like.
“Everyday Use” by Alice Walker
“Everyday Use”, a short story written by Alice Walker, is told in the perspective of Mama. Mama is described as “a big-boned woman with rough, man-working hands”. The story begins with Mama waiting on her oldest daughter Dee to arrive home. It is learned that Mama and the church raised enough money to send Dee to school in Augusta. Mama waits with Dee’s younger sister Maggie. Due to burns she received in a house fire, Maggie is extremely shy and insecure. She is also very envious of Dee, as she is everything that Maggie is not. While waiting, Mama fantasizes about reuniting with Dee on a television program where the child who has “made it” is confronted by their parents. Mama dreams that on this show, Dee would pin orchids to her dress and thank her for helping her find success.
When Dee finally arrives, she is joined by her boyfriend, Hakim-a-barber. Hakim-a-barber attempts to greet Mama and Maggie, but Maggie recoils from him. Meanwhile, Dee gets her camera from the car and begins to take pictures of Mama and Maggie in front of the house. When she is finished, she puts the camera away and kisses Mama on the forehead. When Mama calls Dee by her name, she proceeds to inform her that she has changed her name to “Wangero Leewanika Kemanjo”, as she no longer wanted to be named after the people who oppressed her.
They all go inside to eat. Hakim-a-barber announces that he does not eat collards and pork was unclean. Dee, however, eats everything that Mama has to offer. She is especially delighted at the fact that the family still uses the benches her father made for the table. Soon after, Dee asks Mama if she can have the family’s butter churn and dasher. She reveals that she will use the churn top as a centerpiece for her table, and the dasher to serve some other artistic purpose.
Next, Dee stumbles upon some old quilts made by her mother, aunt, and grandmother. Dee asks her mother for the quilts. Mama suggests that she takes any of the other quilts. However, Dee insists on the quilts hand stitched by her grandmother. Mama finally reveals that she promised those quilts to Maggie for when she got married. Dee is offended. She argues that Maggie can’t appreciate the quilts and won’t be able to preserve them. Mama in turn argues that she hopes Maggie does put them to everyday use, and that she can always make more since she knows how to quilt.
In an attempt to restore peace, Maggie offers Dee the quilts. However, when Mama looked at Maggie, she was struck with a feeling she got when she was in church. This feeling motivated her to snatch the quilts out of Dee’s arms and give them to Maggie, where she felt they belonged. She again tells Dee that she can have one of the other quilts. Dee decides to leave instead.
Upon leaving, Dee tells Mama that she does not understand her own heritage. She also tells Maggie that’s it is a new day for black people and that she should try to make something of her self. The story ends with Mama and Maggie watching Dee and Hakim-a-barber drive off, then sitting outside until the sun went down.
Alice Walker – “Everyday Use”
Everyday Use is told in mama point of view. The author starts of by describing the her as “a large, big-boned woman with rough, man working hands.” Mama has two daughters, the younger daughter is named Maggie. she is described as a shy, quiet, and sensitive girl, and out of the two daughters, Maggie is the more traditional girl who plans to get married soon. Dee is the oldest daughter who is described as having a lot of confidence, she is intelligent and very well driven. The story begins as Mama and Maggie wait for Dee to return, Dee had left mama to get an education and make a name for herself. As both Mama and Maggie wait for Dee, the author give us more details about Mama’s life and her relationship with Dee. We see that Dee has always wanted more than her family history or her mom could provide for her. Everything she was able to acquire with all her accomplishments came at the expense of her mother and little sister.
