lice Walker’s essay, In Search of Our Mother’s Garden, talks about her search of the African American women’s suppressed talent, of the artistic skills and talents that they lost because of slavery and a forced way of life. Walker builds up her arguments from historical events as well as the collective experiences of African Americans, including her own.
She uses these experiences to back up her arguments formed from recollections of various African American characters and events. Walker points out that a great part of her mother’s and grandmothers’ lives have been suppressed because of their sad, dark pasts. But all of these are not lost because somehow, these are manifested in even the smallest things that they do, and that they were also able to pass it down to the very people that they loved. Our search of our mother’s garden may end back to ourselves.
Walker builds up her argument by mentioning the experiences of other people in the essay. One of them is Jean Toomer, a poet in the early 1920s. He is a man who observed that Black women are unique because they possessed intense spirituality in them, even though their bodies endure every aspect of punishment in every single day of their lives. They were in the strictest sense Saints – crazy, pitiful saints. Walker points out that without a doubt, our mothers and grandmothers belong to this type of people.
By building up on the observations of Toomer, she was somehow able to show how hard it was to be a mother or a grandmother or even just a woman at that time, one reason perhaps is that they are black. The mothers and grandmothers at that time endured all of this without any hope that tomorrow will be different, be better. Because of this, they were not able to fully express themselves. They were held back by their society.
Another black character that she used to build her argument is Phillis Wheatley, a Black slave girl with a precarious health. Phillis is a poet and a writer at her own right, but unfortunately, she wasn’t able to do much with it because she was a slave. She didn’t have anything for herself, worse, she didn’t even own herself. Her futile attempts for self expression would be washed up by forced labor and pregnancies. She lost her health, and eventually her life without fully expressing herself through her gift for poetry.
Alice Walker used the story of Phillis to establish the understanding that indeed, African American women at that time were not allowed or didn’t have the luxury of time to exercise their gifts, to hone their talents and abilities, and use them to fully express themselves. By doing so, Walker proves that our mothers and grandmothers lived a boxed life back then, with no way to channel to them emotions and thoughts other than hard labor and forced servitude. She pointed out that we wouldn’t know if anyone of them would’ve bloomed to be poets, singers, actresses, because they never really had the chance to know what they can do.
By building up her argument using these two accounts, she is also presenting very strong evidence to her claim. These accounts were personal experiences of real African American people, and these are not just isolated cases. These are shared experiences not just by these two but by all of their people. Walker can confidently say that there is a lot of Phillis Wheatley in those times, perhaps including her mother and grandmothers. This is concrete evidence because it is not fictional, it is not imaginary, or something conceived out of Walker’s creativity. Slavery, forced pregnancies, poverty, and artistic suppression were the realities during the time of our grandmothers. No one can deny this, and no one can deny the existence of Phillis or the accounts of Jean Toomer.
Considering Alice Walker’s authority in her arguments, she could be considered as an expert, a reliable source of information on the topic. First off, she is an African American woman, who had her fair share of poverty in her childhood. She was born and raised by hardworking parents, who really had to work day and night to provide for their family. Also, she witnesses first hand that even though her mother may not be a poet or a novelist; she was an artist in the truest sense. Her artistic side is manifested in her gardens and the beautiful flowers that she grows. Alice Walker witnessed all of this, experienced first hand what it was like to be poor and seemingly talentless.
The accounts that Alice Walker used to prove her points and back up her arguments were African American history that she was all too familiar with. It may have been shared to her by her families, or simply a collective knowledge passed down from one generation to another. She is also well-educated, a wide reader, and an artist. She often cites Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, relating a white woman’s plight to a black woman’s hardships. She emphasizes that even though she recognizes Woolf’s point about society’s unfair treatment to women of her time, Walker still believes that black women suffered the most (Walker). There is simply nothing that could compare to the artistic suppression that her mother and grandmothers experienced.
In this essay, she is appealing to a general audience, with no specific race or ethnicity. I think this essay was written to highlight the African American women of her mother and grandmother’s time, who were unable to express their talents and hone it to its full potential. This essay is written to inform anyone and everyone reading it about their stories, and of her discovery of her mother’s garden. She was glad to know that it is possible for African American women to express themselves even unknowingly, that it is up to us to discover these “gardens.” She is appealing to the readers in general that even though some people like our mothers and grandmothers seem talentless or artistically inferior, it doesn’t mean that they really lack the talent. It just means that were not looking hard enough to find it.
Alice Walker’s method of using personal experience and historical accounts allow her to truthfully see and say what has really happened. She doesn’t have to make up hypothetical events because she already has a basis for her arguments. Jean Toomer’s recollections and Phillis Wheatley’s experiences are enough proof of her argument. If some people would disagree with what she’s saying, she can always go back to their experiences, to how Phillis suffered without fully using her gift, or what Toomer saw in the streets in the early Twenties.
But because of this, I think Walker is somehow limited to the sad and pitiful stories of the past. Well, in reality, most of the stories of African Americans were really sad and pitiful, but still, Walker failed to mention of any successful artist who rose from the ranks of slaves to write her own story. It is either this kind of story really didn’t exist at that time, or Walker just didn’t mention it, since it wasn’t the focus of
Alice Walker concluded her essay by saying that Phillis Wheatley’s mother was also an artist, and that the achievements of their daughters were in some way brought about by their mothers. Her conclusion states that the mother is somehow responsible in every achievement of their daughter. Any artistic output by a person is also a product of their mother. Indeed, their children are their best creations, their very own wonderful gardens. This conclusion is related to her method because it goes back to how Phillis Wheatley’s mother was somehow responsible for her daughter’s artistic sense, and that beyond the poverty and the hardships that our mothers and grandmothers experienced during their times, they were still able to artistically express themselves through their children, their very own wonderful gardens.