The War of the Wall

by Toni Cade Bambara

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What statement expresses the theme of the story "The War of the Wall"?

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One theme that becomes evident through the first-person narration in "The War of the Wall" is mischaracterization, and there are several quotes that demonstrate this.

When the painter arrives in town, she does not receive a warm welcome. The narrator and Lou are immediately irritated by the painter's New York license plates and the way she doesn't seem to understand the unwritten social etiquette of their town. She turns down food that is brought to her and ignores the narrator's taunts that she is "not even from around here." The painter doesn't seem to care that the neighborhood children don't want her there and makes no effort to explain her purpose for painting and taping a wall that belongs to the local neighborhood. The narrator insists that "she had no right coming into our neighborhood painting on it." At the diner, the narrator's mother becomes exasperated with the painter's food requests and then feels a bit guilty about her attitude, commenting that "seeing as how she was from the North, you couldn't expect her to have any manners."

The community is shocked to learn that the painter did, in fact, have a "right" to this wall. Her cousin, Jimmy Lyons, once lived in the same neighborhood but never returned home from the Vietnam War. As a means of honoring him, she had visited his former community to design an artistic acknowledgement depicting the collective strength of Black people even during moments of adversity. She had honored this neighborhood by including them in her mural and leaves an inscription that dedicated it to the memory of her cousin. The narrator and others in the community unfairly judge the painter because she is different and learn of her noble intentions only after she has already gone.

Stories often have more than one theme. Other themes that are developed in this short story include community, loyalties, loss, and culture.

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