Walker, Alice: General Commentary
Walker, Alice: General Commentary
ALICE WALKER: GENERAL COMMENTARY
RUTH D. WESTON (ESSAY DATE SPRING-SUMMER 1992)
SOURCE: Weston, Ruth D. "Who Touches This Touches a Woman: The Naked Self in Alice Walker." Weber Studies 9, no. 2 (spring-summer 1992): 49-62.
In the following essay, Weston contrasts Walker's verse with that of Walt Whitman, finding that Walker presents a uniquely feminist perspective on love, sexuality, and self-worth.
In The New York Times Book Review for March 9, 1986, Alicia Ostriker celebrates American women poets who refuse to be limited by the masculine ideal of "universal," meaning nonfemale, poetry. Ostriker believes that the writing of these women poets during the last twenty-five years constitutes a shaping force in American poetry. Their passionate, intimate poems "defy divisions between emotion and intellect, private and public, life and art, writer and reader," reminding us, she says, of the frank sexuality of Walt Whitman's poems, so aptly characterized by his own words: "Camerado, this is no book, / Who touches this touches a man." Such an impulse is alive today in both the poems and the stories of Alice Walker. Her work has been previously linked to Whitman's because of both poets' celebration of the common problems that unite and divide people (Gernes 93-94), yet hers is a uniquely feminist—Walker would say "womanist" (In Search xii) perspective.
FROM THE AUTHOR
WALKER ON THE IMPORTANCE OF BLACK FEMALE VOICES
When we look back over our history it is clear that we have neglected to save just those people who could help us most. Because no matter what anyone says, it is the black woman's words that have the most meaning for us, her daughters, because she, like us, has experienced life not only as a black person, but as a woman; and it was different being Frederick Douglass than being Harriet Tubman—or Sojourner Truth, who only "looked like a man," but bore children and saw them sold into slavery.
I thought of the black women writers and poets whose books—even today—go out of print while other works about all of us, less valuable if more "profitable," survive to insult us with their half-perceived, half-rendered "truths." How simple a thing it seems to me that to know ourselves as we are, we must know our mothers' names. Yet, we do not know them. Or if we do, it is only the names we know and not the lives.
And I thought of the mountain of work black women must do. We must work as if we are the last generation capable of work—for it is true that the view we have of the significance of the past will undoubtedly die with us, and future generations will have to stumble in the dark, over ground we should have covered.
Walker, Alice. Excerpt from "A Letter to the Editor of Ms." (1974). In her In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose, pp. 273-77. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983.
Whitman assumed his personal experience to be the universal experience, but it was more precisely the masculine universal. Walker writes about black women with the authority of the universal female experience, an experience made complex and contradictory by the phenomenon of love. Although some black critics, like Ishmael Reed, charge that white feminists' interest in black women's writing constitutes "intellectual fraud" (qtd. in Watkins 36), which exploits black women and undermines the black community (Watkins 36; qtd. in Sharpe et al 149), Patricia Sharpe and her colleagues explain white feminists' ability for cross-racial identity. Initially recognizing the basis of such identity in anthropological theories of female "liminality" as a locus of power (See Mascia-Lees et al), they have recently refined their analysis by pointing out women's common experience of victimization. These critics argue that:
[W]e, as white feminists, are drawn to black women's visions because they concretize and make vivid a system of oppression … [and] abuse.… [And further, that] it has not been unusual for white women writers to seek to understand their oppression through reference to the atrocities experienced by other oppressed groups. Sylvia Plath, for example, likened her feelings of rejection … by her father to the treatment of Jews under Nazism.…
(Sharpe et al 146)
Alice Walker's song of the self, although ultimately a celebration (Davis 38-53), differs from Whitman's not only in expected ways due to their respective genders, races, and eras. It differs more basically in the fact that, in Walker's fiction and poetry of the Black experience, many women are almost entirely ignorant of love, never having been allowed to share it. What is more, they do not know, much less celebrate, themselves. When they are abused—and they often are—they do not know the value of the self that has been violated. Celebrations, in such circumstances, are necessarily infused with an irony completely alien to Whitman's Leaves of Grass period, when he envisioned an ideal equality between men and women.
Even in relationships between women, Walker often shows the undervalued selves of women. In the story "Everyday Use," Maggie suffers psychological scars long after physical healing from burns in a fire set by Dee, her older sister. When the citified and condescending Dee comes to visit, Maggie feels ugly and hides behind the door, providing a graphic symbol of the physical and psychological disfigurement of women that is an important theme in Walker's writing. Similarly, low self-esteem also leads Roselily, in the story that bears her name, to marry the Muslim who will take her away from her home, promising her rest and freedom from the hard work she has always known. But Walker's narrative is laced with images of the new bondage that awaits Roselily in a culture which undervalues women, images which reveal the irony of her hope to be "Free! In robe and veil" (In Love 7).
Walker does not ignore the black man's search for self-worth, a theme she explores in The Third Life of Grange Copeland ; but the casualties of that search are the wives of Grange and Brownfield Copeland. Not only because they are influenced by a macho male white culture (Wallace; qtd. in Sharpe et al 147), but because they are also frustrated in their own claim to manhood, Grange and Brownfield in turn deny their women's every assertion of self-worth. Thus, when Mem raises the family's standard of living, Brownfield systematically destroys first her health and then her spirit. Finally, he blows her face away with a shotgun (172), literally effacing her identity. That Walker intends the scene as an affirmation of the universality of female cultural effacement is clear from her statement in the "Afterword" to the novel that Mem, "after the French la même, meaning 'the same,'" was so named because the actual murder victim Walker based the story on "in relation to men was … symbolic of all women" (344).
The theme of regressive violence within black families is seen even earlier in the poems that reveal how the exigencies of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s helped Alice Walker to come to terms with personal wounds. An example that she herself has pointed to is that of her poem "The Democratic Order: Such Things in Twenty Years I Understood" :
for one damn
voting day. (Once 43)
Although Walker's relationship with her father was not good, the matter of the poem is not strictly autobiographical (Walker Living 11), yet it creates an idealized father character that allows her to displace her anxiety about her own father while the poem speaks to the general cultural frustrations that are vented upon women.
In the novel Meridian, however, the field of anxiety is broadened to include anxiety about men as sexual "partners." The adolescent Meridian, like many of Walker's female protagonists, becomes afraid of males as soon as she is seen as fair game by boys at school. She submits to Eddie's sexual needs not because they respond to her own but because they
saved her from the strain of responding to other boys or even noting the whole category of Men.… This … was probably what sex meant to her; not pleasure but as anctuary.… It was resting from pursuit.