When Dee shows up, she is wearing African clothing and is accompanied by a young man named, Hakim-a-barber, who is her boyfriend. Mama is disappointed by the man refers to him as “Asalamalakim,” she is also disappointed in Dee’s appearance. They say their greeting and all that, that’s when Dee says she rather be called her new name, Wanhero (an African name), to protest those who have oppressed her. Their presence there was not intended on connecting with Mama or Maggie, Dee and her boyfriend where here to search through
Culture Clash: the Struggle with Racial Identity in “Strong Horse Tea”
Community is as life sustaining as food and water. It provides human connection, a sense of identity, and support. However, human nature leads individuals to seek experiences separate from their communities. In Alice Walker’s story “Strong Horse Tea”, Rannie goes a step further, rejecting her community in search of validation from a different one. She believes that connection to white society will come only through the rejection of her black identity. This belief leads to her mistrust of Sarah’s medicine. The mailman, who gives the reader white society’s perspective, shows white culture’s disinterest in Rannie’s struggle. After white society fails her, Rannie gives herself completely to black tradition, allowing Sarah to practice her medicine on Snooks. However, her initial resistance to her community destroys her opportunity to save her child. Cultural division makes Snooks’s death inevitable. Through Rannie’s struggle with community identity, Walker illustrates the consequences of cultural division.
Rannie’s rejection of Sarah’s traditional medicine shows her subconscious desire to separate herself from pain that stems from her black identity. Through her invalidation of Sarah, shown in her statement, “I don’t believe in none of that swamp magic” (Walker 477), Rannie attempts to gain superiority over the rest of the black community. This desire for superiority stems from Rannie’s internalized mistrust of black tradition caused by white culture’s assertion of values on her community. The circulars represent the shift of Rannie’s trust from her community to another. They represent the wealth and way of life of white people. Her request of more circulars “to paper the inside of her house to keep out the wind” (Walker 478) illuminates her belief that white way of life has the ability to save and protect her. The papers not only insulate her from the cold of winter, but also fuel her hope that white society will acknowledge and relieve her suffering.
The mailman who brings the circulars reveals the futility of this hope. The shifts of perspective to the mailman conveys the disconnect between Rannie’s perception of herself and white culture’s perception of her. Rannie’s question “Who’d go and ignore a little sick baby like my snooks?” (Walker 477) shows her belief that denial of black culture will prove sufficient in gaining empathy from the white world. The mailman, Rannie’s delegate from white society, describes Rannie as looking “so pitiful hanging there in the rain” (White 479), showing that the best white people have to offer the black community is pity. His choice to bring Sarah to heal Snooks instead of the white doctor reveals the inadequacy of pity in inspiring sacrifice. Pity in place of empathy shows the deep chasm between the two races, which leads to white society’s complete rejection of Rannie.
Rannie’s eventual acceptance of Sarah’s medicine establishes the necessity of community dependence. Sarah tells Rannie “I’s the doctor child-that there mailman didn’t git no further with that message than the road in front of my house” (Walker 480). Hearing this statement, Rannie’s view of white society as her savior diminishes. Her acceptance of white apathy allows her recognize “the time she had wasted waiting for the real doctor” (Walker 481). This realization brings the severity of the rift between races into stark light. Masked by her hope for white acknowledgement lies the truth: she will only find compassion and charity from other black people. The mailman’s betrayal forces Rannie to shift her trust back to black tradition. She not only allows Sarah to practice her medicine on Snooks, but commits to it completely through her panicked collection of the “strong horse tea”. The disgusting, humiliating nature of this act shows her complete dedication to Sarah. Despite this desperate action, Snooks’ illness progresses past the point of healing. Rannie becomes of victim of the conflict between white and black culture. White society sacrifices nothing to help her and causes Rannie’s rejection of black tradition, proving itself as the true antagonist in Rannie’s story.
Snooks’s inevitable death reveals the suffering that results from the divide between white and black culture. Rannie’s dismissal of Sarah illustrates her wish to distance herself from her own community. She hopes distance will create space for connection between her and white society, but the mailman’s perception of Rannie deems any connection impossible. Rannie eventually realizes this, and gives her trust completely to Sarah and black tradition. But her inability to save her child shows that any separation from one’s community leads to tragedy. Even strong horse tea cannot mend the broken relationship between white and black culture.