LIT 4386 British and American Literature
Walker, "In Search of our Mothers' Gardens" (2315)
POST #13 Group A
- To do course evaluations
- To hand out take-home final assignment
- To analyze Walker's use of Woolf and the tradition of African American Women artists
Walker's essay "In Search of our Mothers' Gardens" addresses the history of black
women's art and the treatment of black women's art as distinct from other women's art.
NOTE THE ACT OF REVISION: It is no accident that she takes Woolf's words from A Room of One's Own
and rewrites them to point out the different literary and material conditions under which the
black woman has written and produced art in America.
Notes and Discussion Questions:
WHAT EFFECT DOES THIS REVISION OF WOOLF HAVE? WHY START WITH WOOLF AT ALL?
Alice Walker claims on p. 2316 that spirituality is the basis of art
and that black women have long been recognized as a fund of spirituality,
conscious or unconscious, Saintly or mad. She asks the question: "What did it mean for
a black woman to be an artist in our grandmother's time? In our great grand-mother's day?
It is a question with an answer cruel enough to stop blood" (2316).
What are some of the conditions under which a black woman would have been an artist in early America?
WALKER GOES TO THE PAST (LIKE WOOLF DID) TO EXAMINE THE WRITING BY WOMEN.
Example of Phyllis Wheatley, the poet who was a slave: what problems does Walker
have as an African-American woman poet reading her today?
How does she reconcile the problem? ( p. 2318)
Examine the passage by Woolf on p. 2317. What mental conflicts are unique to black women?
What are "contrary instincts"?
Walker suggests that "secret of what has fed that muzzled and often mutilated,
but vibrant, creative spirit that the black woman has inherited, and that pops out
in wild and unlikely places to this day" (2319) can be found right in front of them,
in song, in quilting, in gardens. What are the implications of this observation?
Examine the passage by Woolf p. 2320.
Who is Walker's apparent audience in this essay? What do you think the purpose of the essay is?
She suggests that we look to the tradition of black women to find the unseen creativity,
"a love of beauty and a love of strength," in order to create our own. Discuss.
Walker's essay suggests some ways to approach the work of black-women artists; today
we will focus on the earliest writings of black women in America.
Return to Phyllis Wheatley: "On Being Brought from Africa to America" p. 247
What is the speaker's attitude toward Africa? toward America?
How does she feel about Africans?
How does the poem illustrate the problems Walker discusses in "In Search"?
WALKERS REREADING OF WHEATLEY OFFERS US A CHANCE TO RETURN TO THE BEGINNING OF THE
CLASS AND SEE WHAT HAS CHANGED IN OUR PERCEPTIONS OF THE EARLY LITERATURE.
HOW DOES KNOWING THE LATER WRITERS AFFECT OUR UNDERSTANDING OF THE EARLY WOMEN?
CAN WE STILL LEARN FROM THESE EARLY WOMEN WRITERS? WHAT ARE WE ASKING OF THESE WRITERS
WHEN WE TEACH THEM/LEARN THEM IN OUR CLASS TODAY?
2. Group discussion
What does Walker have in common with other essayists -- Paule Marshall, Adrienne Rich for instance?
How do these writers challenge literary standards of a white, middle class, male perspective?
What do they offer in its place?