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In trying to un…

In trying to understand “Can the Subaltern Speak?” I tried to answer this question. They cannot.

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak talks about the way western cultures looks at other cultures in “Can the Subaltern Speak?”. From the beginning of “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Spivak says that western thinking is produced in order to support the west. Spivak says that knowledge is never innocent and that it expresses the interests of its producers. This is true of any history book, the good guy depends of what culture is presenting the text. Knowledge is exported from the west to the third world for financial and other types of gain to Spivak. This idea can be read in the quote: “The subaltern is thrown out of joint when his cultural macrology is operated, however remotely, by the epistemic interference with legal and disciplinary definitions accompanying the imperialistic [Western] project.”

The fact that the west is gathering information on the cultures in the third world country and taking that information back to the west, to be sold for the benefit of the western readers, and financial gain of the western writer is noted by Spivak. Spivak wonders if it can be possible for the west to speak about the “the other” without colonial the filter.

Through use of the Sati the subaltern is not able to speak: through “patriarchy and imperialism [Western ideology]…the figure of the woman [Subaltern] disappears…”

Donzell Evans


For the Colored Girl: Self-discovery and Wholeness

For the Colored Girl: Self-Discovery and Wholeness

By Tiffany McFadden

My response to Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens is more emotional than analytical. In all my academic years, I have never read an essay where I felt that the author was speaking directly to me. It is an essay made to encourage the colored girl to search for her creative abilities by exploring her own heritage and culture. In order to activate that spirituality that lives within her she must search her own mother’s creative–abilities or explore the creative works of Black American female artists.

Alice Walker, as the speaker, narrates with a very motherly and nurturing tone that seems to soothe and guide the reader through a story about self-discovery. Walker makes the case to the reader that the Black woman’s creativity was snatched and taken from her. Yet, by taking away her rights to learn or not giving her “the freedom to paint, to sculpt, to expand the mind with action” did not damper her spirituality. Through the years, the creativity of the Black woman would reveal itself in different forms: song, quilt making, and gardening.

I can relate to Walker’s idea of exploring her mother’s creative abilities in order to find her own creativity. The feeling of being abandoned by my mother has always left me with a feeling of emptiness and void. I have always felt that by learning more about my mother I would then discover more about myself. The reading seemed to evoke these feelings that I have internalized about my mother, and my desire to know her on a deeper level. Even though the reading plucked at my sentiments, Walker’s words filled the empty space in me with encouragement.  Now, I know that my desire to know my mother is a longing to have a better understanding of myself. And to have a better understanding of myself will help me to comprehend the passion I have for writing creatively.


Walker asked th…

Walker asked the question what did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmothers’ time.”  These women labored long, hard hours from sunup to sundown picking cotton in the fields. The luckier ones(often times the fairer-skinned ones) labored in the house tending to the master and mistress. These women bore many children, some of whom were auctioned off to the highest bidder. Too, they faced and succumbed to the sexual advances of their masters.  

Imagine for a moment our female children and grandchildren. How would they describe our lives? To begin, they would acknowledge our accomplishments and the countless trials we overcame in areas of education, entertainment, and our personal endeavors. They would say “Our mothers and grandmothers went to the best schools, became lawyers, doctors, and scientists. They were famous, had countless hit songs; won coveted awards. They won Olympics medals, made groundbreaking scientific discoveries.

Take for example Oprah’s accomplishments as a Black television hostess,  billionaire, and philanthropist. Or Condoleezza Rice, the first female African-American Secretary of State. Or even  Halle Berry, the first Black woman to win an Oscar.

On the other hand though, our children and grandchildren might say that we’ve shame the image of the Black woman, that we’ve taken creativity to an entirely different dimension. Take a look at the rap videos, where women dance and gyrate half-naked.  Even R&B singers have ‘sexified’ their image, wearing more scandalous outfits. Yes, they are gifted and create beautiful music., but where’s the creativity?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

I wonder what our grand children and great-grand children might say about their mothers and grandmothers. I also wonder how, as black woman, their lives will be.        



Keeping a Voice Alive

by Amber Laraque

Alice Walker’s “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,” discusses what the life of an artistic Black woman in the 18th century must have been like. She puts into perspective how difficult it was for a woman to be creative in the time, and reminds readers that it was nearly impossible for an enslaved Black woman.

