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An Analysis of Major Themes in A. Walker’s “The Welcome Table” Essay

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Updated: Feb 6th, 2022

Alice Walker’s critically acclaimed short story The Welcome Table portrays life in America during the 1960s, a symbolic time for the African-American population. The nation was largely divided with the black communities resisting racial segregation and the dominant groups promoting white supremacy and repelling against the ideas of equality. With the use of symbolism, imagery, and a slightly mournful tone, the author depicts the last journey of an old black woman as she struggles to find peace. After being forbidden to enter an all-white Church, she finds solace in Jesus Christ and dies. The story is an allegory of American society at large, where even the Church becomes an instrument of racism and oppression. It further alludes to the notion that humans are all created equal in God’s eyes and one can find that true faith must prevail over a person’s surroundings.

The main character of the story, an old African-American woman is a symbol of all the oppressed members of the Black community that have suffered humiliation and prejudice. Walker notes that “they gazed nakedly upon their fear transferred; a fear of dying black and the old, a terror of the unknown as well as of the deeply known.” This metaphor that refers to the woman’s eyes clearly illustrates how the Black elderly community was met with ingrained fear during uncertain times when social structures within society were being transformed.

Furthermore, the theme of oppression and injustice is expressed through the unorthodox portrayal of the Church. Historically the Church has promoted values of race and gender equality, where one can come and pray for salvation regardless of their ethnic or social background. Here, however, the Church is a secluded, secular institution where members carefully select unwanted guests. Walker writes: “It was the ladies who finally did what to them had to be done. Daring their burly indecisive husbands to throw the old colored woman out they made their point.” With this description, she shows how the white ladies view themselves above the black woman, assuming they have more privilege.

Walker’s short story further illustrates the theme of the afterlife and finding peace and harmony in faith. Death is depicted not so much using the usual grim and dark tone, however in a light-hearted manner, as the woman is both inspired and delighted when she meets Jesus. Walker describes “when they passed her house, forlorn and sagging, weather-beaten and patched…she did not even notice it, she was so happy to be out walking along the highway with Jesus.” The house in this passage represents the burden of her life’s problems. They are instantly made invisible and irrelevant when the woman’s faith in the Lord is strengthened. It remains unclear up to the end whether the woman has died because she is at peace when walking alongside Jesus Christ.

The Welcome Table is a story of both fear and faith as well as exclusion and the feeling of belonging. The author has used the exhausted black women of age as a symbol for the many years the black populations have suffered from injustice and social inequality that were part of nearly all societal spheres. The arduous life cycles of these black minority group members are portrayed through the character of a strong yet fatigued black woman, who embarks on her last life journey. Despite living in the same community for her whole life and diligently serving the people of that community, she is excluded from the Church where she hopes to find protection in her last hours. The white churchgoers approach the woman with fear and see her as a threat, further perpetuating ideas of oppression and racism. In turn, she is at peace when Jesus Christ calls on her because her faith has let her rise above the rigid and unjust societal structures.

Work Cited

Walker, Alice. “The Welcome Table.” Connections: Guide to First-Year Writing at Clayton State University, edited by Mary R. Lamb and Patricia A. Smith, 9th ed., Fountainhead Press, 2013, pp. 220–223.

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IvyPanda. 2022. "An Analysis of Major Themes in A. Walker’s "The Welcome Table"." February 6, 2022. https://ivypanda.com/essays/an-analysis-of-major-themes-in-a-walkers-the-welcome-table/.

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