Alice Walker is a versatile writer that has written brilliant works in several genres of literature. This article will explore some of her novels and short stories. It is not an exhaustive list of all her novels but a list of her works that encapsulate the essence of her writing as a novelist and storyteller.
The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970)
Alice Walker’s debut novel, published in 1970, ‘The Third Life of Grange Copeland,’ follows the life of a poor Georgian sharecropper Grange Copeland who spirals deeper into poverty despite working hard. He eventually leaves his family behind and runs away to start a new life up North.
Grange’s son, Brownfield, also begins to head up North after declining a loan from a white landowner. In Brownfield’s sojourn, he meets a brothel runner called Josie, who lives with her daughter Lorene and a niece called Mem from her deceased sister. Brownfield takes a liking to Mem and marries her to Josie’s disapproval.
Brownfield physically abuses and eventually kills Mem and is jailed for an arbitrary seven years.
Grange Copeland, on his part, returns to Georgia after an unfulfilling voyage in the North and must begin a third life with the pieces of his shattered family. The novel explores themes of family, violence, race, and poverty in the American South.
This second novel by Alice Walker chronicles the interplay between personal battles and the collective struggles of the Civil Rights Movement in the lives of Americans from different social backgrounds.
We see the eponymous character Meridian Hill who joins the Civil Rights Movement while trying to get a fresh start in life, being a mother and a divorcee at a young age; Truman Held, who goes back and forth between abandoning the cause of the Civil Rights Movement and fighting for it; and Lynne whose motivations for joining the cause are put to the test for her white identity.
In ‘Meridian,’ Alice Walker creates a strong female protagonist whose dedication to fighting for a collective cause for her people remains unwavering in the face of a movement hijacked by motivations that oppose her convictions and personal struggles of failing health and a turbulent love life.
The Color Purple (1982)
‘The Color Purple’ is Alice Walker’s third and most famous novel, for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983, becoming the first African-American woman to win the prize. The 1982 classic is a story of triumph over physical and emotional abuse.
The protagonist of the novel is Celie, an African-American who had been subjected to perennial years of rape and emotional abuse by her father and later by her husband as a teenage girl and as a woman. But later in life, through loving friendship and solidarity with good women in her life, she finds the courage and strength to rise above all the bitter circumstances in her life and find beauty and peace in her own spirit.
The Temple of my Familiar (1989)
This 1989 novel by Alice Walker explores socio-political and personal issues of people in society from the lives of various characters. The novel has a multi-faceted story that explores themes of identity, race, gender, politics, and interpersonal relationships.
It focuses on characters like Zede, a gifted seamstress from a poor Latin American home who is imprisoned for being a Communist but escapes and flees to the United States after having a daughter in prison whom she names Carlotta; Carlotta who embraces the identity of an American and marries a rock star named Arveyda but flees distraught to her Latin American roots when her husband and mother betray her by having an affair; Arveyda, a second-generation immigrant rockstar who tries to find links to his past; Suwelo, a divorcee and professor of American History who concludes that Black men have failed Black women; and a mysterious being Lissie who has lived many lives in many historical eras.
The characters Celie and Shug from ‘The Color Purple’ also feature in this novel as the grandmothers of Fanny, Suwelo’s ex-wife. Both characters share insights from lessons life and experience have taught them. And like Celie, Fanny begins a journey of finding herself and healing from the psychological wounds of Suwelo’s unfaithfulness and toxic masculinity.
By the Light of My Father’s Smile (2005)
This Alice Walker’s 2005 novel is a strong-themed fiction about how daughters’ relationships with their fathers ultimately affect their sexuality. Alice Walker incorporates spiritual dimensions in the story by adding characters that are in the afterlife in the narrative.
The novel follows two sisters, Susannah and Magdalena, and their father, who is an African-American Anthropologist, as they move from the USA to a village in the Sierras of Mexico to study a Mundo Indian Tribe that is believed to be going into extinction.
Susannah and Magdalena’s relationship with each other and with their father is broken, and in their individual efforts to find freedom and a richer enjoyment of sexuality, they must mend their broken relationships with each other and with their dead father in the afterlife.
