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Alice Walker and Patricia Smith Works: Literature Comparison Research Paper


Introduction

With the passage of time, the remarkable trend with racism seems to be that it will become less visibly violent and more of a silent atrocity. The attitudes and ideas remain the same in the minds of the affected parties, albeit somewhat watered down with permissiveness that is prevalent in the society. Nevertheless, the various races can live more socially and amicably together. Moreover, as the passage of time demolishes social boundaries that initially would have been taboo to cross, people from various races come to the realization that they are more similar than different in terms of being human and that skin color is a very superficial basis of underestimating any person. This situation is more apparent to people who really live closely with each other such as inter-racial couples in marriage or other mixed race companionships (Hardy, & Style, 1993, p. 3). The rest of the society that does not interact directly with the other race retains its dogmatic views based on stereotypes of race. In the end, they never achieve true harmony.

This disharmony is a result of the lack of a healthy and unreserved interaction that would have been instrumental in quelling the ridiculous ideas people have based on race (Clugston, 2010, p. 7). Consequently, as time passes by together with degeneration of the initial unabashed awe that is held by the inferiors of the superiors’ qualities into a loathing with time, it becomes apparent that those they hold in such high esteem in turn regard them as being less than perfect. This case confirms their feelings of insecurity, which breeds a sense of rebellion (Robin, 1986, p. 45). This rebellion, which ironically is often at the point of a level of acceptance of the ‘inferior tag’ stuck on one race, is beautifully captured in the last stanzas of Patricia Smith’s Short Poem What it’s Like to Be a Black Girl (for Those of You Who Aren’t). This paper shall briefly compare the works of Walker The Welcome Table and Patricia Smith’s What it’s Like to Be a Black Girl in the context of race and ethnicity by looking into the content, form, and the style used by the respective authors.

Analysis and comparison by content, form, and style

Every society that is characterized by a mixture of racial interfaces is prone to a level of conflict that usually arises when some of the characters in the society esteem themselves as superior by virtue of their race and ethnicity, consequently ranking the rest of the people that inhabit the society as being inferior. Interestingly, the discrimination, classification, or stratification that has been most enduring and transient through time has been between being black and being white (Walker, 2003, p. 49). Patricia Smith’s short poem is very moving and very raw. At first glance, it appears simple and basic. However, on subsequent reviews, it gives a new dimension to the reader’s understanding of what Patricia tried to communicate so precisely. Briefly, the first explanation she gives is, “First of all, it’s being 9 years old and feeling like you’re not finished, like your edges are wild, like there’s something, everything, wrong” (Smith Lines 1-4).

This stanza is a depiction of the feeling of unworthiness that is attached to being black that begins from a very tender age. While growing up, it is normal for adolescents of all races to have insecurities. However, with black teenagers, this search for one’s identity is further compounded with having to consider that, they are not white on top of the pimples, baby fat, and drama in their personal lives. This case is epitomized as the ideal state to be. The current compilation of society members usually comprises descendants of the initial occupants of that region. The outstanding tendency with racism seems to be that, with the passage of time, it becomes less visibly violent and more of a silent atrocity. The mind-set and dreams remain in the minds of the victims. However, they can live more collectively and cordially as one. However, as time goes by coupled with the deterioration of the original shameless fearfulness that held by the weak of the superiors’ quality into a disgust issue, it becomes evident that the individuals they place in such high regard in turn look upon them as being less than ideal.

This assertion is an evidence of their feelings of timidity and the proliferation of a sense of insurgence. This brief explanation of the pattern of racism is best depicted in the composition and socialization of the United States of America, which is the hub of all diversity, but which is also one of the biggest victims of racism. While still in the context of the United States, it is important to look into the origin of racial scruples between whites and blacks. Such an analysis turns the researcher to the era of slavery in which black people who the white masters used and owned for labor. They were known for their strength and resilience in extremely harsh living conditions, which in turn led to their centuries of bondage under the white population.

This slavery era has led to the misconception held by white people of the black people’s limited capacities as human beings (Racism in America, 2002). When white masters in the south discovered that a black person could read, it is interesting that they were aghast and taken aback by such a possibility. An objective review of this history does not substantiate any of the misinformation held by either race of the respective races. Instead, it depicts those who hold such ideologies as being uninformed and subjectively biased on the basis of an unfounded variable, which is the color of one’s skin.

