Self-Identity to Self-Acceptance: Implications of the Mother-Daughter Relationship in Alice Walker's Writings
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Donna H. Winchill
Louis L. Henry
A. Dewayne Brooks
Almost all of Alice Walker's critics preface an analysis of her works by acknowledging her complex treatment of the black family, particularly her emphasis on matriarchal roles in sustaining the family unit. In her autobiographical essays, Walker frequently mentions the effect of maternal behavior on children's values and self-esteem in the black family. In Walker's view, the personal well-being of many blacks today is directly related to the determination of their mothers. Perhaps because of the special mother-daughter relationships Walker enjoys, images of mothers and daughters are prevalent in her fiction and poetry as well as in her essays. This thesis traces Walker's changing attitudes toward being both a daughter and a mothe, as she has expressed them in her non-fiction, poems, short stories, and novels. Using excerpts from Walker's essays and published interviews as evidence, it argues that Walker's perception of the value and significance of these roles changed as a result of such adult events as her experiences at college, her activism in civil rights and feminism, and especially the birth of her daughter. Traditional black women appear frequently as protagonists in Walker's early works, from In Love and Trouble (1969) through Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful (1979). Generally these women are mothers whose main concern is for their children's welfare. They are usually portrayed as devout, humble, and willing to sacrifice personal comfort for a chance to improve the quality of their children's lives. ln essays and poetry of this period, Walker frequently speaks out in praise of and gratitude for the efforts of these women, the unrecognized artists she feels are responsible for the survival of the black community. Many of Alice Walker's writings during the 1970s depict tension in mother-daughter relationships, her own and those of her fictional characters. While contemporary black women often enjoy a better quality of life than their mothers Walker concludes that educational and financial differences ultimately complicate the mother-daughter relationship. There are three major aspects to Walker's fictional treatment of pregnancy and mothering: the effects of abortion on a woman's life; mothering as a woman's central role; and the burdens inherent in mothering. Generally, her earlier stories encourage child-rearing and emphasize the benefits (power, companionship) of mothering. These stories also stress the moral conflict and social stigma attached to the decision to abort a pregnancy. In her second collection of short stories, Walker's views of both abortion and mothering change markedly. In these later stories, Walkers protagonists value abortion as a source of "control" over their lives and often view motherhood as secondary to their more important personal need to achieve independence and professional goals. But even these reluctant mothers recognize and appreciate the experience of having children and the maturity and insight they feel childbirth in-stills. Alice Walker's own attitude toward motherhood, as gleaned from her autobiographical essays, suggests that she, like the protagonist in her second novel, Meridian, changed her mind about the value of motherhood. In her early twenties, Walker frequently expressed uncertainty about the compatibility of child-rearing and career-building. Writings published after her daughter's birth in 1970, though, often assert that children can positively contribute to a woman's creativity and sense of self-esteem. Walker's latest published writings, such as the 1983 essay "Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self," introduce her revised view of the child as an invaluable "gift." As Walker matured, familial companionship and connection became more important than identifying points of dissension with her mother or protecting her privacy and professional goals from the disruption caused by a dependent child.
Kennedy, Susan Elizabeth, "Self-Identity to Self-Acceptance: Implications of the Mother-Daughter Relationship in Alice Walker's Writings" (1987). Archived Theses. 167.