Alice Walker Essay - Walker, Alice (Vol. 5)

Walker, Alice (Vol. 5)

Walker, Alice 1944–

Ms Walker is a Black American novelist, short story writer, and poet, born in Georgia and now living and teaching in Massachusetts. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 37-40.)

Alice Walker has delivered a magnificent first novel in The Third Life of Grange Copeland. It is about three generations of black sharecroppers in Georgia. Suffering deprivations foisted upon them by white bosses, they are still significantly the victims of cruelties inflicted upon each other—cruelties that emanate from a profound lack of self-respect, fostered by whites and blacks alike, and a powerfully destructive despair. The tremendous difficulty of emerging from these depths is what Miss Walker sets out to dramatize. She begins with Grange Copeland's early failure as a sharecropper, father, husband, and man—a life he abruptly and unilaterally abandons for a new one in the North, which almost predictably turns out to be no less degrading. Meanwhile, his abandoned son, Brownfield, repeats in his life the worst errors in his father's: he marries a good and lovely woman whose higher education he sees as a threat and therefore does not rest until he brings her down to a misery so abject that it all but crushes her…. Grange brings up the youngest of his grandchildren, Ruth, whom he tries not only to protect but to provide with a sense of self-esteem that his son has totally lacked and that, up until his own return south, he himself has missed. It is too easy, he has found, to blame everything on the white man. Somewhere along the way a man, even a black man, must assume responsibility for what happens to himself, if he is ever to become truly a man. (pp. 464-65)

Grange dies believing that there is no future for black men in this country, that it is too late for blacks to forget or forgive the harm that has been done them, regardless of changes that may bring equality for all men. But he also knows that "Survival was not everything. He had survived. But to survive whole was what he wanted for Ruth"…. The self-respect, tenderness, and love that Grange has taught Ruth in their years together can support something bigger, including as it does even the bitter memories of her girlhood. She will not repeat the mistakes of her mother or grandmother, nor let the bitterness triumph….

[The] honest treatment of both past and present, the worst aspects of which Miss Walker does not flinch at, help make The Third Life a convincing and stirring novel. So do its firm, tight control and its eloquence: it is no surprise to learn that the author is also a poet. (p. 465)

Jay L. Halio, in The Southern Review (copyright, 1973, by the Louisiana State University), Vol. IX, No. 1, Spring, 1973.

There is little doubt that, [with In Love & Trouble, a collection of stories,] Alice Walker has touched us all. Whether a JuJu woman convincing an ole evil white woman to die or a black lady being ejected from worship because it's the wrong church. In "Strong Horse Tea" the question posed—When will this one learn to depend on those who will come?—awaits our answer. Alice has begun peeling an essence. They are not pretty—these short stories—nor happy—as one traditionally thinks of stories about black women and their men, black mothers and their children, old black ladies and their gods. I applaud In Love & Trouble. I welcome the examination without polemics. I certainly welcome the love Alice so painfully shares.

Nikki Giovanni, "So Black and Blue," in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), November 18, 1973, p. 1.

Alice Walker has focused her fictional eye on the black woman, her loves and, as the blues idiom puts it, her 'bukes and scorns …'. And, like the lyrics of good blues, [the stories in "In Love and Trouble"] are terse, ironic and humorous. Alice Walker writes efficiently and economically, and the shorter pieces here, even when thin as fiction, are often prose poems.

While not as ambitious as her novel, "The Third Life of Grange Copeland"—which traced a poor, rural black family through three generations and established its author as a skillful recorder of the Southern character—these stories are perceptive miniatures, snapshots, that capture their subjects at crucial and revealing moments. In this collection, Miss Walker is moving without being maudlin, ironic without being [gimmicky]. (p. 41)

Mel Watkins, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1974 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), March 17, 1974.

Reading Alice Walker is like hearing John Coltrane's Alabama. Each bites into strange Southern fruit and finds a sweetness almost as unbearable as the bitterness of violence, humiliation and oppression. As Walker's character Grange Copeland says after his granddaughter's birth: "'Out of all kinds of shit comes something clean, soft and sweet smellin','" Pain and joy, tenderness and power, helplessness and cruelty flow through her writing and are beautiful because of the wholeness of her talent.

In Walker's hands wholeness is an all-inclusive, open-ended theme. Pointing beyond human guilt, it suggests that an oppressed people's first step away from helplessness is to take responsibility for their actions toward each other….

In Walker's poems black women mostly survive and, even when one doesn't—like Sammy Lou who, after killing the cracker who murdered her husband, is carried off to the electric chair—her death is heroic….

In Walker's fiction there is often nothing but pain, violence and death for black women. I shouldn't say nothing because the two women who die violently in The Third Life of Grange Copeland are lovely, strong and in love as they marry and begin working shares on the white man's plantation. (p. 21)

In Love and Trouble is full of … challenging and movingly realized stories….

Alice Walker's power as a writer is exactly that power she [once noted] in Jean Toomer. "He is both feminine and masculine in his perceptions." Alice Walker is Ruth, and she is Grange Copeland. She is old Mr. Sweet and the girl who revives him. As I've heard Michael Harper say as he reads his poems and those of the neglected Sterling Brown: "I been down so long that down don't bother me." (p. 22)

John F. Callahan, "Reconsideration: The Higher Ground of Alice Walker," in The New Republic (reprinted by permission of The New Republic; © 1974 by The New Republic, Inc.), September 14, 1974, pp. 21-2.