In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose

Part III

Part Three of In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens includes the following essays:

  • "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens"
  • "From an Interview"
  • "A Letter to the Editor of Ms."
  • "Breaking Chains and Encouraging Life"
  • "If the Present Looks Like the Past, What Does the Future Look Like?"
  • "Looking to the Side, and Back"
  • "To The Black Scholar"
  • "Brothers and Sisters"

Part three addresses black women coping with self-worth and self-respect. It offers encouragement to future generations of Black men and women. Walker begins part III with a poem by Marilou Awiakta, "Motheroot." In this section of the collection Walker is on a mental journey seeking ways to uplift the Black race. Along this exploration she uses literature of other Black poets and writers to gain a deeper insight on Black women in their era, which assisted Walker in understanding society in her era.

In the opening of "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens", Walker quotes from Jean Toomer's Cane, taking note that in early literature by black men, black women were seen has hopeless and characterized as mere sex objects. "I asked her to hope, and build up an inner life against the coming of that day…I sang, with a strange quiver in my voice, a promise song."[14] Walker says black women did not have the opportunity to pursue their dreams because they were given the main responsibility of raising children, obeying their husbands, and maintaining the household: "Or was she required to bake biscuits for a lazy backwater tramp, when she cried out in her soul to paint watercolors of sunsets, or the rain falling on the green and peaceful pasturelands? Or was her body broken and forced to bear children."[15] Walker personalizes these women by referring to them as "our mothers and grandmothers".[16] Toomer felt that black women were unhappy and felt unloved. Both Walker and Toomer felt that black women were not allowed to dream, yet alone pursue them. "They were Creators, who lived lives of spiritual waste, because they were so rich in spirituality, which is the basis of art, that the strain of enduring their unused and unwanted talent drove them insane".[15] Walker proceeds in saying how oppression has caused many talented black women to go unnoticed or unheard of. Walker cites Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone, Roberta Flack, and Aretha Franklin to note talent lost among the black race and culture.

Additionally, Walker refers to Virginia Woolf's, A Room of One's Own and writer Phillis Wheatley; Walker compares both artists conveying that all of Woolf's fears were Wheatley's reality; due to restraints all of Woolf's goals were unachievable for Wheatley. Woolf writes, "any woman born with a great gift in the sixteenth century would certainly have gone crazed, shot herself, or ended her days in some lonely cottage outside the village, half witch, half wizard, feared and mocked at. For it needs little skill and psychology to be sure that a highly gifted girl who had tried to use her gift for poetry would have been so thwarted and hindered by contrary instincts, that she must have lost her health and sanity to a certainty." Wheatley experienced everything Woolf dreaded, although Wheatley was granted limited freedom of expression and education by her owners. Walker focuses on the phrase, "contrary instincts"[17] used by Woolf, believing that this what Wheatley felt since she was taught that her origin was an untamed and inadequate culture and race. In Wheatley's poetry she describes a "goddess",[18] which Walker perceives as her owner, whom Wheatley appreciates although she was enslaved by this person. Walker pays tribute to Wheatley when she writes, "But at last Phillis, we understand. No more snickering when your stiff, struggling, ambivalent lines are forced on us. We know now that you were not and idiot or a traitor".[19]

According to Walker, society viewed Black women as, "the mule of the world",[19] this caused black women to become emotionless and hopeless. Further, in the essay Walker gives a personal account of her own mother, "And yet, it is to my mother-and all our mothers who were not famous-that I went in search of the secret if what has fed that muzzled and often mutilated, but vibrant, creative spirit that the black woman has inherited, and that pops out in wild and unlikely places to this day".[20] Walker describes her mother's simple, but appreciated talent of gardening. For Walker, her mother's ability to continue gardening despite her poor living conditions portrays her mother's strong persona and ability to strive even in hardship. "She spent the summers canning vegetables and fruits. She spent the winter evenings making quilts enough to cover all our beds. There was a never a moment for her to sit down, undisturbed, to unravel her own private thoughts; never a time free from interruption-by work or the noisy inquiries of children. The theme and idea of legacy reoccurs towards the end of the essay. Walker describes, the legacy of her mother, "Her face, as she prepares the Art that is her gift is a legacy of respect she leaves to me, for all that illuminates and cherishes life".[20] Walker reveals how she has found and understood herself, while researching her heritage.

"From An Interview" gives readers a deeper insight on Walker's personal struggle with self-worth. Walker extensively reveals her inner conflicts and the imperative events in her life that has made her the person she is. Walker refers to herself as a "solitary"[21] person from as early as her childhood. Walker was discloses that she was teased as a child due to her disfigurement, which made her feel worthless and later on as a college student she began to seriously contemplate suicide. Walker says, "That year I made myself acquainted with every philosopher's position on suicide, because by that time it did not seem frightening or even odd, but only inevitable".[22] Walker also began to lose her faith in a higher being because she felt as though her thoughts of suicide disappointed God, therefore weakening her relationship with him. Walker explains that with the help of friends and poetry she unraveled herself from this path of self-destruction. According to Walker her main release of energy is through poetry. Walker then explains her passion for poetry, "Since that time, it seems to me that all of my poems-and I write groups of poems rather than singles-are written when I have successfully pulled myself out of a completely numbing despair, and stand again in the sunlight. Writing poems is my way of celebrating with the world that I have not committed suicide the night before".[23] Walker expresses that with her experiences she has developed a passion to help Black women who lack the self-esteem as she once did.

"If the Present Looks Like the Past, What Does the Future Look Like?" addresses the divide within the black community. In the opening of the essay Walker bluntly begins with the division among lighter and darker skinned black women. Walker speaks about lighter women unintentionally and unknowingly offend dark skinned women when she says, "What black black women would be interested in, I think, is a consciously heightened awareness on the part of light black women that they are capable, often quite unconsciously, of inflicting pain upon them; and that unless the question of Colorism– in my definition, prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color– is addressed in our communities and definitely in our black "sisterhoods" we cannot, as a people, progress. For colorism, like colonialism, sexism, and racism, impedes us".[24] Walker encourages the two groups to be sensitive towards one another, or else progression of Black people will be haunted. Walker urges Black people to pave the way for future generations to eliminate the distress experienced by her and many others. Walker expresses this thought when she says, "…I believe in listening-to a person, the sea, the wind, the trees, but especially to young black women whose rocky road I am still traveling".[25]


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