These women are ignorant of the joy of offering themselves as inherently valuable gifts, perhaps, because, as Barbara Christian points out, for such abused women "the body can become the tomb of the mind, [and similarly] the mind's anguish can diminish the body;" thus, Christian continues, Meridian's own guilt for "not living up to her mother's expectations about motherhood," combined with frustration at her sense of powerlessness, results in progressively more serious physical problems: "blue spells," then loss of sight, then temporary paralysis (Black Women 216). The world has touched women who have suffered similar experiences, perhaps indelibly marked them, but they are out of touch with themselves.
Celie, in The Color Purple, learns both psychological and literal touching of the self. Through her relationships with other women in the novel, she gets in touch with her moral and physical self. Jealous of Sophia's physical strength and sense of authority, and frustrated at her own lack of either quality, Celie strikes out at her by repeating to Harpo the advice his father had given him about how to make his wife obey him: "Beat her" (43). Celie rationalizes:
I like Sophia, but she don't act like me at all. If she talking when Harpo and Mr.—come in the room, she keep right on. If they ast her where something at, she say she don't know. Keep talking.
I think bout this when Harpo ast me what he ought to do to her to make her mind. I don't mention how happy he is now. How three years pass and he still whistle and sing. I think bout how every time I jump when Mr.—call me, she look surprise. And like she pity me.
Beat her. I say.
When Harpo tries to beat Sophia and gets beaten himself, Celie realizes her culpability but can only turn her guilt inward. When she is abused by her husband, Celie again internalizes her anger. She can't sleep, she feels like throwing up, and finally she feels nothing. Ironically, it is Sophia who calls her to moral responsibility, not only for allowing herself to encourage male brutality to women, but ultimately to responsibility for her own life. Celie's usual response to a beating from the man she calls only Mr.—has been, "But he my husband. I shrug my shoulders. This life soon be over, I say. Heaven last all ways." Sophia advises, "You ought to bash Mr.—head open.… Think bout heaven later" (47). It is only when Celie can externalize her anger, can dare to express herself in spite of the fact that her father has forbidden her to speak, that she begins her journey toward selfhood by writing a revised self, by literally touching pen to paper to release her creative energy.
But the rite of passage comes through a different sort of literal touching of the self, in Celie's sexual awakening by Shug Avery. Although Celie has been raped repeatedly by her father and has given birth to two children by him, and although she is now married to Mr.—, she is, according to Shug, still a virgin (79). In other words, she has never known, or even realized there could be, sexual pleasure for a woman. Thus her most significant initiation into human sexuality is by her husband's mistress, and the lesbian lovemaking that follows is Celie's first experience of erotic love. To Celie, "it feel like heaven is what it feel like, not like sleeping with Mr.—at all" (110). At last she is put in touch with her own body and her own needs. She learns to associate pleasure, not pain, with human touch. Thus, although women's relationships with men have impeded female self-development, their bonds with women, even literary bonds (Sadoff 4-26), can provide positive correctives. And certainly Celie's rite of passage provides the kind of cultural deconstruction that is a symbol of "emotive power" like those used by African women "mythmakers creating viable and meaningful new images of and for women" (Sharpe et al 145-46).
Even in the face of the painful disjunctions of life, Walker's emphasis is always on the inherent yearning for unity in all life of body and mind, of flesh and spirit, and especially of male and female. Thus in the title poem of Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful, the most important element of the poem is the "s" in "Horses," a fact which is evident from the incident that provided the impetus for the poem. Walker tells the story of a horse's wild suffering when deprived of his mate, and of his look that was "piercing,… full of grief …, [and] human" (Living 7). And the cruelty Walker sees in the humans who took away the mare after stud service seems an ironic reflection on the frequency of cruelty she notes among humans, who continually rupture their own intimate relationships. In the "Introduction" to her volume of poems entitled Good Night Willie Lee, I'll See You in The Morning, she states the basic need for human touch, a need which will, she says, "call out [one's] own heart for review" (vi). The complex theme common to the poems in this book is that of the perennial conflict of woman's two basic needs, which have historically been mutually exclusive: the need for intimacy with a man but also the need for mental and physical integrity. By "call[ing] out [one's] heart for review" in these poems, Walker shows us the state of the heart of woman. We see the continuing vulnerability of heart and body, but we also see hints of an emerging awareness of woman's equal need, and increasing ability, to resist abuse. It is as though Walker's book, published in 1979, is her answer to Adrienne Rich's call to action in her 1972 essay "When We Dead Awaken": a call not only for women writers to express anger at their victimization by men, but also a call for women to stop permitting the abuse, to take responsibility for their lives, to exchange the imposition of pain for what Rich calls the self-actuated "birth-pains [of] bearing ourselves" (25). And indeed, as Barbara Christian has shown, Walker's work contributes to, and perhaps represents the epitome of, a rapidly-developing theme in Afro-American women's writing: that of female self-development and self-definition ("Trajectories" 233-248).
The destructive results of a woman's need for a love relationship with a man are seen in Walker's poems through images of pain and death, suggesting the physical and mental stress on a woman in this double bind. Her conflicting needs cause "a painful knot in her back;" or they come up like weeds.
Through cracks in the conversation.
Through silences in the dark.
Through everything you thought was concrete.
Such needful love has to be chopped out
or forced to wilt back
poisoned by disapproval
from its own soil. (Good Night 2-3)
A reviewer of Walker's first volume of poems, entitled Once (1968), noticed the juxtaposition of images of the world's brutality with images of great tenderness (Walsh 20). In that book, however, the contrasting expressions were not often identified with sex; and sometimes they did not even appear in the same poem. Compare, for example, the soft eroticism of "The Smell of Lebanon," from the sequence of "impossible love" poems, with the following bitter passage from the long title poem "Once" :
a little girl,
"That nigger was
in the way!" the
understanding cops.… (Once 35)
Perhaps the volume's most emphatic ironic contrast comes in "Karamojans," where the poet suggests the inherent native African beauty and dignity, which has been spoiled by poverty and disease. Throughout the poem, images of the fineness of human beings are undercut by those of the world's brutal realities, as stanzas two and eight will suffice to show:
The Noble Savage
no shoes on his
His pierced ears
How bright the little
a first sign of
Glaucoma. (Once 20, 22)
The simple, perhaps even clichéd, vocabulary is elevated by the poem's sustained technique of ironic negation, a technique that also occurs in the title poem "Once," where the reality of the Southern jailer "in grey" negates, for the Civil Rights demonstrators, the "Green lawn / … picket fence / flowers / … [and] the blue sky" (Once 23). The continual juxtaposition of positive and negative images produces an overriding antiphonal style in both the poems and the prose, a style apparent, for example, in the title poem of Revolutionary Petunias ; in the structure of the stories "Roselily" and "The Child Who Favored Daughter" (In Love ); and in the alternating voices of Celie and Nettie, which "encompass and interconnect all the characters" in The Color Purple (Fifer 156).
