Consider Walker’s choice of episodes or examples of beauty in “Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self.” How does each work toward developing a definition of beauty?

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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.

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The introduction to the story informs readers that Walker writes to "pay homage to people" she loves—people who were "thought to be dumb and backward but who were the ones who first taught [her] to see beauty." In the story itself, Walker is not yet three, and she insists that her father take her to the fair because she is "the prettiest," by her own description. She bases her self-assessment on her "starchy frock" and "polished patent-leather shoes and lavender socks." Later, when she's six, she knows that the people at her church "admire [her] dress, but it is [her] spirit, bordering on sassiness [womanishness], they secretly applaud." She notes, now, that beauty isn't just physical but is also derived from one's attitude and demeanor. When she is eight, however, an accident that scars her eye makes her believe no one will find her "cute" anymore, so she lowers her head for six years. Rather than praying for sight, she "pray[s] for beauty," still believing that beauty is something other people will perceive in her—or not.

Older still, Walker describes a journalist as "beautiful" and grows insecure about her own appearance on the magazine's cover. Her blind eye might not "be straight" in the photo. She remembers a time when she was "overwhelmed" by the beauty of the desert, and she realizes that she's been "storing up images against the fading of the light," waiting to go blind and trying to see everything she can see before her other eye goes blind, too. Walker describes her daughter's response to her eye. Rebecca has been watching a program, "Big Blue Marble," about the earth, and now she tells her mother, "Mommy, there's a world in your eye," and she asks, "Mommy, where did you get that world in your eye?"

After this, Walker seems to recognize the beauty of her eye rather than the beauty she once believed it cost her. These instances seem to show that she has developed a sense of beauty that is not dependent on how other people see her but rather depends on how she sees herself. Her daughter (and the memory of others who have pointed out the eye's beauty or suitability to her personality) helps her to come to this new definition.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
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