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Walking by Faith Summary

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

Angelina Grimké’s religious struggle is activated by her growing revulsion with slavery and her ultimate decision to become an abolitionist speaker. The diary is more a spiritual delineation of the scriptural justifications for her changing positions than it is a daily diary; every entry is filled with biblical quotations. Her method is perpetually to find biblical analogies to her situation, and she seems to be able to find comfort in this kind of “proof-texting” when the Presbyterian minister, a friend, or a family member castigates her for her position.

Grimké’s self-doubts are clearly laid out as she decides to take up Quaker practices: “plain speaking” (thee and thou, using “First Day” and “Second Day” instead of Sunday or Monday, “Fifth Month” instead of May, and so on), and the prohibitions against eating rich foods or wearing a lace-trimmed shawl or dress. She describes her destruction of her beloved novels of Sir Walter Scott, her denunciation of her brother for his treatment of his slaves, and her worries about her vexed relationship with her mother over slavery, the expense of redoing the drawing room (her father, an Oxford-educated judge, having died when she was very young), and her other siblings (especially a brother who did not contribute to his own upkeep). All of this is written in amazing particulars. The reader feels as if Grimké were in the room speaking directly to the reader about her spiritual journey of self-doubt to self-knowledge.

Grimké arranges to go to Philadelphia, first for a visit of several months. On returning to Charleston, she thinks she will rejoin the Quakers in Philadelphia within several months but is unable to return until about a year later. Because by this time she had left the Presbyterian Church and was speaking out against slavery to friends and family, she worried daily about the trials of continuing to live in the slave-holding society of South Carolina. Additionally, she was changing her dress, her speech, her eating and social habits, and she agonized over each difficulty with her acquaintances and family. She believed that she was called on to speak out against her brother’s partying and drinking, her mother’s orders to slaves, and her sister’s use of lace and silks. She herself cut the lace off her dresses, refused rich cakes and wine, adopted Quaker speech by using thee and thou, refused to stand for prayers, and did not take communion.

Grimké’s diary is filled with scriptural references on each matter, and her arguments against slavery become more sophisticated. She communicates with the Presbyterian minister about leaving the church and is ultimately satisfied that he understands. However, the Presbyterian Session then calls her to account on two charges: that she has absented herself from Sunday services and that she has not taken communion. By this time she has been attending the Quaker meeting in Charleston and has decided that this silent meeting is better than Sunday worship. When she appears before the session, her argument is that she believes that if she did indeed take communion and attend services, she would be doing a greater blasphemy than if she absented herself, believing as she now does that neither practice was demanded of Christians (supported of course by scriptural references).

Finally, Grimké is told she has a place to stay in Philadelphia and a position taking care of a child in the home of a Quaker there. So at the end of October, 1829, she travels by ship to Philadelphia, but she worries about leaving her mother. Applying for membership in the Society of Friends in Philadelphia, she is castigated for leaving her mother in Charleston, agrees to return to Charleston if necessary, but finally is accepted into the Arch Street Quaker meeting.

In 1831, Grimké travels with friends to New England, having been invited by Catherine Beecher, head of a girls’ school in Hartford, Conn. Grimké is trying to determine her life...

(The entire section is 983 words.)