This ironic antiphony underlies what are perhaps Walker's most striking images of negation: those which occur in poems which express love's mental anguish in terms of physical pain or danger: Loving a man is analogous to bearing a "knife that presses / without ceasing / against [a woman's] heart" (Good Night 10); to being "in limbo" (11), to being "afflicted" to the point of "murder[ing] the man" (13); to having one's life "shredded / by an expert" (15). Often, however, a woman endures sexual pain that has nothing to do with love. A recurring reference in Walker's poems is to the rape her great-great-grandmother suffered at age eleven. A poem entitled "The Thing Itself," from the volume Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful, is the poet's vision of that experience. It includes these lines:
There was no
in her world
from which to learn
to relish the pain.
(She was the thing
Nowhere is the body of the poem more at one with the female body than in Walker's "Early Losses: A Requiem," in which the poet, in the persona of a nine-year-old African girl sold into slavery, mourns the loss of her childhood friend but also the loss of her own childhood:
down a hole that
smelled of blood and
excrement and death
and I was "saved"
for sport among
the sailors of the crew.
Only nine, upon a ship. My mouth
my body a mystery
that opened with each tearing
lunge. (Good Night 28)
In this volume of poems we touch a woman in pain.
But mitigating the pain expressed are also flashes of the spirited woman that is Alice Walker. For example, in "Janie Crawford" :
I love the way Janie Crawford
left her husbands the one who wanted
to change her into a mule
and the other who tried to interest her
in being a queen
a woman unless she submits is neither a mule
nor a queen
though like a mule she may suffer
and like a queen pace
the floor. (Good Night 18)
We also see a "moody woman / [with] temper as black as [her] brows / as sharp as [her] nails" (19). We see her trying to survive with a dream different from that of her grandmother, who longed only for some comfort in her poor life, and yet trying to maintain some connection with her heritage, as she says in "Talking to my grandmother…,"
I must train myself to want
not one bit more
than what i need to keep me alive
and recognizing beauty
undefeated face. (Good Night 46-47)
And there is the resurgent good humor in poems such as "Every Morning," the poet's rebuke to a sleepy, complaining body:
"Don't you see that person
staring at you?" I ask my breasts,
which are still capable
of staring back.
"If I didn't exercise
you couldn't look up
that far.… (Horses Make 16)
Although the volume Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful received mixed reviews, some readers alleging its "pathos" ("Private Voices" 19), banality (Publishers' 71), "forced" quality (Virginia Quarterly 57), or even racism (Disch 6), such poems as "Every Morning" speak both for Walker and her readers to the subject that Adrienne Rich said she herself addressed in writing "Planetarium": "the relief of the body / and the reconstruction of the mind" (30).
Contrary to charges of her insensitivity to black men, typified by the comments of Tony Brown (2), of her sexist polemic, according to Charles Johnson (107), or of both and more (Cheatwood; qtd. in Walker Living 88), Walker, as she herself has reminded us (Living 80), extends that same opportunity for relief and reconstruction to her male characters—to Grange Copeland, to Harpo, to Albert, and even to Mister. Yet there is no more false (that is, sexless) "universality" in Alice Walker's writing than there was false modesty in Walt Whitman's frankly sexual poems, notwithstanding even Walker's own cogent claim that all races suffered (and by implication still suffer) from the experience of slavery: "We are the African and the trader. We are the Indian and the settler …, the slaver and the enslaved …" (Living 89). To admit these common human afflictions is not to deny Chikweyne Okonjo Ogunyemi's claim that "black womanist writers … are committed to the survival and wholeness of their entire people, female and male" (qtd. in Sharpe et al 143). Yet in her fiction and poems, it is nevertheless the nerves and bodies and minds of Walker's female characters that are laid bare—to each other, to themselves, and to the reader. On the page in black and white (pun intended, in the spirit of Walker's own use in "African Images" Once 7), the complex self of woman is naked and exposed, in the misery of its pain or the celebration of its worth. Alice Walker's writing will never be mistaken for that of Whitman; for who touches this touches a woman.
Brown, Tony. "Tony Brown's Comments: The Color of Purple is White." The Herald 1 Jan. 1986: 2.
Christian, Barbara. Black Women Novelists: The Development of a Tradition, 1892-1976. Westport, CT.: Greenwood Press, 1980.
——. "Trajectories of Self-Definition: Placing Contemporary Afro-American Women's Fiction." Conjuring: BlackWomen, Fiction, and Literary Tradition. Ed. Majorie Pryse and Hortense Spillars. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1985. 233-248.
Davis, Thadious M. "Alice Walker's Celebration of Self in Southern Generations." Women Writers of the Contemporary South. Ed. Peggy Whitman Prenshaw. Jackson: U P of Mississippi, 1984. 38-53.
Disch, Tom. "The Perils of Poesy." Book World 30 Dec. 1984: 6.
Fifer, Elizabeth. "Alice Walker: The Dialect & Letters of The Color Purple." Contemporary American Women Writers: Narrative Strategies. Ed. Catherine Rainwater and William J. Scheick. Lexington: U P of Kentucky, 1985. 155-71.
Gernes, Sonia. America 152.4 (2 Feb. 1985): 93-94; qtd. in Pratt, Louis H. and Darnell D. Pratt, Alice Malsenior Walker: An Annotated Bibliography: 1968-1986. Westport, CT: Meckler, 1988.
Johnson, Charles. Being & Race: Black Writing Since 1970. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1988.
Mascia-Lees, Frances E., Pat Sharpe, and Colleen B. Cohen. "Double Liminality and the Black Woman Writer." American Behavioral Scientist 31 (Sept.-Oct. 1987): 101-14.
Ostriker, Alicia. "American Poetry, Now Shaped by Women." New York Times Book Review. 9 Mar. 1986: 1, 28-30.
"Private Voices." Books and Bookmen Sept. 1985: 19.
Publishers Weekly 24 Aug. 1984: 71.
Reed, Ishmael. Reckless Eyeballing. New York: St. Martin's, 1986.
Rich, Adrienne. "When We Dead Awaken: Writing as Re-Vision." College English 34:1 (Oct. 1972): 18-25.