The poem is much systematic as this sense of inadequacy advises the next stanzas, which says, “its dropping food coloring/ in your eyes to make them blue and suffering/ their burn in silence. It’s popping a bleached/ White mophead over the kinks of your hair and/ Primping in front of mirrors that deny your reflection” (Smith Lines 4-9). Because of the shame one feels for having very kinky hair, such a teenager would try her level best to measure up to her white colleagues’ perfection by imitating their looks. This probably explains all the hair extensions and other fake hair that floods the European market, as the various races make an attempt at conforming to what they feel is superior. This point is somewhat complex especially if viewed in the light of the Africans’ reaction to Europeans during and after the scramble and partition of Africa.

Of particular emphasis is South Africa based on how it has reacted to the Apartheid rule of their British colonizers. South African women wear their natural hair and shun any chemicals or styling that makes their hair appear like white women’s hair in any way. Perhaps the explanation for this distinction is that, in Africa, the whites were the minorities while the Africans were the majority. Consequently, they maintained their individuality in a bid to defy the westernization that was being preached to them by people who exercised imperialism over them. On the other hand, blacks that are on the European soil have no sense of original belonging. As such, they try to adapt to the majorities’ ways of life as well as perceptions, which they do really well until the subject of race comes up, with the role of the victim and aggressor being taken by respective races.

On the other hand, The Welcome Table by Walker is a short story that revolves around the Montgomery unsung hero that was Georgia Gilmore (1920-1990). The Welcome Table begins my stating that the author’s take on the civil era when he thinks back to the era, which according to him, was not the Civil war in 1964 but the struggle that culminated in the winning of that war and hence the lives of the major players prior to the actual war. He states that, of particular interest to him, are not the actual signatories of the agreement that would be a major milestone in enforcing the integration of the black and white society. Rather, he upholds the less recognized members of the society such as Georgia Gilmore whose major contribution was the food and spirit of fellowship that she created and disseminated among the black and white folk without discrimination.

She was responsible for starting the “club from nowhere”, which simply by selling snacks to the members of the MIA (Montgomery Improvement Association), made the most substantial contributions for fund for the association. Each time when the club’s president stood to announce the realized funds, the house would rise in jubilation for its net contributions. Moreover, she was confident in her position as a black woman since she worked at the National Lunch Company, which was responsible for serving lunches to all Montgomery folk including the black and white despite the requisite ‘at least seven feet’ barrier that separated the races. When she testified in the King’s (Martin Luther Jr.) trial after the 1978 Bus Boycott, she was candid and true as her testimony led to her being fired at the National Lunch Company.

Nevertheless, the king sponsored her into starting her own business, which would be the source of true fellowship and integration in Montgomery. In her humble home, which was her primary place of business, she made meals for presidents such as Jefferson and Robert Kennedy and fed Martin Luther King Jr. more often than not. She is remembered for her equal treatment of all those who went to her home. This meant name-calling at every opportunity. For instance, heifer and whore were a common feature in her vocabulary. When she passed on in 1990, the Friends’ Supper Club was convened in her honor. The honoring plan subsists even to date. The issue of race is evident in the story.

Walker’s position throughout the story is that food could be the solution to the many race-based issues that have continued to threaten the lives of people. He uses the example of Randall Williams’ eldest son Horace to show how he became integrated into this amicable environment from birth, which has culminated in his complete acceptance of white and black folks as one. On the contrary, despite having experienced the benefit of food supply throughout the races, Morris Dees who holds the position of the director in the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) does not believe that food can be the solution to racial differences between blacks and whites.

Comparison between Walker’s and Smith’s works

By content, the short poem by Smith is an expression of the plight of being a black girl in a white society. It is fraught with anger and frustration, with evident attempts to confirm racism issues. It is filled with compromises that could be destructive to one’s sense of self-worth, as expressed in the lines, “it’s learning to say fuck with grace but learning to fuck without it (Smith Lines 16-17). Moreover, it also encapsulates the plight of being a woman in the society, which looks down upon women as being the weaker or inferior sex as expressed by the stanzas on whistles from men based on a girl’s puberty-related developments and the satisfaction of having a man under her spell in the end. By comparison, The Welcome Table’s expression of racism is neither bitter nor self-pitying. Rather, it is more of a record of resilience and an awareness of personal worth as a woman.

