The War of the Wall

by Toni Cade Bambara

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What does being an outsider signify in "The War of the Wall"?

Quick answer:

To be an outsider in "The War of the Wall" means to be unwelcome and distrusted.

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At the beginning of the story, the narrator and his friend Lou are rather hostile to a lady who is painting a wall in their community. This lady is not from the community, and the narrator is quick to remind her of this. He tells her, rather aggressively, "You're not even from around here," and he even considers shaking the ladder upon which the lady is standing.

This feeling of hostility for outsiders seems ingrained into the narrator. Later in the story, when Lou seems like he is about to remark upon what a good job the lady is doing painting the wall, the narrator deliberately drops a book onto Lou's foot, "to remind him [they] were at war."

A little further on in the story, the narrator asks his father for "ways to run the painter lady out of town." From the perspective of the narrator and Lou, the lady from out of town has stolen their wall, and accordingly they try "to scheme up ways to recapture" that wall. They settle on buying some "white epoxy paint" with which they intend to paint over the lady's work.

At the end of the story, we find out that the lady, who everybody in the community has taken for an outsider, is in fact the cousin of one of the residents. That cousin is now dead, and the old lady painted a mural on the wall which she dedicates firstly "To the People" of the community and secondly to the "Memory of [her] Cousin Jimmy Lyons." Thus, we learn that the lady is not after all a complete outsider, but rather somebody with a significant connection to and fondness for the community. The moral of the story is perhaps that we should always be more welcoming to those who seem to be outsiders.

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