Sadoff, Dianne F. "Black Matrilineage: The Case of Alice Walker and Zora Neale Hurston." Signs 11.1 (Autumn 1985): 4-26.
Sharpe, Patricia, F. E. Mascia-Lees, and C. B. Cohen. "White Women and Black Men: Differential Responses to Reading Black Women's Texts." College English 52:2 (Feb. 1990): 142-53.
Virginia Quarterly Review 61:2 (Spring 1985): 57.
Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. 1982. New York: Washington Square, 1983.
——. Good Night Willie Lee, I'll See You in The Morning. 1979. Harvest/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.
——. Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.
——. In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1974.
——. In Search of Our Mother's Gardens. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.
——. Living By the Word: Selected Writings, 1973-1987. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988.
——. Meridian. New York: Harcourt, 1976.
——. Once. New York: Harcourt Brace World, 1968.
——. Revolutionary Petunias & Other Poems. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1973.
——. The Third Life of Grange Copeland. 1970. Rpt. New York: Pocket Books, 1988.
Wallace, Michele. Black Macho and the Myth of the Superwoman. New York: Warner, 1979.
Walsh, Chad. "A Present Rooted in the Past." Book World 3 Nov. 1968: 20.
Watkins, Mel. "Sexism, Racism and Black Women Writers." New York Times Book Review 15 June 1986: 1, 35-37.
Whitman, Walt. "So Long." Leaves of Grass. 1860. Rpt. Eight American Writers: An Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Norman Foerster and Robert P. Falk. New York: Norton: 1963. 1137-38.
KEITH BYERMAN (ESSAY DATE 2000)
SOURCE: Byerman, Keith. "Gender and Justice: Alice Walker and the Sexual Politics of Civil Rights." In The World Is Our Home: Society and Culture in Contemporary Southern Writing, edited by Jeffrey J. Folks and Nancy Summers Folks, pp. 93-106. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 2000.
In the following essay, Byerman considers the interrelationship between racial discrimination and gender relations in Walker's fiction, contending that she uses the mid-twentieth-century civil rights movement in the South to explore current issues of gender and power.
In her novel Meridian (1976), Alice Walker depicts a northern white civil rights worker very concerned with her impulse to see southern blacks as aesthetic objects: "To Lynne, the black people of the South were Art.… 'I will pay for this,' she often warned herself. 'It is probably a sin to think of a people as Art.' And yet, she would stand perfectly still and the sight of a fat black woman singing to herself in a tattered yellow dress, her voice rich and full of yearning, was always—God forgive her, black folks forgive her—the same weepy miracle that Art always was for her" (128).
This essay argues that for Walker herself, just as for her character, southern black folk are Art, in the sense that they serve as a fixed standard by which to measure the moral significance and achievements of the central actors in her narratives about civil rights. It is necessary to understand that region and class are as important as race in establishing this standard. Those who retain their status of being close to the land, with a southern mind-set that rejects abstraction, are the model.1 This does not mean that Walker has a nostalgic view, though she may have a romantic one. The folk she presents are capable of change and of political action; it is simply that change must be connected to concrete experience.
Corollary to this narrative concern is the related issue of sexuality; desire in Walker's stories tends to produce distortions of itself in that characters generate abstractions of the sexual Other that they then manipulate out of motives of class or race ideology. In this case, the folk become the standard by consistently demonstrating innocent desire in the concreteness and authenticity of their relationships. Consistently in the texts under consideration here—the last part of The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), Meridian, and "Advancing Luna—and Ida B. Wells" (1981)—a complicated modern (even modernist) way of being and doing is set over against a folk model of (relatively) simple virtue in matters of gender and racial justice, and the modern approach is found wanting. Part of the problem is, in fact, that the modern characters confuse and conflate matters of desire and of justice.
The earliest version of this pattern occurs late in Walker's first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland. The book as a whole is almost naturalistic in its depiction of the repetition of racial hatred and attacks on women. It sets up a social pattern in which the powerlessness of black men in the face of white hostility leads them to victimize black women, especially their wives. Grange, having undergone an earlier transformation, has established his farm as a fortress to protect himself and his granddaughter Ruth from the effects of white racism and black self-destructiveness. While most of the novel is devoted to narratives of domestic violence, interracial antagonism, and self-hatred, it turns, in the penultimate chapter, to a story of civil rights.
Each of the episodes in the chapter links a sensual experience to the effort to attain justice, with the implication, at this stage in Walker's writing, that civil rights is an object of desire in the personal as well as political sense. Into Grange's sanctuary, through the device of television, come images of the civil rights movement. The initial viewing is contextualized by being presented as an item on the news, specifically the Huntley-Brinkley Report. Before the message, Ruth notes the messengers: "She became almost fond of Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, especially David Brinkley, who was younger than Chet and whose mouth curved up in a pleasingly sardonic way" (231). This representation of white male authority as "pleasing" marks a break from the images of whiteness that dominate the book. Brinkley's presence in Grange's fortress, through the media, is also a breakdown of the black man's separatist principles, principles developed over a lifetime of abuse, self-hatred, and racial intimidation. The visual image is at once intrusive and distant, allowing Ruth and Grange to come to terms with it without directly engaging it.
They receive their knowledge of the movement through these white images. When the narrator comments that "integration appealed to Ruth in a shivery, fearful kind of way" (231), the term "integration" can be understood as applying to the cross-racial experience of media producer and consumer as well as to the movement that is depicted. Moreover, the language of the appeal—"shivery, fearful"—can be linked as easily to sensual experience as to political activity. Thus it can be argued that Ruth is in part seduced into belief. At the same time, the medium keeps the events at a distance from her reality, allowing her to encounter them safely. Change can come to her in an attractive package, not in the dangerous action that shaped her grandfather's attitudes and behaviors.
The extent of this generational difference is apparent in the story of Fred Hill, an old friend of Grange's. He is killed, and Grange concludes that it is because his grandson "is making news" by trying to integrate the schools. The shooting is officially labeled a suicide, though no gun is found. For Grange, this is evidence that the world will not and cannot change. For his granddaughter, the interest is elsewhere:
"Tried to get into one of the cracker schools?"
"And did he make it?"
Grange leaned back his head and looked at the ceiling, his chair tilted back on two legs. "Naw," he said, "he didn't make it. How you going to study in a cracker school with half your granddaddy's head missing?"
"Well," said Ruth, attempting to see a bright side, "you don't need your granddaddy's head to study. You just need your own."