To Hell with Dying (1968)
In this short story, we are introduced to Mr. Sweet Little by a narrator. Mr. Sweet is an alcoholic guitar player who lives across the street from the narrator’s childhood home. Mr. Sweet suffers from diabetes and would sometimes send for the narrator’s father to come to see him, insisting that he is dying. The narrator’s father would always say to Mr. Sweet, ‘’To hell with Dying…These children want Mr. Sweet’’ and the narrator would play with Mr. Sweet until he’d begin to laugh.
The narrator then tells readers about Mr. Sweet’s life. Mr. Sweet was once an ambitious boy but could not pursue his ambitions due to racial barriers against black males. So he becomes a fisherman and plays guitar as a passion. He has a wife named Miss Mary and a son named Joe Lee. Miss Mary dotes on and spoils Joe Lee even though he steals and womanizes.
Mr. Sweet gets up to the age of ninety years and later dies with the narrator and her father with him at his bedside. The narrator then remarks on how Mr. Sweet had been her first love.
‘To Hell with Dying’ was Alice Walker’s first published fiction work and was acclaimed for giving a voice to the less-represented black Community of the South while exploring themes of race, friendship, mortality, and the power of a child’s kiss.
In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973)
A short story collection by Alice Walker was published in 1973. One of the most popular stories in the collection is ‘’Everyday Use’’. ‘Everyday Use’ is a story about an aging African-American woman called Mama who has two very different daughters. Her younger daughter is Maggie, who is shy and very self-conscious about the scars she got from burns when their former house caught fire. She can barely read but lives contentedly with her mother in their humble rural home.
Dee, on the other hand, is a beautiful and accomplished lady. She has a college education and is so refined beyond her background that her mother dreams of uniting with her on a television show where they’d talk about children who have ‘’made it in life’’.
Dee writes to Mama that she is visiting home, and Mama prepares in anticipation. When Dee eventually visits, we see issues of identity at play within the family. Dee refuses to identify with her family roots as her heritage but takes a rather shallow and tinseled approach to her ‘’Africanness’’. She changes her name to Wangero, which she believes makes her more African, refusing the name Dee which women in her family had been named for many generations. She collects sentimental family heirlooms just to be used for display in her home without appreciating the essence of the stories behind them.
The story climaxes when Dee asks to take a quilt made from pieces with very sentimental value to her family. Mama refuses to give the quilt to Dee and prefers to give it to Maggie. Dee is outraged that Maggie is only going to put the quilt to everyday use as opposed to her that would simply hang it for display. Mama prefers to have Maggie take the quilt for everyday use than have Dee use it for shallow aesthetic purposes and so insists on giving Maggie the quilt.
The general message of the story is that one’s identity is something practical that should be used in one’s daily life and not as a shallow aesthetic display.
The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart (2000)
Published in the year 2000, it is a collection of short stories with hints of autobiographical details about Alice Walker’s life and insights into personal relationships and socio-political dynamics in America from the 1960’s down the decades.
The first story in the collection is ”To My Young Husband’’ which is a letter from her daughter detailing a failed marriage that started on a loving and happy note. It talks about how Alice Walker’s identity as a black woman and her ex-husband’s identity as a Jewish man and the social issues surrounding those identities affected their marriage in the racially divided Deep South of the 1960s. However, Alice Walker remained thankful for everything, both happy and unhappy, that she got from that ten years of marriage.
The other stories after the first one are spinoffs with various ‘’What if’’ scenarios from the first story.
Some of the stories are set in contemporary times, while others are set in the historical past in order to reflect on the changes in racial tensions and stereotypes over the decades.
What happened to Alice Walker when she was 8?
When Alice Walker was eight years old, she was accidentally shot in the eye while playing with her brother, and the injury led to her eye being blinded.
Who is Alice Walker’s daughter?
Alice Walker’s daughter is Rebecca Walker. She is a vocal feminist and author. She is Alice Walker’s only child and was born in 1969 when Alice Walker was married to Jewish Attorney Melvyn Leventhal.
How did Alice Walker become blind?
Alice Walker became blind in her right eye because her brother accidentally shot her in the eye with a dart, and the injury led to permanent blindness in that particular eye.
What is Alice Walker’s most popular book?
Alice Walker’s most popular book is her 1982 novel ‘The Color Purple’ for which she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction in 1982. The novel was made more popular with numerous adaptations in Hollywood, including the 1985 film ‘The Color Purple’ directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Warner Bros Pictures, and numerous musical adaptations with the same title.