Walker, Alice (Vol. 19)
Walker, Alice 1944–
Walker is a black American poet, novelist, short story writer, and essayist whose work has consistently reflected concern for the plight of the black American family. Her fiction is noted for its powerful narrative and sensitive portraits of black life in America. (See also CLC, Vols. 5, 6, 9, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 37-40, rev. ed.)
Chester J. Fontenot
[The double-consciousness of which W.E.B. Dubois writes,] "this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity," produces two warring factions: To be an American and a Black person. The struggle between these two unreconciled strivings threatens to plunge the Black American, in particular the Black artist, into a sort of half-way house, where the artist is neither accepted as a part of the American literary tradition, nor as a Black artist worthy of critical attention. (p. 192)
[Alice Walker's] "The Diary of An African Nun" is a supreme statement of the dilemma. Though this short story is only six pages in length, it contains material for a novella. It is divided into six parts and is set in an African mission school in Uganda, where an African woman has rejected her traditional tribal religion for Christianity. Walker begins Part I by introducing things which are not only foreign to African culture, but which also suggest tension between the "true" spirituality of African culture and the materialistic underpinnings of European culture. (p. 193)
Just as the Europeans question her commitment to the Catholic Church, so does the Black nun feel uneasy about her rejection of African traditional religion and values. She repeats her vows to the Catholic Church, but cannot help remembering the colonization of her people...
(The entire section is 1282 words.)
One of the major concerns of Alice Walker's art is the exploration of intra-family relationships…. The family dynamic in Alice Walker's work is a key part of the formative influence of "what has gone before." In Walker's first novel, the family configuration is defined by the child's special relationship to her grandfather and by the tension between father and grandfather. The use of the family as an imaginative structure—as a way of organizing experience—then undergoes an important change: the prominence of the grandfather as against the father in the first novel gives way in the second to an emphasis on a daughter's guilt-laden relation to her mother. (p. 71)
The Third Life of Grange Copeland …, a novel which concerns three generations of a rural Southern black family, begins by demonstrating with a vivid matter-of-factness the family's entrapment in a vicious cycle of poverty. Permanently indebted to the white owner of the cotton fields in which he works, Grange Copeland seeks release in drinking, in violence against his wife, and in being "devoid of any emotion."… Particularly convincing is the picture of Grange's submission as seen from the point of view of his son Brownfield, who has begun to work in the fields at the age of six…. (pp. 71-2)
To compensate for his emotionally absent parents, Brownfield dwells in the fantasy created by his "favorite daydream."… (p. 72)
(The entire section is 1442 words.)
Walker's poems [in Good Night Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning]—dealing with her parents (Willie Lee is her father), friends and lovers, black history—use clean, clear language and syntax. Sometimes they address the reader directly; often they carry morals and are written as allegories, somewhat reminiscent of Stephen Crane's little symbolic story-poems: "Never offer your heart / to someone who eats hearts / who finds heartmeat / delicious / but not rare / who sucks the juices / drop by drop / and bloody-chinned / grins / like a God."
Michael Dirda, "In Praise of Poetry," in Book World—The Washington Post (© 1979, The Washington Post), December 9, 1979, p. 11.∗
(The entire section is 102 words.)
Mary Helen Washington
From whatever vantage point one investigates the work of Alice Walker—poet, novelist, short story writer, critic, essayist, and apologist for black women—it is clear that the special identifying mark of her writing is her concern for the lives of black women. (p. 133)
[There] are more than twenty-five characters from the slave woman to a revolutionary woman of the sixties [about whom she has written]. Within each of these roles Walker has examined the external realities facing these women as well as the internal world of each woman.
We might begin to understand Alice Walker, the apologist and spokeswoman for black women, by understanding the motivation for Walker's preoccupation with her subject. Obviously there is simply a personal identification…. Moreover her sense of personal identification with black women includes a sense of sharing in their peculiar oppression. (p. 134)
Walker understands that what W.E.B. Du Bois called double consciousness … creates its own particular kind of disfigurement in the lives of black women, and that, far more than the external facts and figures of oppression, the true terror is within; the mutilation of the spirit and the body. Though Walker does not neglect to deal with the external realities of poverty, exploitation, and discrimination, her stories, novels, and poems most often focus on the intimate reaches of the inner lives of her...
(The entire section is 1539 words.)