The assumption that there is a "bright side" to the story reflects a sanitized, dehistoricized relation to reality that is reinforced by the media. Ironically, it can be contended that it is also one means by which hope can be sustained, especially in the primarily secularized world in which Walker's characters operate. Without the church as a source of faith, the only alternatives seem to be ahistorical optimism and experiential despair.
Desire, politics, and history come together in the culminating scene of the chapter. The movement from television physically enters their realm when two couples, one black and one white, appear at the farm to encourage Grange to register to vote. The young black man is someone Ruth has seen in town with the demonstrators. The sensual nature of her response is evident even to her grandfather: "Grange looked over at Ruth. She was standing at the edge of the porch with one arm around a roof support. Her eyes were shining! He could almost feel the hot current that flowed through her, making her soft young body taut and electric with waiting" (237). Her desire continues throughout the scene, even when she learns that the young man is married to the pregnant woman with him. She reacts with a twinge of jealousy and then regret. It remains for her a "charged" moment, in which desire reinforces admiration for political activism.
What is important here is the innocence of Ruth's response to the young man, a response not followed in either Meridian or "Advancing Luna." This difference reflects Walker's representation of the folk as pure. The black activists in this novel are themselves part of the folk. They are locals whose families Grange knows well. They are engaged in the movement, not out of some abstract notion of virtue or justice but because it serves the needs of their community. Helen's father was killed trying to vote, and her mother was evicted from her lifelong home for aiding the activists. What is evident is their simple belief in the cause and their attendant refusal to be discouraged or dissuaded by hostility or resistance. Grange's life experience does not permit a sharing of their faith, but it does inspire a protective impulse: "He felt a deep tenderness for the young couple. He felt about them as he felt about Dr. King: that if they'd just stay with him on his farm he'd shoot the first cracker that tried to bother them. He wanted to protect them, from themselves and from their dreams as much as from the crackers. He would not let anybody hurt them, but at the same time he didn't believe in what they were doing. Not because it wasn't worthy and noble and inspiring and good, but because it was impossible" (241).
Through the black couple the young whites are granted standing. Because they are with the blacks and because they have also been threatened for their efforts, their commitment cannot be doubted. Ruth immediately accepts them, but Grange cannot overcome his suspicion, especially of the white woman. She represents for him the opposite side of desire, a racialized, gendered object used to justify oppression and violence against blacks. In his view, the white woman cannot be separated from this objectification. Ironically, his position is the correlative of that of white racists, who call one of the women participating in the march "you nigger-fucking whore" (235). In both instances, she is an eroticized image distorted for purposes of power. She cannot be an individual self. In this text, the figure of the white woman is the measure of the moral enlightenment of the characters. Grange recognizes the limitations of his own feelings but cannot quite get over them. They are too deeply embedded in his personal experiences and cultural conditioning.
The relatively straightforward interaction of gender, race, and civil rights in Grange Copeland is deeply complicated in Meridian and "Advancing Luna," in part because of Walker's decision to distinguish between the folk and the activists. By making this distinction, she can introduce questions of motive that challenge some of the conventional wisdom about the movement. She can retain a fixed moral standard while examining modern, secular characters and perspectives. The key figures in both of the later narratives have no direct links to the folk but must establish such links primarily through the movement itself. The quality of the connection is one measure of the moral development of the central characters.
But aspects of life in the modern world—education, cosmopolitanism, individualism, urbanization, middle-class culture—work against such connections by focusing on private rather than communal concerns. Whatever their political commitment and ideals, modern characters bring into the movement their personal conflicts and desires and find ways to play them out.
The three central figures in Meridian —Meridian Hill, Truman Held, and Lynne Rabinowitz—are educated young people who participate in civil rights activities out of a complex of motives that include idealism, guilt, self-assertion, and rebellion. Each is in some way self-absorbed. Meridian cannot come to terms with her own mother; Truman believes in his own importance; Lynne seeks to escape her northern bourgeois life by identifying the black folk as "Art." In contrast, the folk, whether local young men, poor families, or the religious elderly, are characterized by simple dignity, honor, and love; they can be confused or troubled by circumstances, but their underlying moral strength is never in doubt.
On matters of both desire and politics, the position of the folk community is very clear. In terms of sexuality, they are not tempted to dehumanize others. For example, after raping Lynne, Tommy Odds urges a group of young men active in the movement to sexually assault "it." "'It? It?' [Altuna] said. 'What it you talking about? That ain't no it, that's Lynne'" (162). Similarly, the refusal of some to register to vote is never the result of cowardice or indifference; they simply make it clear that they have higher priorities: God, family, or personal honor. Lynne attempts to argue with a mother of the church; she succeeds only in offending her by insisting that God has not gotten her anything of value. When Truman and Meridian try to register a husband whose wife is dying, he questions the purpose of registering, given his need to care for her and their son on his meager earnings. This time, instead of arguing, the activists bring back groceries for the family. Some time later, apparently after the wife has died, the husband comes bearing gifts and signs the registration list. In these cases and many others throughout the novel, the spiritual and moral strength of the folk is asserted and demonstrated.
In one sense, it could be argued that for them civil rights as an ideology and a movement is largely irrelevant. As Truman and Meridian admit in their recruiting visits, voting will have little immediate or direct impact on individual lives. The people who sign up do so largely out of gratitude for the kindness and attention of the civil rights workers rather than because they have any belief in the efficacy of the political system. At the same time, the folk do not question the moral power of the movement or the courage of the activists. But that power and courage already exist within the people, so the movement cannot transform their basic character; it can only confirm it.
In contrast, because the central characters and others are not part of the folk, they are subject to a variety of inconsistencies, self-induced problems, moral quandaries, and complications of race, gender, sexuality, and class. They cannot simply be, as the folk can; they must do and think and become and desire. If desire is the response to a lack or absence, as contemporary theory suggests, then it may be said to be the primary motivation for the key characters of the novel.
For Truman Held, desire is connected to status. He prefers, in his conversations with Meridian, to speak French because "he believed profoundly that anything said in French sounded better, and he also believed that people who spoke French were better than people (les pauvres, les misérables!) who did not" (95). She responds positively to him in part because he is clearly more sophisticated than other black men she has known: "He was a man who fought against obstacles, a man who could become anything, a man whose very words were unintelligible without considerable thought" (96). This last phrase suggests the irony with which he is viewed by the narrator, since it refers to the fact that Meridian knows very little French, not to the profundity of Truman's ideas. This commitment to white culture extends to his preference for northern white women. He tells Meridian, in an especially cruel moment, that he is attracted to them "because they read The New York Times" (141). The cruelty is based on his awareness that she has led a provincial life, with little access to the privilege inherent in the lives of the exchange students. Sex becomes the means by which he vicariously joins the world of white privilege; it is vicarious because his relationships do not literally enable him to enter the realm of white status and wealth. When Lynne's parents, for example, learn of their marriage, they disown her and her offspring. Moreover, Truman loses interest in her once she becomes his wife rather than a precious, almost unattainable object of desire.
