illustrated portrait of African American author Alice Walker

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What lessons are conveyed by the mother figures in Alice Walker’s “My Mother’s Blue Bowl” and Teresa Palomo Acosta’s “My Mother Pieced Quilts”?

The mother figures in "My Mother's Blue Bowl" and "My Mother Pieced Quilts" teach that ordinary objects can be imbued with tremendous personal significance.

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Alice Walker's short prose sketch "My Mother's Blue Bowl" and Teresa Palomo Acosta's poem "My Mother Pieced Quilts" both address their authors' mothers and the legacies they left their daughters. These legacies are crystallized in two objects: for Walker, a blue bowl; for Acosta, a quilt. These are objects that may not seem at all noteworthy to an outside observer. They are ordinary things—practical, not decorative. What makes them meaningful to the authors isn't monetary value but how the objects keep them connected to the memories of their mothers.

Walker says her mother never wanted much nor kept many objects in her home. The apartment where she lives at the end of her life is particularly barren, and Walker observes that "Neither the plates nor the silver matched entirely, but it was all beautiful in her eyes." Here, Walker sees a metric of value that she may not have considered before: subjective beauty. Others may not have found beauty in her mother's apartment, and indeed Walker herself seems not to either. But her mother sees beauty in what she has, and that is all that matters. When Walker takes the bowl from her mother's apartment, she doesn't take an object so much as an entire personally-defined value system.

Acosta similarly emphasizes the ordinariness of her mother's quilt. The language at the beginning of the poem is telling: "they were just meant as covers / in winters / as weapons / against pounding january winds." The "just" in the first line shows the humility of the quilt. It wasn't made to be an heirloom but something to serve a practical purpose. Yet the quilt becomes much more than what her mother intended. As the poem goes on, Acosta gives us a much more detailed view of her mother's process of making the quilt, painstakingly choosing which pieces go together. She realizes, too, that the care with which her mother assembled the quilt speaks to a larger tendency in her personality:"how the thread darted in and out / galloping along the frayed edges, tucking them in / as you did us at night." She has applied this same care to raising her children. The quilt, then, becomes much more than something to keep out the cold. It is a testament to her motherhood.

As a side note, consider reading Alice Walker's short story "Everyday Use," if you haven't already, as it touches on a lot of the same ideas as these pieces.

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