Study Guide

1955

by Alice Walker

1955 Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

The story “1955” appears in Walker’s collection of stories You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down; it is a creative depiction of one incident of black musicians’ exploitation by the white-dominated entertainment industry. Elvis Presley made Mama Thornton’s ”Hound Dog” a hit; similarly, in “1955,” Traynor sings Gracie Mae Still’s song into stardom.

The story clearly addresses a political issue, but Walker’s approach transcends the political theme by creating multidimensional characters, drawn together by what separates them. Traynor becomes a pitiable character, as victimized by the entertainment industry as Gracie Mae—more so, in that he lacks her sense of self-worth. The greatest irony involves Traynor’s lack of understanding of the song; never being in emotional possession of the song brings Traynor repeatedly to Gracie Mae, who cannot explain what lies beyond his understanding.

Over the years, Traynor gives Gracie Mae a car, a farm, a house, and countless other presents in an attempt to return some of the wealth her talent helped him attain. Traynor’s success debilitates him spiritually, while Gracie Mae maintains a wisdom and integrity that Traynor cannot attain. Walker’s “womanist” message is clear in Gracie Mae’s inner strength and compassion that is great enough to embrace the man she so easily could have hated.

1955 Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Banks, Erma Davis, and Keith Byerman. Alice Walker: An Annotated Bibliography, 1968-1986. New York: Garland, 1989.

Christian, Barbara. “Novel for Everyday Use: The Novels of Alice Walker.” In Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition, 1892-1976. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980.

Lauret, Maria. Alice Walker. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.

McMillan, Laurie: “Telling a Critical Story: Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens.” Journal of Modern Literature 23, no. 1 (Fall, 2004): 103-107.

Noe, Marcia. “Teaching Alice Walker’s ’Everyday Use’: Employing Race, Class, and Gender, with an Annotated Bibliography.” Eureka Studies in Teaching Short Fiction 5, no. 1 (Fall, 2004): 123-136.

Parker-Smith, Bettye J. “Alice Walker’s Women: In Search of Some Peace of Mind.” In Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor, 1984.

Tate, Claudia. Black Women Writers at Work. New York: Continuum, 1983.

Willis, Susan. “Black Woman Writers: Taking a Critical Perspective.” In Making a Difference: Feminist Literary Criticism, edited by Gayle Greene and Coppelia Kahn. London: Methuen, 1985.