He consistently links his sexual impulses to ideology. He justifies his interest in white students with his interpretation of W. E. B. Du Bois's writings, though how he does so is not made clear in the text. Later, he connects his abandonment of Lynne to a return to his racial roots. His artistic efforts are large images of black women with oversized breasts. While creating these Black Madonnas, he is living in New York with a young white woman from Alabama. Yet he cannot sustain the actual black woman in his life, Meridian, as an object of desire or as an actual person. When he returns to her three years after marrying Lynne, he claims that he should have married her instead. But she is no longer impressed by his words or superior tone. When he makes his claim, she insists that it is because it has now become fashionable to be associated with black women, not white ones. Then she turns his denial against him:
"Because I'm black?"
"Because you're you, damn it! The woman I should have married and didn't!"
"Should have loved, and didn't," she murmured.
And Truman sank back staring, as if at a lifeboat receding in the distance.
While Truman makes the narcissistic error of equating personal desire with political agenda and is repeatedly shocked by his self-delusion, both Meridian and Lynne link the personal and political in different ways.2 Both of them are damaged by Truman's arrogance, but they also suffer because of their complex motivations for and responses to social activism. For Lynne, who grows up in a privileged northern Jewish environment that was both protected and standardized, the South and especially the black folk there represent vitality and creativity.
Lynne's need to escape that northern life is not a desire to become southern herself; she never in the course of the novel loses the individualistic, secular assertiveness that she brought with her from the North. Rather, she wishes to exploit the geographic, racial Other to satisfy her personal and cultural lack in a variation of what George Frederickson has called "romantic racialism" (97-129). Her Jewishness is part of her sensibility as well. She grows up in a post-Holocaust world that suppresses the knowledge of suffering so that children like her can develop in a state of carefully maintained innocence. She responds by seeking out suffering, but suffering that has been reified: "Mississippi—after the disappearance of the three civil rights workers in 1964—began to beckon her. For two years she thought of nothing else. If Mississippi is the worst place in America for black people, it stood to reason, she thought, that the Art that was their lives would flourish best there" (130). The South for her, then, is a living museum. Denied the narrative of her own people's great horror, in part because it is too real to be subjected to aesthetic control, she turns to a parallel experience that has both immediacy and distance.
The problem with Lynne's approach is her refusal to accept the humanity of those she has constructed as art objects. She cannot grasp the ambivalence created by her own whiteness, which produces a volatile mix of desire and hostility. She fails to understand the effect her presence has on both blacks and whites in the South. Tommy Odds blames her for the loss of his arm in an act of racial violence; by being with a group of black men, she endangered them. Through a conversation with Odds, Truman is able to understand the attitudes of blacks toward Lynne: "To them she was a route to Death, pure and simple. They felt her power over them in their bones; their mothers had feared her even before they were born. Watching their fear of her, though, he saw a strange thing: They did not even see her as a human being, but as some kind of large, mysterious doll. A thing of movies and television, of billboards and car and soap commercials. They liked her hair, not because it was especially pretty, but because it was long. To them, length was beauty" (137).
In an important reversal, Lynne, as the white woman, is herself made into an object, but a dangerous, taboo one. The fact that she is northern and Jewish does not change this attitude. In the South, White Woman is a category nearly overwhelming in ideological, social, and erotic significance. The white woman who aligns herself with blacks is seen as a race traitor and whore by whites, who read her association with an "inferior," "promiscuous" race as the lowest form of profanation. Blacks, regardless of their individual views of her, retain a clear perception of her symbolic power in southern society. Her motives must be questioned because affiliation with her is deeply problematic. At the same time, her significance (and danger) can make her a powerful object of desire, less in the sexual than in the political sense. A sexual attack on her is an attack on the basis of white supremacy. It is simultaneously an act of revenge and rebellion, though in one sense it reinforces racism by accepting the premise of contamination. To have a white woman is to "ruin" her for white men.
Thus Tommy Odds's rape of Lynne expresses his personal rage and allows him to engage in a political act. He can vent his hostility toward whites without committing a suicidal attack on the white men who shot him. But the assault on her is a strangely safe act. She is already viewed as racially promiscuous by the white community simply by being where she is; attacking her will not affect their views in the least. Moreover, he is reasonably certain that she will not seek justice: "She wished she could go to the police, but she was more afraid of them than she was of Tommy Odds, because they would attack young black men in the community indiscriminately and the people she wanted most to see protected would suffer" (162). The very motives and circumstances that necessitated the movement generally and Lynne's participation specifically make it impossible for her to seek justice. The very power of her whiteness precludes her resistance to sexual violence. Moreover, her aestheticist view of black life holds even during the assault:
She lay … thinking of his feelings, his hardships, of the way he was black and belonged to people who lived without hope; she thought about the loss of his arm. She felt her own guilt.… She did not any longer resist but tried instead to think of Tommy Odds as he was when he was her friend and near the end her arms stole around his neck, and before he left she told him she forgave him and she kissed his slick rounded stump that was the color of baked liver, and he smiled at her from far away, she did not know him.
As Elliott Butler-Evans has noted: "If the novel's racial politics demands that it explore Tommy Odds's behavior within the context of racial oppression, it is also committed to investigating Lynne's status as victim. That issue is somewhat ambiguously presented through the graphic detail of the rape coupled with Lynne's commitment to the 'correct' political attitude, even at the expense of her own welfare" (122).
Rape is transmuted into a permissible effect of black suffering and white penance for that suffering. Lynne denies him the humanity of being responsible for an act of violence. Her embrace of him turns assault into fulfilled desire, apparently for both of them. He can both satisfy his sexual need for the white woman and express his hostility toward the white world; she can be the sacrifice that links her to black suffering. By kissing his stump, which approximates the phallus, she submits to black (male) authority and thus escapes the guilt associated with her whiteness. At the same time, she can sustain her image of black experience in something like its purity.
Significantly, neither Truman nor Meridian wants to hear her story, in part because they, too, wish to construct a version of the folk that serves their private purposes while permitting them to interpret themselves as benefactors. Meridian is the most extreme example of this. Her responses to the world are shaped in part by guilt, first the guilt of having "stolen" something from her mother and, second, the guilt of having abandoned her son to pursue her education. Hers is the dilemma of the modern woman: how is it possible to live an individually meaningful life in a world that still demands loyalty to traditional roles? What she has "stolen" from her mother, simply by being her child, is independence and individuality. She exacerbates the problem by giving up her own child; she in effect discredits the sacrifice made by her mother (cf. Callahan 159; Daly 254-55).
