Injustice in many fashions


Alice Walker has written of injustice in many fashions; Celia's struggles with her husband in The Color Purple; Olivia's injustice of female circumcision in Olivia; and the Old Woman in The Welcome Table. Her injustice was not merely racial but also classist. The Old Woman is a reminder to the congregation of the "Big White Church" that society is not as divided as they wish it to be; that no matter the attempts made to segregate people of different class or color, those considered beneath them will come across their path when and where they least wish or expect it to. Walker describes the Old Woman's imperfect attire and the white women wearing leathered bags and shoes, and calfskin gloves to show the differing class and how that alone is an obstacle. This was so not only for the Old Woman but for those not deemed a "decent" Black, as a term used back in segregated America. The church members are reminded of their cooks, chauffeurs and the like, not kind to mixing their religious practices with those they believe to be inferior. Walker also mentions the offense felt by some members of the Old Woman's age; pity that was felt for her; awakening a fear of aging.She was a reminder of delinquents and of the unknown culture of Black America.

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Racism, above all, played a part in the exit from the church. If the Old Woman were of a lighter shade more pity than disgust would have been felt, yet then her social status would have been the greater problem. The congregation, after the parting of the Old Woman, proceeds with their practice to "God's impartial love..." This love is most certainly not in their hearts and they lack complete compassion. The Old Woman holds greater love for God because she was open to love a God that is white in the image she worships. Jesus was clear in his teachings that one must love his neighbor and his enemy. The congregation's love for God is separable, taking no heart towards an old woman on a very frigid day, instead kicking her out of the Church showing no welcome at all.

My Response

The work of Alice Walker has arguably generated more contested readings than that of any other living African American writer except Toni Morrison, and this volume adds some useful essays to extant criticism. Harold Bloom's Chelsea House Alice Walker (1989), not so notoriously skewed as some other Chelsea House collections on African American writers, preceded Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and Anthony Appiah's Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present (1993), which provides a better sense of the historical contexts framing Walker's critical reception. Both prior collections accumulate views by already well-known critics and provide foundational essays, despite selections that sometimes have the feel of a closed literary shop. The latter volume's selections mirror the editorial choices of Gates's 1990 anthology Reading Feminist, Reading Black, which does not include some of the writing that represents either important theoretical backdrop to evaluations of Walker or strong readings of particular texts. Wo rk by Sandra Adell, Jacqueline Bobo, Carole Boyce Davies, Ann duCille, Karla Holloway, Wahneema Lubiano, and Susan Willis, for example, helps provide contexts for the work of a writer constructed as controversial. (Jacqueline Bobo's "Sifting through the Controversy: Reading The Color Purple" might well have introduced any collection because it so well explains why it matters that "controversial" describes the contexts of a work's reception rather than meanings that inhere somehow in a text.) Unlike the earlier edited volumes on Walker, Dieke's collection results from a call for essays, one that by design has no theoretically informed principle of inclusion despite a felt affirmation of Walker's value and the editor's own focus on immanence, myth, and archetype (appropriate to the "monistic idealism" he foregrounds). Except for Dieke himself and David Cowart (not primarily an African Americanist), the selections here come from relatively new or less-known critics, yet frequently they operate within the groove of earlier debates and interpretations. Dieke's introductory list of "six thematic motifs" conveniently groups individual essays, but does not help much--or aim to help--in sorting out the theoretical quagmires at stake in readings of Walker since 1993. In appreciation of this collection's seriousness of purpose, let me outline my sense of several tensions that inform its pages.

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Alice walker described her strugles as black woman and tells the storie of Celie a black woman living in the south. She wrote letters to God and tell about her life struggles and her role as daughter and mother. During that time she met other black woman who helped and shape her life. In the south back then racism was the law, blacks and whites were completed segragated from each other. As she enters the church by mistake, instantly she became a threat to the whites as if this church is only there for one race. As she took her seat in a bench in the front of the church. Even the reverend stop her pleasantry and ask her to leave the church. As once can see in this essay, racism is blind all they can see is the color of her skin, but not that she can come to church and pray just like everyone else could. A church should be a place where everyone is welcome to worship. but if you are black that is unacceptable. The young usher, having never turned anyone away from his church before, went up to her and ask her that she should leave. All the fears is because she was of a different color and gender and they felt threaten by that. For Alice Walker the power of the black spiritual, its determination to overcome any struggles no matter how difficult it may be. The threat she pauses is the fact that she is old, black and different. she represent the "possibility of a servant class stepping out of line" She resisted to their ignorance and bigotry by still believing in God's power and her own inner strength to show an act of resistance to their taunting.

My Response

For me, the occasionally truistic nature of some essays' generalizations corresponds to somewhat delimited critical and theoretical frames of reference. That is, the absence of plural and negotiated contexts makes some of these readings marginally flat, as though extending or localizing arguments already well known since the time of Gates and Appiah's volume (those of Houston Baker, Barbara Christian, Gates himself, or bell hooks, for example). One essay views The Color Purple as "an existential novel" and finds its "true meaning" in "a quest and a celebration, a song of sorrow and of joy, of birth, rebirth, and the redeeming power of love." Certainly, few would argue with some generalized sense that The Color Purple corresponds to existential pronouncements by de Beauvoir and Sartre, but this no more gives it primacy as "an existential novel," a defining sense of genre, than does the difference from Walt Whitman's sense of the "universal" (substituting women's embodiment as figurative focus) make the poetry necessarily more relevant to women than to men as readers. (One wishes for at least some cross-reference to James Snead's wonderful essay on the differences between African and European senses of "universality.") Another essay discussing Walker's quilting metaphor uses citations from Yeats, Alice Ostriker, Elaine Showalter, Miriam Shapiro, and others in order to describe quilting as femmage and ends with an unproblematized "We have a lot in common with Celie" (my emphasis). Clearly, its method of making relationships makes quilting one of Walker's many cross-referential art forms, yet plural and frequently critical relation to diverse traditions and audiences presents thornier interpretive problems than a merely feminized bricolage suggests (if anything, closer to Faith Ringgold's brilliantly ironic but also beautiful quilts that signify on icons of European art).