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In Search Of Our Mother's Gardens

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In Search of Our Mother's Gardens

The essay "In Search of Our Mother's Gardens" by contemporary American novelist Alice Walker is one that, like a flashbulb, burns an afterimage in my mind. It is an essay primarily written to inform the reader about the history of African American women in America and how their vibrant, creative spirit managed to survive in a dismal world filled with many oppressive hardships. This piece can be read, understood, and manage to conjure up many emotions within the hearts and minds of just about any audience that reads it. However, Walker targets African American women in today's society in an effort to make them understand their heritage and appreciate what their mothers and grandmothers endured to preserve it.

Throughout the essay, Walker paints many disturbing pictures to get the point across to the reader that African American women in the past were unbelievably strong individuals. They were so oppressed in life that even as artistically talented as they were, they were not allowed to express that talent and allow their creative spark to flourish. In the opening paragraph, Walker discusses black women who "stumbled blindly through their lives: creatures so abused and mutilated in body, so dimmed and confused by pain, that they considered themselves unworthy even of hope" (p 694). Walker explains the labeling of these women as "Saints." "Instead of being perceived as whole persons, their bodies became shrines: what was thought to be their minds became temples suitable for worship"(p 695). In other words, these "Saintly" women were geniuses with no outlet for their creative spirit; "they were Creators, who lived lives of spiritual waste, because they were so rich in spirituality- which is the basis of Art- that the strain of enduring their unused and unwanted talent drove them insane" (p 695). This passage is where the first evidence that Walker is targeting black women comes in. She asks, "Who were these Saints?" The next line she answers her own question: "Some of them, without a doubt, were our mothers and grandmothers" (p 695). She is targeting black women here when she uses the word "our." She is obviously not talking about my grandmother. I am a white female; my grandmother endured no such hardships in the course of her life. There are several other examples where it is obvious that Walker is targeting black women. She asks the reader to "imagine the voices of Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, and Aretha Franklin to be muzzled for life" (p 696). These women were all African American singers. On page 698, she states that "Black women are called, in the folklore that so aptly identified one's status in society, "the mule of the world." Immediately following that sentence, she uses the word "we" to describe other names given to black women in the past.

Like it was previously stated, the author is primarily targeting black women to encourage them to appreciate what their female ancestors suffered through to keep their heritage and spirit alive. However, Walker may have also had the intent to inform other audiences what it was like to be an African American woman in history. To accomplish her aims, she used certain types of style and tone that were very effective. Her stylistic approach was the use of many different examples. She tells the heartbreaking tale of little Phillis Wheatley, a "sickly, frail black girl" who was taken from her home as a small child to live and die as a slave in America. She includes a short passage written by poet Jean Toomer, in which he speaks to a black prostitute who falls asleep while he encourages her to express her artistic spirituality in a different way. She describes why these oppressed black women were named "Saints," and at the conclusion of her essay, she uses her own mother as an example, and her own questions about her mother's ability to keep her creative spirit alive throughout her everyday struggles.

Her tone was easily distinguished; as a reader I could tell when Walker was angry or sympathetic about a particular subject. For instance, when telling the story of Phillis Wheatley, the reader can see that she is saddened and considerate as to why Phillis wrote about her master, the "goddess," in the way that she did:

But at last, Phillis, we understand. No more snickering when your stiff, struggling, ambivalent lines are forced on us. We know now that you are not an idiot or a traitor; only a sickly little black girl, snatched from your home and country and made a slave; a woman who still struggled to sing the song that was your gift, although in a land of barbarians who praised you for your bewildered tongue. It is not so much what you sang, as that you kept alive, in so many of our ancestors, the notion of song (p 698).

It is apparent that Walker feels compassion for Phillis in this passage. Her tone was very effective in letting the reader know her emotional feelings toward a certain topic, and encourages the reader to become emotional about the subject as well.

After reading and understanding the hardships of the African American women

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