This conflict about maternity inspires Meridian's commitment to the civil rights movement. She seeks, in effect, the social equivalent of her mother's sacrifice. She takes in and identifies with the outcasts in the college community. She has an abortion when Truman loses his interest in her, but she never tells him. She offers to die for the movement but is uncertain of her willingness to kill. When she is rejected by her revolutionary friends for her ambivalence, she chooses to return to the rural South, even though that form of activism has become passé. During all this time, her health is fragile, and she consistently enters catatonic states after her public challenges to authority. In this sense, her repudiation of her mother's life in truth reenacts its sacrificial quality.
Her work with the folk has a healing effect on her over time. In her encounters with them, there is little evidence of ethical or political principles being transmitted in either direction. The people are particularly empowered by her actions. She sees herself as doing for them: "They appreciate it when somebody volunteers to suffer" (25). They are consistently shown to be simply good people who must be led. Even the transformative religious service near the conclusion of the novel reveals a largely passive people. After the grieving father has spoken his ritual three words—"My son died"—on the anniversary of the young activist's death, Meridian has an insight into the congregation's response to his call: "The people in the church … were saying, 'we are slow to awaken to the notion that we are only as other women and men, and even slower to move in anger, but we are gathering ourselves to fight for and protect what your son fought for on behalf of us. If you will let us weave your story and your son's life into what we already know—into the songs, the sermons, the 'brother and sister'—we will soon be so angry we cannot help but move'" (199).
Meridian's voicing of their feelings itself suggests the text's limited faith in the power of the folk. She, though an outsider, must speak for them. Moreover, it is the expression of a desire to be fulfilled at some future point, not the planning of an action in the present (cf. Hall). In fact, implicit in the statement is justification for inaction: "if your son should come again," they could act; but, of course, resurrection is not to be expected. The weaving of narrative must precede any movement into the social realm. It is Meridian's insight into her own situation, not that of the congregation, that is the focus of narrative attention. She now understands the circumstances under which she could take a life. She claims spiritual maternity by asserting that she could kill to save the boy and others like him. Her role is that of nurturer, protector, and culture-bearer. The revolutionaries do the fighting, and Meridian provides the music that makes sense of the struggle and that saves the soul of the people. "When they stop to wash off the blood and find their throats too choked with the smell of murdered flesh to sing, I will come forward and sing from memory songs they will need once more to hear" (201). The people themselves have no role in this tremendous effort on their behalf. They are kept outside of history, an object of contemplation and a source of inspiration for the fighters and artists of the revolution. For Meridian, in slight contrast to Lynne, it is not the folk but the souls of black folk that are Art (cf. Hall 104).
Given her understanding and commitment in this passage, it is significant that Meridian is absent herself from the end of the novel. Her efforts for the people and her overcoming of maternal guilt by interpreting those efforts as maternal have healed her. And having been healed, she walks away. She leaves Truman to take over guiding the people and in the process healing himself. This transition suggests that what happens to the individual is more important than the community or society. Meridian has been the guide, not so much for the folk as for those modern individuals—Truman, Lynne, Anne-Marion—who are no longer part of the community and who suffer as a result. Once the self-healing occurs, there is no longer a responsibility to the people. Social action is a form of therapy; community improvement is merely a means to a private end.
The furthest remove from community comes in "Advancing Luna—and Ida B. Wells." The story develops the logic of the rape of Lynne depicted in Meridian. The narrator is a young black woman who spent a brief time one summer doing voter registration work. It was here that she met Luna, who had come to Georgia for the same purpose. They work together until the narrator takes advantage of a fellowship opportunity to visit Africa. Later, they meet again in New York, and it is on this occasion that Luna describes the rape.
Almost no attention is paid in the story to civil rights activities. In fact, the narrator comments that the effort "seems not only minor, but irrelevant" (88). The focus of this part of the story is on the narrator's smugness and world-weariness. She describes the extent to which she takes for granted the efforts on behalf of the students by the local people, including the danger to which their assistance subjects them. The movement becomes simply the occasion to explore the politics of rape and race. Implicit in this analysis, however, is the view, similar to that established in Meridian, that the movement is more interesting in terms of what it reveals about young activists and about ideology than what it says about its effects on black southerners. As in the previous work, the folk are not delineated in any depth; they are simply there in their saintly being—patient, courageous, understanding.
Unlike them, the modern young volunteers must deal with larger moral and political issues. When the rape is first described to the narrator, she immediately turns to critical commentary on the sexual politics of Eldridge Cleaver and LeRoi Jones, both of whom she attacks for advocating the rape of white women. When Luna tells of her attack and the narrator asks why she had not screamed, the white woman responds, "You know why" (92). This comment leads into the narrator's imaginary conversation with Ida B. Wells, the turn-of-the-century antilynching activist. Wells consistently urged blacks to protect their sons, fathers, and husbands against accusations of sexual assault because such accusations endangered not only individuals but entire communities. Just as Lynne had done, Luna chooses protection of blacks over punishment of her assailant. In this instance, though, the narrator is more interested in her own conflicts and in the ideological implications of the assault than in the emotional and psychological states of either victim or victimizer (cf. McKay). In fact, the narrative effectively diminishes both of these figures. Luna is consistently described as childlike, while Freddie Pye seems almost bestial in his unattractiveness and inarticulateness. Such reduction allows the argument with Wells over the writer's need to depict reality as she finds it, regardless of the social or racial consequences. "'No matter what you think you know, no matter what you feel about it, say nothing. And to your dying breath!' Which, to my mind, is virtually useless advice to give a writer" (94). The literary rights of the individual must supersede whatever consequences might develop for the community. Just as the narrator walked away from activism to pursue her private agenda, so here she ignores history to enable self-expression.
Having rejected the sexist aspects of black nationalism and the suppressions of Wells, the narrator now turns on Luna: "And yet the rape, the knowledge of the rape, out in the open, admitted, pondered over, was now between us. (And I began to think that perhaps—whether Luna had been raped or not—it had always been so; that her power over my life was exactly the power her word on rape had over the lives of black men, over all black men, whether they were guilty or not, and therefore over my whole people)" (95).
