Alice Walker reminisces about a critical event, an “accident,” in her life that left her blind in one eye. The essay is broken into episodes before and after the accident.
Years before the accident, the narrator, a small child, is dressed up and excited about the prospect of accompanying her father to the county fair. She dances in front of him to show off her “starchy frock” and “biscuit-polished patent leather shoes and lavender socks” and implores him to choose her as one of the lucky siblings who will get to go on the adventure.
“Take me Daddy; I say with assurance; “I’m the prettiest.”
Three years later, she makes a speech at the family’s church on Easter Sunday. She is wearing a “green, flocked, scalloped-hem dress (handmade by my adoring sister, Ruth).” Her shoes are polished, and everything looks perfect. The people are enraptured when she gives her speech and say, “Oh, isn’t she the cutest thing!” They admire her outfit and her general appearance, but most of all; they admire her “sassiness.”
Nearly three years later, she is a tomboy playing with her brothers when one of them shoots her in the eye with a BB gun. By the time she is taken to the doctor, it is too late to save the eye, and she spends her youth and early teens fiercely embarrassed by the very visible scar in the damaged eye. This causes her to turn away from people, lest they see her scar and stare. The narrator says,
Now when I stare at people—a favorite pastime, up to now—they will stare back. Not at the “cute” little girl, but at her scar. For six years I do not stare at anyone because I do not raise my head.
She does poorly in school. Prior to the accident, she had been “something of a whiz”; now, classmates tease her mercilessly. She feels alone and alienated. She has a mentor who “makes life bearable,” but the kids torment her until she beats one up one day and puts an end to the bullying.
Years later, her brother takes her to a plastic surgeon to minimize the scar. She begins to raise her head again, has friends, has a boyfriend, excels in school again, and is well on the path to personal and professional success.
Almost immediately I become a different person from the girl who does not raise her head. Or so I think.
The episodes show that her beauty is a reflection of her confidence. Initially, it stems from her self-confidence and “sassiness.” After the accident, her loss of confidence causes her to fail socially and in school, but after the plastic surgery, she regains her self-esteem.
When the author notes, “Almost immediately I become a different person. ... Or so I think,” she emphasizes that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. In this case, the beholder is the author herself (as indicated in the title). When she loses her self-confidence, she feels that she is no longer beautiful. When she thinks that she becomes a different person after surgery, she regains her self-esteem again, and everything around her changes.