Alice Walker




Issues and Themes
        As a writer, Alice Walker deals with many issues, most of which concern historical and modern race problems in America.  Through this she brings to national attention the cruelty and inhumane abuse that African Americans have endured.  This general topic can be broken down into many areas that she feels are important for people to know and to learn from.
         One of these issues is her seemingly contrasting treatment of males and females.  Concerning women, Harold Bloom writes that critics say Walker feels that unwed mothers are "the most sacred and the most scared" (5).  In her highly popular novel turned movie, The Color Purple, we see this demonstrated through the character of Celie.  In Alice Walker Banned, Patricia Holt explains that Walker's work deals with "issues of domestic violence, incest, and female genital mutilation" (17).  Through this, she is capable of writing the life stories of African American women who have struggled within themselves to to discover who they are.  This discovery, Bloom writes, therefore gives them the ability to survive in the world of slavery (91)  Contrary to her depiction of women, critics have accused Walker of bashing male characters in her work.  They disagree with her so much that they accuse her of having "a feminist agenda at the expense of  black men" (Winchell 132).  However, her rebuttal is that she simply strives to create a meaningful story which allows for all of her characters to "come to recognize and acknowledge the divine both within themselves and in everything in the universe" (Bloom 90).  There is also an argument that Walker redeems herself  by creating a significant change in the life of her male characters which therefore makes them "good."
        There are many themes overall, however, that are common throughout her fiction as well as her poetry.  Obviously, she dwells mostly on African American experience of slavery and its effects thereof.  However, she delves into the elements of people's lives that make them whole in the midst of despair.  To do this, she concentrates on presenting to her readers "troubling ideas about race relations, man's relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality." (219, Gates)  However, I believe that Walker would want everyone to walk away from her stories and poems with a knowledge of  the struggle that African Americans have gone through.  It's really all about survival . . . including the survival of the whole self.

Poem and Explication
By: Alice Walker
                                                                                   Remember me?
                                                                                    I am the girl
                                                                                    with the dark skin
                                                                                    whose shoes are thin
                                                                                    I am the girl
                                                                                    with the rotted teeth
                                                                                    I am the girl
                                                                                    with the wounded eye
                                                                                    and the melted ear.

                                                                                    I am the girl
                                                                                    holding their babies
                                                                                    cooking their meals
                                                                                    sweeping their yards
                                                                                    washing their clothes
                                                                                    Dark and rotting
                                                                                    and wounded, wounded.

                                                                                    I would give
                                                                                    to the human race
                                                                                    only hope.

                                                                                    I am the woman
                                                                                    with the blessed
                                                                                     dark skin
                                                                                    I am the woman
                                                                                    with teeth repaired
                                                                                    I am the woman
                                                                                    with the healing eye
                                                                                    the ear that hears.

                                                                                    I am the woman: Dark,
                                                                                    repaired, healed
                                                                                    Listening to you.

                                                                                    I would give
                                                                                    to the human race
                                                                                    only hope.

                                                                                    I am the woman
                                                                                    offering two flowers
                                                                                    whose roots
                                                                                    are twin

                                                                                    Justice and Hope
                                                                                    Hope and Justice

                                                                                    Let us begin.
    This poem is very characteristic of Alice Walker's style and subject matter.  The poem is written in free verse; therefore, it does not contain a regular rhythmic pattern.  As you can see, this poem deals with a transformation of some sort from bondage to freedom.
    In the first two stanzas, there is an allusion to Walker's experience as a child.  For example, as a result of a BB gun accident, her eye was severely damaged.  The stanzas continue their description of how the persona physically appeared and the effect it had on her outlook in life.  This unsightly description is paired with the image of a person in bondage in stanza two.  The persona relates how she is "holding their babies / cooking their meals / sweeping their yards / washing their clothes" with complete and utter disgust.  I believe that she associates this time in her life with the physical abhorrence she describes as appearing in the first stanza.  Walker ends the second stanza by emphasizing her plight in life as "dark and rotting / and wounded, wounded" in order to suggest exactly how horrible the plight of the African American can be.
    However, the tone of the poem shifts drastically after these two beginning stanzas and becomes more optimistic about life.  One of the repeated stanzas now enters and becomes the central focus of the poem.  In stanza three: "I would give/ to the human race / only hope, " the persona asserts that she is no longer going to allow racial oppression to rule who she really is.  She doesn't want to forget what has happened in her past life, but she strives to present all African Americans with the gift of hope.  This gift alone creates the person that is introduced in stanzas four and five.
    In these lines, hope has allowed this woman to recreate her self-image, making it more positive.  She now proudly asserts that all the badness that once over-shadowed her life as a child has turned into a gift.  She can know hear and understand the cries of the African American people.  Her ailments that she once saw as debilitating are in turn stepping stones that she has overcome and finds them to be beautiful in their own distinct way.  Then again we see the message in stanza six that she only wants to give hope to the human race.  This reiteration serves to make the central message one that is loudly echoed and felt by the reader.
    In the closing stanzas, there is a parallel between the two images and the "roots of the flower: justice and hope."  Walker gives two distinctly different images of life in oppression and life out of oppression.  As she asserts that "I am the woman / offering two flowers / whose roots are twin, " we understand that her depiction of bondage and physical deformities underline the principle of justice, while the repaired image of the woman comes about through hope.  Therefore, justice and hope become the roots of who this woman was and what she eventually had the chance to become.
    The last two stanzas are a challenge to the reader as an individual and also to society as a whole.  Walker calls for the attention of all Americans to the unjust treatment of African Americans and presents them with the challenge of beginning to treat people justly.  These roots, as she refers to them, are the roots of a happy society or a place without persecution.  In this sense, justice and hope become interchangeably important in the survival of society that continually struggles with the topics of racism and slavery.
    I see this poem as a gift that Walker is giving to anyone who is willing to stand against the injustices of society.  She uses her own personal afflictions in order to better create a stronger, individualized woman after the acquisition of hope.  She uses her story; she enlists the help of the reader to put justice and hope back into society.   Therefore, "Let us begin."


Written by Tara Clark
Edited by Mark Canada, Ph.D.

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