Walker says, “How was the creativity of the black woman kept alive year after year and century after century, when for most of the years black people have been in America, it was a punishable crime for a black person to read or write?”

This question posed by Walkermade me think a lot. How did black women find it in themselves to share and keep their voice alive, after it had been suppressed for so long?

Furthermore,Walker asks the question, “What did it mean for a black woman to be an artist in our grandmothers’ time? In our great-grandmothers’ day?” Then goes on to say, “It is a question with an answer cruel enough to stop the blood.”

Walker refers to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own, and reminds readers that Woolf writes that a woman needs her own room and money to support herself in order to write fiction. Of course, at the time, Woolf was speaking of white women. With that said, how could a black woman think of writing fiction when she not only had no room of her own, but had no freedom?  

The reminders of the place of black women in this country’s history are eye opening. These are not new facts, or discoveries, but opened my mind into really understanding the strength and the power of the voice of black women—a voice that had been hushed for so long.

Walker & Rampersad: The African-American Writer Missrepresented

By Frank Miller

Over the weekend I read Arnold Rampersad’s “Biography and African-American Culture.” The article discusses how a biographer’s use of psychoanalysis allows him/her to successfully produce a biography; however Rampersad argues that a psychoanalytic approach not only misrepresents, but definitively hinders the most triumphant African-American figures of American culture. Though the article mentions the biographies of Frederick Douglass, MLK, Jr., and Richard Wright; it is Rampersad’s example of a W.E.B. DuBois passage in DuBois’ autobiography, Dusk if Dawn (1940) which is truly representative of the conflict African-Americans face. He writes:

It is as though one, looking out from a dark cave in a side of an impending mountain, sees the world passing and speaks to it; speaks courteously and persuasively….One talks on evenly and logically in this way, but notices that the passing throng does not even turn its head, or if it does, glances curiously and walks on. It gradually penetrates the minds of the prisoners that the people passing do not hear, that some thick sheet of invisible but horribly tangible plate glass is between them and the world [my italics]  (198).

Rampersad explains that because of the thick sheet of invisible plate glass, some become “hysterical” and “scream and hurl themselves against the barriers” (198). He states that some may even “break through in blood and disfigurement [my italics] and find themselves faced by a horrified, implacable, and quite overwhelming mob of people frightened for their very own existence” (198). Rampersad appears to be saying that African-Americans who perceive this “plate glass” to inhibit them, and act upon such inhibition by “breaking through,” ultimately become “disfigured.” In the passion of their frustration, they provide the world (who receives their agressive act unkindly) with a “distorted” view of who they truly are.

In Alice Walker’s “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,” the author seemingly speaks with similar frustration as she writes, “Black women are called, in the folklore that so aptly identifies one’s status in society, ‘the mule of the world,” (237) for the fact that they carry the burdens that all others have rejected. She mentions black women being labeled as “Matriarchs, Superwomen, Mean and Evil Bitches, Castraters” and “Sapphire’s Mama.” However, emphasizes that “[they] have pleaded for understanding, [their] character has been distorted” (237) in a manner paralleling those who “break through in blood and disfigurement.” In manner to similar to Anzaldúa in “Speaking in Tongues: A Letter To 3rd World Women Writers,” Walker seems to have actually broken or completely disregarded what makes some “hysterical.” She writes, “to be an artist and a black woman, even today, lowers our status in many respects, rather than raises it: and yet, artists we will be” (237).  To counter the thick sheet of invisible but horribly tangible plate glass that drowns voices, Walker reminds her audience of the strength of the African-American women before her, “it is well known that the majority of our great-grandmothers knew, even without ‘knowing’ it, reality of their spirituality, even if they didn’t recognize it beyond what happened in the singing of church – and they never had any intention of giving it up” (237-238). While contemplating the origins of the black woman’s creativity, Walker suggests that “often the truest answer to a question that really matters can be found very close” (238). She informs her audience that it is her mother’s passion, determination, and will to care for her children that exists as true creativity, and in a manner to similar to the quilt hanging in the Smithsonian Institution made by the “‘anonymous’ black woman from Alabama,” these women “left [their] mark in only materials [they] could afford…in the only medium [their] society allowed [them] to use” (239).

