Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In an interview Alice Walker said, “In my new book In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1984), thirteen women—mad, raging, loving, resentful, hateful, strong, ugly, weak, pitiful, and magnificent, try to live with the loyalty to black men that characterizes all of their lives.” Indeed, like all the stories in this collection, “Her Sweet Jerome” has taken on itself to examine the most intimate aspect of the female and male relationship, that is, love.

Walker portrays a troubled relationship in the story and demonstrates how larger social issues intrude into the individual lives of black men and women. In this story, the particular social issue is the African American revolution that aimed at liberating all black people. Fighting for the rights of black people should be a common goal to connect the couple in the story, but it is not. The couple’s different understandings of what this revolution means and their inability to communicate with each other literally drive them apart.

Walker further points out that the couple’s marriage failure is caused by their identity confusion, and she is critical of both sides. The female character’s loyalty is apparently misplaced. Although other blacks in the story strive for everything African—African hairstyles, African dress, African names—she tries her best to look white. She has internalized the roles and images imposed on her by a society that advocates that white alone is beautiful. As a result, she is at a loss to situate herself either in the relationship or in the larger society.

The male character is not clear of his position, either. Jerome is definitely not a positive male figure in the story. He is not a real revolutionist who fights for the rights of his people, but a man interested only in theory, in the big-sounding words, not in action; especially not in those actions that will radically change his status of being superior to women. It is as if he enjoys treating his wife with cruelty and contempt, playing the master in the house. He identifies with his white oppressors and shows no remorse for oppressing his wife, abusing her physically and emotionally.