illustrated portrait of African American author Alice Walker

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How can the words "soul" and "gift" be interpreted in the poem "Gift" by Alice Walker?

In Alice Walker's "Gift," the word "soul" can be interpreted as the interiority or psyche of a person. The word "gift" can be interpreted as being used ironically. What the speaker receives is the opposite of a true gift, as it is something imposed on her, and the giver later wants it back. Normally, a gift is a present the recipient wants to have and can keep.

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The speaker of the poem "Gift" calls her beloved's gift of his soul

a heavy thought fromyour childhoodpassed to me for safekeeping.

These words suggest that in this poem, the word soul means sharing a painful or vulnerable part of yourself by telling this part of your story...

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The speaker of the poem "Gift" calls her beloved's gift of his soul

a heavy thought from
your childhood
passed to me for safekeeping.

These words suggest that in this poem, the word soul means sharing a painful or vulnerable part of yourself by telling this part of your story to another person. Later in the poem, it becomes clear that a soul grows as it is shared, meaning that we grow as people as we share our inner selves with others. Our soul, therefore, is who we are on the inside.

The speaker says she didn't want her beloved's soul but nevertheless took good care of it. She speaks of it as if it is a physical object that she had in her possession for a time.

"Gift" is used ironically in this poem. Normally we think of a gift as something another person will want and cherish. In this instance, however, the gift is something imposed on the speaker that the giver wants her to have, not something she wants.

Usually, too, a gift is a present a person expects to keep. In this case, however, the gift is taken back. In fact, the giver angrily accuses the speaker of taking his soul and being "greedy" for it. He calls her "possessive." In fact, he is the possessive one, and because he clings to his soul, it shrivels until it is no bigger than his hand.

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