In today’s society in which many feel the answers to their questions lie hidden deep within some complex and nearly unattainable thought, Walker keeps us humble, reminding us to search in “our mothers’ gardens;” in essence, to venture for creativity in places both “high – and low” (239).

The Unsuccessful Stifling of the Female Slave

By MaryKate Schwerdt

The duality of woman has been echoed in almost every piece of theory we have read, the basic aspect of her duality being her residence in both the cultural and natural realms. Alice Walker excellently compares the creative process to child bearing by describing the silenced black female artist as having died “with their real gifts stifled within them;” just like woman is anatomically built for holding, nurturing, and birthing humans, she is spiritually built to do the same with ideas. 

Once Walker associates the artistic creative process with child carrying, it is only a short step to associate the creation of art with the natural. What is more of nature than the cycle of new life? Furthermore, what is more unstoppable than nature? Despite centuries of trying to triumph over mortality and escape great storms and earthquakes, every living thing must eventually die, cities and regions are still wiped out year after year. More relevant to this discussion, Walker explains the white man tried to stop the creative process of all women, but especially doubled down on female minorities. For black female slaves, both processes were suppressed because not only was it illegal for them to posses the literacy that is necessary for many types of art, like poetry, music, etc., but they were also denied the fruits of their womb since their children were often sold as property. However, the white male patriarchy was unsuccessful because, like nature, woman cannot be completely stifled, and the evidence is apparent in anonymous artworks in museums around the country. The expression of these emotions in art was inevitable because the oppressed woman used “the only materials she could afford, and in the only medium her position in society allowed her to use.” Nature carried on despite attempts to control it; generations of black women continued to create new bloodlines and new works of art.

Walker takes Cixous’ concept a bit farther by suggesting that this expression is not only inevitable, but healthy, and will result in severe consequences if silenced. Instead of Cixous’ case of the passive omission of woman from history, a simple absence or lack of proof of woman’s presence, Walker suggests a more literal violent effect will manifest. If the woman does not produce from what she intakes, she herself will become absent. This will occur especially in the shackled black female slave because she is denied all aspects of her duality; she cannot exist in the natural realm because she has no claim to her offspring, yet she cannot exist in the cultural realm because she is denied the opportunity to create and participate. Although Walker seems to claim woman as a whole cannot be stopped from creating, a single woman can. She describes the successfully suppressed woman as almost an invalid without spirituality, “driven to a numb and bleeding madness by the springs of creativity in them for which there was no release.” 

Just as mother and child will likely die if she never delivers the baby, just as she will suffocate if she never exhales, the metaphysical essence of the woman will die if there is no outlet for her creativity.

The Black Woman Artist: Silent and Invisible

“For these grandmothers and mothers of ours were not saints, but Artists; driven to a numb and bleeding madness by the springs of creativity in them for which there was the release.”

                                                                                                            -Alice Walker

                                                                                                In Search of Our Mother’s Garden

            Invisibility and silence of the black woman artist are themes that are portrayed in Alice Walker’s essay, “In Search of Our Mother’s Garden”. The invisibility goes further than the experiences that either black men or white women tell about in their writing. It is most difficult for a black woman writer because the oppression directed towards them is far more invisibly embedded than the oppression directed towards black males and white women. What I am trying to articulate is that the invisibility and silence is not only a product of racism but one of gender roles.

            White women; although of the same gender as a black woman lack the knowledge and experience of the political oppression directed toward the black woman. A black man is a man therefore there are less oppressing factors despite being of the black race. “Black women are called in the folklore that so aptly identifies one’s status in society, “the mule of the world”, because we have been handed the burdens that everyone else refused to carry.” (Walker, 237) In her essay, Alice Walker divulges how the economic, political, and social restraints of slavery and racism have affected the creative lives of Black women.

            The theme of dualism is represented in the discussion of Virginia Woolf’s and Phillis Wheathley’s literary works. These descriptions depict two great writers of different races facing different types of oppression. The white woman writer may have been criticized because of her themes of: sex, love, race, etc. while the black woman writer would’ve faced oppression for all that and for having “contrary instincts”. A black woman writer having “contrary instincts” can be explained by taking a look at what W.E.B. Du Bois coined as “double consciousness”; meaning that the person of the black race had two souls divided one being black and the other the American. Invisibility and silence of the black woman artist is a product of cultural imperialism where race is a higher oppressing factor than gender.