In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose

Alice Walker continues to blow me away. This collection of essays, thoughts, memos written between 1966 and 1982, is page-turning and inspirational. “So much of the satisfying work of life begins as an experiment; having learned this, no experiment is ever quite a failure.”

“It was just six years ago that I began to be alive. I had, of course, been living before… but I did not really know it.”

“A white writer tried recently to explain that the reason for the relatively few Negro hippies is that Negroes have built up a ‘super-cool’ that cracks under LSD and makes them have a ‘bad trip.’ What this writer didn’t guess at is that Negroes are needing drugs less than ever these days for any kind of trip. While the hippies are ‘tripping,’ Negroes are going after power which is so much more important to their survival and their children’s survival than LSD and pot.”

“So for the past four years I’ve been in still another college. This time simply a college of books—musty old books that went out of print years ago—and of old people, the oldest old black men and women I could find, and a college of the young students and dropouts who articulate in various bold and shy ways that they believe themselves to be without a valuable history, without a respectable music, without writing or poetry that speaks to them. My enrollment in this newest college will never end, and for that I am glad. And each day I look about to see what can and should be done to make it a bigger college, a more inclusive one, one more vital and long living.”

“And if I leave Mississippi—as I will one of these days—it will not be for the reasons of the other sons and daughters of my parents. Fear will have no part in my decision, nor will lack of freedom to express my womanly thoughts. It will be because the pervasive football culture bores me, and the proliferating Kentucky Fried Chicken stands appall me, and neon lights have begun to replace the trees. It will be because the sea is too far away and there is not a single mountain here. But most of all it will be because I have freed myself to go; and it will be My Choice.”

The Color Purple

Beautiful classic work by Alice Walker, told entirely through letters directed at God, and then when discovered that Celie’s sister Nettie is writing letters to her, via letters between Celie and Nettie. Celie has a terrible childhood, raped & impregnated twice by her stepfather (although she thinks he’s actually her father until several years later), her children given away and cared for by a missionary couple that Nettie ends up befriending and traveling to Africa with. Celie is married off to Alfred, a man who beats her and belittles her, but then her whole world changes when Shug Avery arrives on the scene. Alfred is in love with Shug, and Celie falls in love with her, too. Shug’s a talented singer/entertainer, and rescues Celie from her crippling life by telling her to stand up to Alfred, and eventually whisking her off to Memphis where Celie begins to manufacture a successful line of pants. Several great female characters in this– including Sofia who sasses the mayor’s wife and ends up beating the mayor up when it’s suggested that she become their maid.

Celie talks about God, trying to chase the vision of the white bearded guy out of her mind, “I been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?). Not the little wildflowers. Nothing.”

There’s also a great scene where the white girl that Sophia helped raise comes back and demands that Sophia say her child is sweet and smart. Sofia wants nothing of it, realizing this white baby is going to grow up to terrorize her no matter how much she likes it.

Don’t you just love him? she ast Sofia point blank.
Sofia sigh. Put down her iron. Stare at Miss Eleanor Jane and Reynolds Stanley. All the time me and Henrietta over in the corner playing pitty pat. Henrietta act like Miss Eleanor Jane ain’t alive, but both of us hear the way the iron sound when Sofia put it down. The sound have a lot of old and new stuff in it.

No ma’am, say Sofia. I do not love Reynolds Stanley Earl. Now. That’s what you been trying to find out ever since he was born. And now you know.

Me and Henrietta look up. Miss Eleanor Jane just that quick done put Reynolds Stanley on the floor where he crawling round knocking stuff over. Head straight for Sofia’s stack of ironed clothes and pull it down on his head. Sofia take up the clothes, straighten them out, stand by the ironing board with her hand on the iron. Sofia the kind of woman no matter what she have in her hand it look like a weapon…
Too late to cry, Miss Eleanor Jane, say Sofia. All us can do now is laugh. Look at him, she say. And she do laugh. He can’t even walk and already he in my house messing it up. Did I ast him to come? Do I care whether he sweet or not? Will it make any difference in the way he grow up to treat me what I think?

I don’t feel nothing about him at all. I don’t love him, I don’t hate him. I just wish he couldn’t run loose all the time messing up folks stuff.

All the time! All the time! say Miss Eleanor Jane. Sofia, he just a baby. Not even a year old. He only been here five or six times.

I feel like he been here forever, say Sofia.

I just don’t understand, say Miss Eleanor Jane. All the other colored women I know love children. The way you feel is something unnatural.

I love children, say Sofia. But all the colored women that say they love yours is lying. They don’t love Reynolds Stanley any more than I do. But if you so badly raise as to ast ’em, what you expect them to say? Some colored people so scared of whitefolks that they claim to love the cotton gin.