Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“Kindred Spirits” is infused with the politics of the Civil Rights, women’s, environmental, and New Left movements. Race, class, and gender analysis are clearly at work in the way that Alice Walker has Rosa look at the world. In addition to having a writer’s astute powers of observation that make her look for visual as well as verbal clues to interior meanings and personal motivations, Rosa has a highly politicized way of critiquing the urban landscape around her, of assessing world events of her generation (such as the Cuban revolution and the conflict between Greeks and Turks in Cyprus), and of placing her own family members in context within that world.

Themes introduced through Rosa’s thinking and looking at the world around her include the insidious nature of racism; the destructiveness of male violence against women; the pervasiveness of sexism and misogyny across classes and cultures; the political economy of urban development; the clash of gender, class, and race as interacting elements in personal identity and relationships; and privilege and repression as flip sides of the same phenomena. There is also the personal theme of self and family, and of the closeness or remoteness and cross-identification that exists between family members. Physical and psychic dislocation is a primary theme, accented by the statement on the first page of the story that the protagonist “was at a place in her life where she seemed to have no place.” With the house where she lived during her marriage no longer available to her, she travels abroad, rootless, feeling compelled to move and go. Further, her place within her family has become unclear and ill-defined.

Walker also deals directly with the personal politics involved with a writer who draws her material from her own life and that of her family members. In displaying Rosa’s sister’s and aunt’s discomfort she asks to what extent the writer’s habit of assessment and reuse of family matters in developing characterization and plot in her work violates her relatives’ privacy or is a kind of voyeurism that they have a right to resent.