Alice Walker Essay - Walker, Alice (Vol. 6)

Walker, Alice (Vol. 6)

Walker, Alice 1944–

Ms Walker is a Black American novelist, poet, and short story writer. Much of her writing reveals her concerns with Black women and families; her novel The Third Life of Grange Copeland was praised for its honesty and eloquence. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 37-40.)

Alice Walker's graphic first novel ["The Third Life of Grange Copeland"] delivers a powerful statement by letting the narrative, characters and episodes speak for themselves. In describing the lives of black sharecroppers from 1920 through the 1960s, [Miss Walker] … could have taken the easy, tiresome way out by haranguing for militancy, revenge and separatism. Instead, she allows the reader to make his own assessment of Southern conditions and the desperate need for change.

Miss Walker's haunting tale of three generations of a sharecropper's family attempting to overcome white oppression is candid, sensitive and tragic. Inevitably, one wonders how much of it is drawn from her own experiences as the youngest of a Georgia sharecropper's eight children. (pp. 19-20)

Miss Walker's novel—infused with poetic images that unfold visually as though performed on stage—is remarkably similar to Athol Fugard's excellent play, Boesman and Lena. In both works the black wives, constantly forced to move their few tattered possessions from one makeshift home to another, are tormented mainly by their husbands rather than the world. In both, the characters are castoffs lurking on the fringes of an oppressive white society, who see life as a perpetual cycle of hope and despair….

Miss Walker deftly sculpts her people and delineates their relationships. Indeed, since they generally transcend the plot, the one episode involving civil rights workers seems an intrusion that neither advances the story nor enhances our understanding of the characters. Fortunately, it does not detract significantly from an otherwise compelling novel that emphasizes the humanity we share rather than the horrors of dehumanizing experiences. (p. 20)

Paula Meinetz Shapiro, "Pygmalion Revised," in The New Leader (© 1971 by the American Labor Conference on International Affairs, Inc.), January 25, 1971, pp. 19-20.

Alice Walker writes from a world of experience which [no white poet] could possibly share. Reading [the poems in Once], I am again shocked into recognition of how the history of this country has, for a Black, created a reality in which color, rather than any individual consideration, has become the touchstone of identity. For it isn't only when Miss Walker writes about her experiences in Africa and the South that consciousness of color is ever-present; it is true also in some very personal poems. She is a sensitive, spirited, and intelligent poet. Feeling is channeled into a style that is direct and sharp, honest speech pared down to essentials. Her poems are like pencil sketches which are all graven outline: no shaded areas, no embellishments. Wit and tenderness combine into humanity…. In her foreign impressions especially—handled like terse entries in a travel journal—the divisions of the poems are often reminiscent of haiku in their economy:

                   The Noblest Savage
                    Erect
                    No shoes on his
                    feet
                    His pierced ears
                    Infected.

One would like to keep quoting such small beauties. (pp. 328-29)

Lisel Mueller, in Poetry (© 1971 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), February, 1971.

In 1966 Langston Hughes commented on one of Alice Walker's short stories: "Neither you nor I have ever read a story like 'To Hell with Dying' before. At least, I do not think you have." Hughes's early recognition of the uniqueness of Walker's artistic voice is equally applicable to the 12 other stories in Walker's … book, In Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women. This collection would be an extraordinary literary work, if its only virtue were the fact that the author sets out consciously to explore with honesty the textures and terrors of black women's lives. Attempts to penetrate the myths surrounding black women's experiences are so pitifully rare in black, feminist, or American writing that each shred of truth about these experiences constitutes a breakthrough. The fact that Walker's perceptions, style, and artistry are also consistently high makes her work a treasure, particularly for those of us whom her writing describes.

Blood and violence seem the everyday backdrop to her characters' lives—a violence all the more chilling because it is so understated. (pp. 42-3)

Even as a black woman, I found the cumulative impact of these stories devastating. I questioned the quantity of pain in these sisters' lives and also wondered why none of the men and women were able to love each other. Women love their men, but they are neither loved nor understood in return. The affective relationships are between mother and child or between black woman and black woman. The only successful "romance" is in "To Hell with Dying"; it flowers between the young girl narrator and the lonely, grandfatherly Mr. Sweet.

I soon realized, however, that the reason these stories saddened me so much was because of their truthfulness. For every one of Walker's fictional women I knew or had heard of a real woman whose fate was all too similar. Harsh as these stories seem, they describe the kind of pain that can be described only by one who has shared it and has recognized its victims as real. Because Walker tells each story from the point of view of the character herself, we share the inner life of persons who have been dismissed as superdominant matriarchs or bitches by both white sociologists and together "revolutionary" brothers alike.

Many of these stories deal with marriage, and Walker leaves no doubt that it can be as problematic and trying an institution for black females as for white ones. (p. 43)

The difficulties of marriages between unequals have been real ones in the black community, although it has often been the black woman whose training was superior to her husband's. Walker takes this social fact, and shapes it into personal tragedy so that more of us will understand. It is not strange that so many of her women are deranged, when one considers their actual options….

I believe that the worst results of racism in this country have been to subvert the most basic human relationships among black men, women, and children and to destroy their individual psyches. It is on this level of interpersonal experience that Walker succeeds in illuminating black women's lives. Some of her characters are damaged by material poverty, but what they suffer from most often is emotional destitution. These portraits are not pretty. When the reality is prettier, as a result of the implementation of black and feminist goals and values, the stories will be prettier too. (p. 78)

Barbara Smith, "The Souls of Black Women," in Ms. (© 1974 Ms. Magazine Corp.), February, 1974, pp. 42-3, 78.

Alice Walker's fifth book [In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women] comprises a series of realistic, poignant, very readable short stories about black women in love and trouble. The stories are full of minutiae and unanticipated overtones of deep feeling about personal, family, human relations. Love is often misunderstood, unrequited, elusive….

The masculine personalities are skillfully etched…. Especially touching are the nuanced interpretations of race relations, the family, revolutionary and fanatic religious fervor and faith. "The Welcome Table" is a most moving story with its biblical inspiration and the artistry of a Rembrandt. (p. 787)

V. S. Nyabongo, in Books Abroad (copyright 1974 by the University of Oklahoma Press), Vol. 48, No. 4, Autumn, 1974.

The stories in In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women … constitute a painfully honest, searching examination of the experiences of 13 Black women—of different ages and in a variety of circumstances…. The broad range of these characters is indication of the depth and complexity with which Alice Walker treats a much-abused subject: the Black woman.

The stories are oriented around Walker's unique vision and philosophy of the Black woman. Her understanding of Black women is based first of all on history. She calls the 19th-century Black women "suspended" women because they belonged to a period that did not acknowledge them except as the "mules of the world." So there was no place for them to move, no place for them to grow or create or search for their identities. (p. 51)

[Besides] her understanding of the past, she has a sense of [the] future. She sees the cycle of the "suspended" woman coming to an end because Black women, both in literature and in life, have helped to create room for the next generation to move into. (p. 52)

Mary Helen Washington, in Black World (copyright © October, 1974, by Black World; reprinted by permission of Black World and Mary Helen Washington), October, 1974.