An Examination of Identity and Race Essay

Submitted By Carnette86
Words: 1980
Pages: 8

An Examination of Identity and Race in the selected works of Alice Walker and Patrice Smith
Steven Major
December 6, 2013
Instructor: Patrice Glenn
ENG 125 Introduction to Literature

The representation of race and ethnicity in literature almost always directly mirrors the current idea of race and ethnicity within society. This ability to accurately capture the mindset of a particular society, allows for a greater exploration of the topics broached by the writer on a particular subject. Often, this allows for the writer to provide a wider perspective on these topics in an effort to allow their works to be mirrors that can stimulate change. This style of writing requires both skill, so as to accurately capture the experience of their subjects, and caution, so as to not upset the sensibilities of the reader. Both Alice Walker’s “The Welcome Table” and Patricia Smith’s “What It’s Like to Be a Black Girl (For Those of You Who Aren’t)” prove that these writers can discuss race relations in a manner that both serves to entertain, but also to enlighten. The method by which this enlightenment is provided is quite different, however, but reaches the same conclusion nonetheless. While Walker chose to directly address the issue of race relations, i.e. the treatment of black people in a segregated area, Smith’s works provide insight into the black experience and examines the psychological effects of being black in a white world. This paper will seek to compare the search for identity in these two works and contrast the different approaches the authors took to vocalize this search, in addition to addressing how these works relate to providing understanding into the overall black experience in America. Upon reading both stories, one quickly recognizes the theme of self-identification that is seamlessly interwoven into the fabric of the works. Both the old woman and the girl struggle with finding their identities within their respective societies, and as a result, they are often faced with discrimination and intolerance by their white counterparts. In Walker’s story, the old woman becomes a symbol of the African-American race. Like many African-Americans of the time, she lives in poverty, but has a strong faith in God, which is why the setting of the story is within a church, and later transitions to a local road with the old woman being accompanied by Jesus. Walker reinforces this imagery in her description of the woman as being “the color of poor Gray Georgia earth,” (Walker, 1973, p.115). This description of the protagonist also alludes to the position of the woman in society as common and something not worthy of taking note of. To emphasize this, Walker leaves the protagonist unnamed throughout the story; instead, having other characters ironically refer to her by names usually reserved for loved ones. However, as the story unfolds, the reader quickly sees that the old woman is not surrounded by loved ones. Additionally, the description of the old woman as “gray” also raises some questions within the reader’s mind. Why gray and not black or brown? The gray could represent two things. First, the gray could represent a transitional color, from dark to light. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the old woman is located within a darker part of the spectrum, as realized by the harsh reaction to her presence in the church, although she is greeted with colloquial pleasantries reserved for older black women. Walker quickly indicates that these pleasantries are merely a cover-up of the white characters true feelings. As such, the reader is then privileged to witness the old woman’s transition into the lighter, more accepting side of things as she sees Jesus and walks with him along the road, until finally she dies and joins Him, presumably in heaven. On the other hand, the grayness of the woman could represent a person who is caught in the middle. In the old woman’s case, these two things can be the world in which she…