A better comparison is arrived at when the analysis narrows down to a direct review of the woman in Patricia Smith’s poem and the woman in Walker’s story. These are two apparently different women. However, one has to bear in mind that there is an age gap between them. In fact, the poem is somewhat vague on other attitudes and characteristics of its woman. It could well be that Georgia Gilmore felt these things as she grew up. Nevertheless, instead of becoming bitter and unproductive or discriminative herself, she chose the higher road. However, the “contempt in her eyes” (Edge, 2000, p. 3), as she testified in court at King’s trial, as well as her very direct and touching testimony of the bus driver’s treatment of ‘niggers’, is a depiction of what could have driven Patricia to write the work as she did.

The other difference between the poem and the short story is that the theme in the poem is sexuality whereas the moral is personality in the short story. Whereas the poem portrays a bit of personality, it is more about how the black girl and woman perceive themselves rather than how they react to their surroundings. It reflects the woman’s confusion and dissatisfaction in a personal way as though written by the one who experienced those things. On the other hand, Walker’s story is reported. It is not Georgia’s personal account but that of people around her who reported to her. Consequently, the reader gets a mental picture of the character as perceived by others and not from her own perception of herself.

Consequently, her activities in the society and her life are celebrated from a more wholesome perspective relative to the woman in Smith’s poem who just comes out as bitter and angry despite the fact that Patricia Smith has a lot of admirable qualities besides the ones portrayed in the poem. These qualities were a depiction of how she felt at the time. It is safe to say that both Patricia and Walker chose very fitting titles for their works, and that both works are highly artistic and expressive of each of the author’s perceptions.

The most prominent style used by Patricia is hyperbole in the stanza on “legs popping out because of playing too much ‘double dutch’” (Smith Stanza 12). Walker uses metaphors and allusion a lot, for example when he refers to the insignia outside Georgia Gilmore’s house and the various landmark events in Montgomery. Patricia also uses allusion when she talks about Motown. The two authors use the artistic privilege of including otherwise scandalous words in their writing, with Patricia using the word “Fuck” twice (Smith Stanzas 16 and 17) and Walker using “heifer and whore” as the direct quotes of Georgia Gilmore’s name calling, (Edge, 2000, p. 2). The work by Walker is in the form of a short story while Patricia Smith’s work is a short poem.

Conclusion

This paper has carried out a brief review of the literary works What it’s Like to Be a Black Girl (for Those of You Who Aren’t) by Patricia Smith and The Welcome Table by Walker. The two stories are a representative of the phenomenon of racism and ethnicity in the society. However, it is worth noting that, although somewhat backdated, they reflect the salient attitudes towards race as a major factor in the modern society. The authors have used very elaborate and concise methods to depict their thoughts and feelings or attitudes towards race. The effect is an understanding of personal suffering faced by the people whose plight is to belong to a minority group, as well as the depiction of a possible solution to the differences that exist due to race.

Reference List

Clugston, R. (2010). Journey into Literature. San Diego, California: Bridgepoint Education.

Edge, T. (2000). The Welcome Table. New York: The Oxford American.

Hardy, A., & Style, S. (1993). A Poetics of Immediacy: Oral narrative and the short story. Academic Search Premier, 27(1), 3.

Racism in America. (2002). allaboutpopular issues.com. Retrieved from www.allaboutpopularissues.org/racism-in-america-

Robin, P. (1986). Being Black and Female, an analysis of literature. Cambridge: Massachussetts Institute of Technology.

Walker, A. (2003). In search of our Mother’s Gardens. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.

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IvyPanda. (2020, May 22). Alice Walker and Patricia Smith Works: Literature Comparison. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/alice-walker-and-patricia-smith-works-literature-comparison/

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"Alice Walker and Patricia Smith Works: Literature Comparison." IvyPanda, 22 May 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/alice-walker-and-patricia-smith-works-literature-comparison/.

1. IvyPanda. "Alice Walker and Patricia Smith Works: Literature Comparison." May 22, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/alice-walker-and-patricia-smith-works-literature-comparison/.


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IvyPanda. "Alice Walker and Patricia Smith Works: Literature Comparison." May 22, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/alice-walker-and-patricia-smith-works-literature-comparison/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "Alice Walker and Patricia Smith Works: Literature Comparison." May 22, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/alice-walker-and-patricia-smith-works-literature-comparison/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'Alice Walker and Patricia Smith Works: Literature Comparison'. 22 May.

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