The question of power takes priority over the question of rape; Luna in this passage is not a distinct character but White Woman, though it is precisely her racial power that she resists using. The narrator refuses to engage the complexity of a situation that positions Luna closer to Ida B. Wells (and implicitly to "my whole people") than the narrator herself. Not surprisingly, the two women grow apart, though not before Freddie Pye appears in their apartment coming out of Luna's bedroom one morning. We also learn that the narrator goes back to the South because of "the need to return, to try to understand, and write about, the people I'd merely lived with before" (97). She does not describe the impact of the return, choosing instead to end the story proper at this point.
In a metafictional move, Walker offers several appendices to the narrative that attempt to specify its ideological significance. One addition locates the existing ending in the context of current reality, "a society in which lynching is still reserved, at least subconsciously, as a means of social control" (98). But this "unresolved" conclusion cannot support the narrator's vision of what the society ought to be and so, after a brief comment that again deprecates Luna's efforts at racial understanding ("A very straight, clear-eyed, coolly observant young woman with no talent for existing outside her own skin" ), she offers "Imaginary Knowledge," an alternative ending. In this version, she depicts Freddie and Luna engaging in a night-long conversation about their lives and the rape. Importantly, she focuses on Freddie's coming to the North as an "exhibit" of what southern oppression had done to black men. When he has done his part at a fund-raiser, he is abandoned by both his black and white sponsors, who clearly want nothing to do with his real life. After Freddie has described this situation, this ending stops with the comment that it would now be Luna's turn to talk and that she needed to understand the rape and her response to it. But this conversation is never presented, though in some sense it would seem to be the key to the story.
Instead of granting voice to Freddie and Luna about their central experience, the narrator turns to a "Postscript" that undermines what has just been offered. In Cuba, the narrator tells the story, but her listener objects that she has been unable to imagine true evil. He speculates that Freddie was a government agent paid to disrupt the civil rights movement by acts of sexual violence. Though the narrator seeks to qualify this scenario, she clearly is attracted by it. By positioning it as the actual conclusion to the narrative, she grants it considerable authority. In this sense, what began as an attempt to understand a crucial aspect of the sexual-racial dynamic of the South and the movement becomes a political commentary far removed from its beginnings. The narrator is ultimately concerned with the ideological underpinnings of her story rather than with the people and experiences of the South. Freddie Pye, as an emblem of the southern folk, is cast either as the Pathetic Victim of southern oppression and northern exploitation or as the Dark Villain, much like the black beast of racist imagination. He is, in other words, Art.
In "The Black Writer and the Southern Experience," Walker says, "In large measure, black Southern writers owe their clarity of vision to parents who refused to diminish themselves as human beings by succumbing to racism" (19). Ironically, what we see in her fiction of the civil rights movement is a focus on the individual, especially the modern individual, alienated from the folk in some way, whether through media, representation, education, guilt, or artistic impulse. The attraction to the people is consistently motivated by some private need, and when that need is met, the folk become irrelevant. Black southern life is primarily an aesthetic idea and ideal by which to measure those who are doing the truly important work in life, struggling for virtue and justice within modern consciousness. Unlike Ernest Gaines, who also writes of the South and the movement of the mid-twentieth century, as an artist Alice Walker is not particularly interested in the complexities of southern people or the social movements of the region. Rather, she sees them as a means to explore current issues of gender and power. She generates sympathy or antipathy about them depending on the requirements of ideology and modern character development. Like her character Lynne, Walker as author sees black folk as Art; unlike that character, however, she does not acknowledge her aesthetic hegemony.
- For other interpretations of Walker's views on the South and civil rights, see Butler (two articles), Daly, Donaldson, Ensslen, Hall, and Manvi.
- On interracial friendships in Meridian, see Jones and Porter.
Butler, Robert James. "Alice Walker's Vision of the South in The Third Life of Grange Copeland." African-American Review 27.2 (1993): 195-204.
——. "Visions of Southern Life and Religion in O'Connor's Wise Blood and Walker's The Third Life of Grange Copeland." College Language Association Journal 36.4 (1993): 349-70.
Butler-Evans, Elliott. "History and Genealogy in Walker's The Third Life of Grange Copeland and Meridian." Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. Ed. Henry Louis Gates Jr. and K. A. Appiah. New York: Amistad, 1993. 105-25.
Callahan, John F. "The Hoop of Language: Politics and the Restoration of Voice in Meridian." Alice Walker: Modern Critical Views. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House, 1989. 153-84.
Daly, Brenda O. "Teaching Alice Walker's Meridian: Civil Rights According to Mothers." Narrating Mothers: Theorizing Maternal Subjectivities. Ed. Brenda O. Daly and Maureen T. Reddy. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1991. 239-57.
Donaldson, Susan. "Alice Walker's Meridian, Feminism, and the 'Movement.'" Women's Studies 16.3-4 (1989): 317-30.
Ensslen, Klaus. "Collective Experience and Individual Responsibility: Alice Walker's The Third Life of Grange Copeland." The Afro-American Novel Since 1960. Ed. Peter Bruck and Wolfgang Karrer. Amsterdam: Gruner, 1982. 189-218.
Frederickson, George M. The Black Image in the White Mind: The Debate on Afro-American Character and Destiny, 1817-1914. New York: Harper, 1971.
Hall, Christine. "Art, Action and the Ancestors: Alice Walker's Meridian in Its Context." Black Women's Writing. Ed. Gina Wisker. New York: St. Martin's, 1993. 96-110.
Jones, Suzanne W. "Dismantling Stereotypes: Interracial Friendships in Meridian and A Mother and Two Daughters." The Female Tradition in Southern Literature. Ed. Carol S. Manning. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1993. 140-57.
Manvi, Meera. "The Second Reconstruction and the Southern Writer: Alice Walker and William Kelley." Literature and Politics in Twentieth Century America. Ed. J. L. Plakkoottam and Prashant K. Sinha. Hyderabad: American Studies Research Centre, 1993. 92-98.
McKay, Nellie Y. "Alice Walker's 'Advancing Luna—and Ida B. Wells': A Struggle Toward Sisterhood." Rape and Representation. Ed. Lynn A. Higgins and Brenda R. Silver. New York: Columbia UP, 1991. 248-60.
Porter, Nancy. "Women's Interracial Friendships and Visions of Community in Meridian, The Salt Eaters, Civil Wars, and Dessa Rose." Tradition and the Talents of Women. Ed. Florence Howe. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1991. 251-67.
Walker, Alice. "Advancing Luna—and Ida B. Wells." You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981. 85-104.
——. "The Black Writer and the Southern Experience." In Search of Our Mothers Gardens. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1983. 16-21.
——. Meridian. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.
——. The Third Life of Grange Copeland. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970.