In Alice Walker’s book, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, there are many themes which all tug hard at the heart strings of the reader. Walker is known for exploiting important social items in her works, and this one is no different. This time, Walker deals with the long standing personal struggle of her primary character. Grange Copeland is the man at the center of the book and it is his own personal trip through life that makes the work go. Through the first 150 pages of the book, Copeland is shown going through many struggles and from those struggles, he becomes much stronger as a result.
In order to truly understand how Grange Copeland is changing his life for the better, the reader has to know exactly where he has been and what all he has been through. Alice Walker paints a very interesting picture of Grange Copeland in the early portion of the book. Copeland is a man who beats himself up entirely too much. Instead of trying to improve his life every day, the main character lets himself get into something of a rut. It is not exactly his fault that bad things are happening, though.
The main character’s personal circumstances are anything but desirable, which makes it much more difficult for him to manage his life. Much of that is due to the people around him, folks who will not let him live a life full of happiness and satisfaction. Instead, he is forced to live a life where everything that he does is torn down and everything that he loves is degraded. This is the overriding theme of the first 150 pages of the book, as the reader truly gets a clear portrait of all of the things that Copeland is forced to endure in order to just survive.
Alice Walker is very careful not to lead the reader on with her writing. From the very beginning of the work, there is little reason to feel good about the life of Grange Copeland. Instead, the book begins by introducing the reader to Grange and his family, which consists of a wife and a son. He is not having fun at the start with his family. Instead, his life is desolate. He is working as a sharecropper on a farm and things do not look like they are going to get better any time soon. The primary problem for Grange is not the fact that his life has poor circumstances.
Instead, his primary problem is that everyone who surrounds him will not let him forget about how low he is on the totem pole. When he goes to work, he has to act like he is completely inferior to everyone he works for. Walker paints a picture of Grange Copeland that might lead one to think that he is less than a man. Over the course of time, all of that poor treatment begins to weigh heavy on the character’s mind and he eventually begins to believe the worst about himself. Through those first 150 pages, the outlook for the book and for the character are completely bleak.
Like with many of Alice Walker’s books, there are some very obvious racial themes that must be addressed. Grange Copeland is a black man who is being put down by his white boss. Not only is he forced to work hard for a man who does not appreciate him, but each and every day, he is treated like a tool instead of a person. Grange also struggles with the idea of control and sometimes feels like he is not a real man. Much of this can be attributed to the racial tension that makes his work environment so difficult to deal with.
In the early part of the book, the reader finds out that Grange Copeland does not just let things go. He has to take his frustration out on someone, so the most obvious target is his own family. His family is really the only good thing in his life, and because of his struggle, he cannot even allow that situation to be good. Because he has been convinced to feel so inferior to everyone around him, Copeland even treats his wife and his son like they are dogs. In a way, he is just passing it on down the line.
One of the most important parts of the early portion of this book is when Grange finally decides that he has absolutely had more than he can stand. Like many people during his time, he made a break up to the north, where he expected things to be different. This is an important decision for Grange, because it signals the fact that he is no longer going to let someone else make him feel like less than a man. It was his way of standing up to that sort of treatment and making his own way, even if he did not completely understand what that meant or where he was going.
When Grange heads to New York, he felt like everything would change. When that did not happen, he started to realize that the only real change that was going to occur would need to happen within himself. With this realization, the reader begins to see the shift in mindset for Copeland and from there, he goes on to work on himself and how he feels about his situation. The tale of Grange Copeland is one that Alice Walker crafted in order to show that, simply put, sometimes the biggest obstacle in a person’s way is their own way of thinking.
The early part of the book shows a broken man who has been beaten down so badly by society that he has no choice other than breaking out of it. For Copeland, life would not have been worth living anymore if he did not make that break. Walker puts much of her focus on the family dynamic and how Grange Copeland’s situation impacted the very important people around him, which is an interesting thing. He did not want to be selfish in the book, but if he was going to survive, then it was time for him to make a change.
Grange’s eye-opening experience in the big city is one of the most important passages to both this book and the overall scope of history. It has implications that are far reaching on the issue of race and personal struggle. It shows that just because a person moves their own personal location, it does not necessarily mean that they are going to see everything get better. In the first part of the book, Walker shows that if a person wants their change, they have to make it.