What are the main points in Alice Walker's In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens?

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jameadows eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alice Walker's In Search of our Mothers' Gardens is a series of essays informed by what she calls "womanist" theory. She defines "womanist" as related to black feminism, and she writes about the history of black women who, in spite of the racism and harsh conditions around them, nurtured a sense of spirituality that was intense but whose depth they themselves did not totally appreciate. In the post-Reconstruction South, these women were what Walker calls "exquisite butterflies trapped in an evil honey." This "evil honey" was the brutality with which they were treated, as, in Walker's word, "mules." The work of the world was forced upon them, and they were considered the workhorses and even the matriarchs of the world around them. Walker attempts to redefine and elevate the history of black women—a history that has often been overlooked.

Walker writes that despite the harshness of their existence, black women allowed their spirits to soar and to reach heights of creativity. They had the souls of artists. Walker points to the example of Phillis Wheatley, a slave in the 1700s who managed to use her gift for poetry. Walker also discusses the career of Zora Neale Hurston, who was a literary genius but who had an unmarked grave when she died. Even though black women were overworked, they produced art through objects such as quilts. And Walker's own mother "adorned with flowers every shabby house we lived in." Walker suggests that black women are still strong because of their mothers' gardens, a metaphor for the ways in which the black women before them exercised their own soulful creativity despite the burdens they bore. In several essays, Walker also examines the Civil Rights movement and the importance of its leaders and goals, seeing it as a quest for human rights.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many specific points of interest emerge from Walker's collection of essays.  I think that one of the most overwhelming is that the artist's journey is one the embraces freedom to construct both their own identity and the shape of their world.  Walker delves into this through reflection about self and society.  At the same time, one of the critical points that arises from the work is that the current artist owes a great deal to those that preceded and as large of a debt to those who follow. Walker stresses that the artist is not isolated from a social and political commitment to others.  This takes the form of being able to identify forces that compel one to model themselves in the light of others.  For example, Dr. King is one such model for Walker, herself.  Another is the role of other writers such as Hurston.  In this light, Walker creates both a sense of intellectual intertextuality and a sense of solidarity between those that precede the artist and those that follow.  This creates a powerful dynamic where one understands their own artistic freedom, but also grasps the need to guide it towards end that connect the artist to others.