Alice Walker is never an author to fail or disappoint her fans and readers. Walker in Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down thoroughly engages the mind of the womanist/black feminist. Although written in the 1980s, many of the short stories within the book are very much relevant today and I would venture to say may even awaken the womanist/black feminist thoughts of women who have yet to identify with either of the two labels. Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down explores the factors that shape the lives of black women, such as cultural appropriation, rape, abortion, pornography, misogyny, and the sexual objectification of the bodies of women to name a few. Of the thirteen short stories within the book I provide you with a brief summary of the two on the short stories that I’d have to say were my favorite.
How Did I Get Away with Killing One of the Biggest Lawyers in the State? It Was Easy
In How Did I Get Away with Killing One of the Biggest Lawyers in the State? It Was Easy, Walker explores the physical and mental rape of a 14 year old black girl. The protagonist was first raped when she was 12. As the protagonist recounts her story, the raping of little black girls is viewed as something normal and not rare during the times and society that she grew up in.
“It was nothing for a girl or woman to be raped. I was raped myself, when I was twelve, and my Mama never knew and I never told anybody. For, what could they do? It was just a boy, passing through. Somebody’s cousin from the North.”
She goes on to describe how at the age of 14 she was raped and manipulated by a white lawyer, who’s father was a staunch racist and was fervently against integration. With each repeated sexual act against her body, the more normal it became to our protagonist, who received hush money and gifts for being manipulated into offering her body. The rapists manipulates the protagonists against her mother and has her mother committed to an insane asylum at the age of 17 in order to continue to indulge himself in her adolescent body.
It isn’t until after many years of manipulative rape that the protagonist finally comes to and awakens from the dreams of her rapist that she realizes what has happened to her. The story ends with our protagonist the shooting her rapist and getting away with it, as no one ever suspected it was her.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Coming Apart. In this short story, our protagonist is a prudent wife who confronts her husband for masturbating to pornographic images of white and black women. Here, Walker explores the difference in sexual objectification of the black female body juxtaposed to the white female body. Walker explores the theme of sexual objectification of women’s bodies by incorporating excerpts from Audre Lorde, Luisah Teish, and Tracy A. Gardner. It seems that through the discovery of her husbands pornographic images, our prudent wife seems to have found her voice and begins exploring the writings of the Lorde, Teish, and Gardner, which leaves her husband feeling uneasy.
” He realizes he can never have her again sexually the way he had her since their second year of marriage, as though her body belonged to someone else. He sees, down the road, the dissolution of the marriage, a constant search for more perfect bodies, or dumber wives.”
Through the use of her protagonist, Walker beautifully looks at the issue of how the black woman’s body is viewed in comparison to the white woman’s body.
“…where white women are depicted in pornography as “objects,” black women are depicted as animals. Where white women are depicted at least as human bodies if not beings, black women are depicted as shit.”
Walker really brings life and justice to this short story as she delves into the topic of sexual objectification. throughout this short story Walker also goes into the lynchings of black men when it came to their the relations with white women.
Walker left me wanting more at the completion of the book. I wanted more short stories that explored what it means to be a black woman in America, what it means to live in our black bodies and how we overcome the abuse that that’s inflicted on our bodies. If you have never read anything penned by Alice Walker, I highly recommend this book. Just be cautious it may awaken the womanist in you. Happy reading.