Alice Walker and Maya Angelou are two contemporary African-American writers. Although almost a generation apart in age, both women display a remarkable similarity in their lives. Each has written about her experiences growing up in the rural South, Ms. Walker through her essays and Ms. Angelou in her autobiographies. Though they share similar backgrounds, each has a unique style which gives to us, the readers, the gift of their exquisite humanity, with all of its frailties and strengths, joys and sorrows.
Tragedy struck both of these women at the age of eight. Ms. Walker lost her sight in one eye. Ms. Angelou was raped. Each described the incident as part of a larger work. Ms. Walker related her experience in the body of an essay published in her book, In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens. Ms. Angelou told her story as a chapter in her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Although both wrote about their traumatic experience, the way each depicted the incident was distinct and seemed to be told for very different purposes.
Alice Walker reports the facts to the reader with short sentences written in the present tense. She chooses words which elicit a forceful emotional response from her audience. For example, in telling how her brothers were given BB guns and she was not, Ms. Walker writes, "Because I am a girl, I do not get a gun. Instantly, I am relegated to the position of Indian." The word "relegated" causes the reader to be irate and indignant. Most people do not like being "relegated" to anything. Another illustration of Ms. Walker's use of dynamic words can be found in her descrip...
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Alice Walker and Maya Angelou are both extremely courageous writers. From each we receive a rare and poignant gift. As her book suggests, Alice Walker challenges us to search for resolution in the face of loneliness and despair. Maya Angelou, who "knows why the caged bird sings," reminds us that loneliness and despair never have the last word. She gently points us to a window of hope. Both women bless us with shades of being human.
Angelou, Maya. I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. New York: Bantam, 1993.
Draper, James P., ed., et al. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol. 77. Detroit: Gale Research Inc., 1993.
Walker, Alice. "In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens." Major Modern Essayists. Second Edition. Ed. Gilbert H. Muller with Alan F. Crooks. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 1994. 329-337.
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