Response #1

There is much to admire about Alice Walker’s memoir essay “Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self,” but I’d like to draw your attention specifically to the some of the ways she creates structural cohesiveness. Note for example, the way she uses  markers.  Markers are those phrases or lines that mark time and/or place. Often they are placed at the beginning of sentences. Some examples:

“It is a bright summer day in 1947.”

“It is Easter Sunday, 1950.”

Often, Walker uses age as a structural element:

“I am two-and-a-half years old.”

“I am eight years old and a tomboy.”

You’ll note, she does this throughout, uses age to help us move through time, without getting lost. Also, think how she uses clothes as a means of helping us see the child she was throughout. These descriptions of clothing are another cohering element. Another such element is her use of repetition: all the “You did not change,” they say’s and the “I remember’s.” (We’ll return to these “I remember” moments with your exercise for Thursday).

She uses foreshadowing early on with the line, “It was great fun being cute. But then one day it ended.” In that line we are introduced to the issue of change, and that theme becomes another binding element. It is this idea of change, or Walker’s coming to acceptance of her eye’s appearance that pulls the whole essay together and brings it to its natural conclusion.

What else is admirable about this essay? For your Response #1,discuss some of the other elements you see working in the essay. What moments were you most drawn to? What does the essay make you think make you think about  from your own childhood? Remember to shoot for 200-400 words. Feel free to also respond to other’s posts.

To post, simply click on “comments” above. I encourage you to draft first on a Word page, and then copy and paste. Please proofread before  posting.

19 Comments for “Response #1”

dlfarmer

says:

Post here

Liz

says:

I noticed Walker’s use of questions, mostly rhetorical and/or self-directed, throughout “Beauty.” She asks her mother and sister whether she changed after the accident, and they ask what she means. Walker repeats this, in italics: What do I mean? Later she repeats the idea that she did not change, and then adds: Did I imagine the anguish of never looking up? When she mentions that the most beautiful girl in her class later got shot, she dismisses it with, “But that’s another story in itself.” And then, immediately: “Or is it?” This is an interesting aside; everything in our lives as writers does become a part of our own stories, an idea I really relate to. Even the poem she writes, an ode to both the desert and to her eyesight, ends with a question: “If the trees were flags, I doubt/the trees would point./Would you?” Walker seems to be struggling throughout to come to terms with not only the way she is perceived by the world, but the way she perceives herself, and these questions highlight that: Do I have value if the world sees me as “less than,” or if it “others” me? The answer to these questions comes, as the simplest and most profound answers so often do, from a child: Walker’s three-year-old daughter sees a world in her mother’s eyes, a reference to the Big Blue Marble she has been watching, but a reference too to the way in which becoming a parent creates an all-consuming relationship. The last question in the piece is from the child: “Mommy, where did you get that world in your eye?” Walker doesn’t tell us her answer, but from where I’m sitting it’s a complex answer; that world as disfigurement came from a BB gun, but it also represents her whole history, which is effectively what the essay details. I remember as a little girl being fascinated by the idea that my parents had lives before I was born. Once when I was asked where I thought I was before I was born, I replied, to the adults’ delight, “North Carolina.” (My dad’s company was based there.) It made sense to me that I had somehow always been a part of their world, waiting at the factory until it was time to be shipped up to New York. I never had an accident of the magnitude of Alice Walker’s, but once I accidentally pushed my arm through a glass door and needed stitches; a year or two later I fell on roller blades (it was the nineties, after all) and broke several teeth. When the doctor was sewing me up that first time, I asked him to leave a scar. “You don’t want that,” he said kindly. I did at the time, but he knew that one day I’d be glad he hadn’t listened to me. It just felt wrong to experience that level of pain and not have anything to show for it. Alice Walker wished her scar wasn’t so visible, but of course it’s our scars that make us who we are.

Diana L Ramstad

says:

Hi Liz, I agree the whole thing is thought provoking as the author keeps asking if she has changed through a lot of the piece and it takes her a long time to work through all that has happened. We see that even with her own daughter in the scene they have together. I actually agree with you about the scar as I have scars from different adventures and journeys in my life and I look at them as deep reminders that life is all about different pains, joys and experiences we have that keep us grounded.

Stefanie Burich

says:

Thanks, Liz. I didn’t make the connection between the ‘blue marble’ from the TV show and the ‘world in her eyes’. That’s a great observation! I also enjoyed reading your memories of always being part of your parent’s life, even before you were born. I don’t think I ever thought about that. I still hardly believe they ever had a life before us!

Isabelle Jacobson

says:

I like your take on this that the questions show the author’s struggles. This wasn’t the same way I viewed the questions but I totally agree. It helps make the narrator a bit more human. Rather than speaking at the reader, they are exposing themselves and their internal conflicts to the reader.

Stefanie Burich

says:

Walker’s essay is about her struggle with self-acceptance and self-image and follows various events throughout her life chronologically. It starts off with a couple of events that show her in a state of confidence, knowing that her dad would pick her because she is the prettiest, and knowing that she was able to perform a lengthy Easter recital confidently and ‘sassily’ in front of a large crowd at an early age. The story takes a turn when Walker reflects how ‘it was great fun to be cute. But then, one day, it ended.’ Walker starts off this next section with the story of being shot at and blinded in one eye by her brothers. Several short, subsequent segments of her life illustrate her struggle with her self-image and end with the reflection of her changing because of her altered physical appearance. The last section of the story are her various stages of resolution — the photograph at the magazine cover, the view of the desert, and ultimately her daughter’s acknowledgment of the ‘world in her eye’. I thought it was interesting that an unexpected, external validation (her daughter’s observation) helped her resolve her inner conflict and allowed her to recognize that she loved her blind eye. The final, external validation by her daughter was contrasted by various former accounts of external validation that she was ugly. I really appreciated her reflection at the end: ‘There was a world in my eye. And I saw that it was possible to love it; that in fact, for all it had taught me of shame and anger and inner vision, I did love it.’ What makes this story stand out to me are the markers and various repetitions, and the great details in describing each scenario. Walker is also able to tie all the stories together through the common theme of her perception of her beauty, and is able to resolve her conflict in a heart-warming and empowering way.

Liz

says:

I like your idea of the “various stages of resolution” — that’s very cool. I hadn’t thought of it precisely that way but I agree!

Hunter Young

says:

I have been a fan of Alice Walker’s since we were assigned to read The Color Purple in high school. In that novel, she evoked so much truth from a fictional character. It was really impressive to read how she crafter truth in her non-fiction work. Walker documents her struggle with the ideal of femininity and beauty in our culture after being shot accidentally in the eye with a BB gun when she was eight. She writes the essay in a fragmented fashion. It is an interesting way to constantly give information in a way that forces the reader to make assumptions, fill gaps of time, and connect cause and effect throughout the piece.
The piece is about insecurities. We see Walker facing insecurities about her physical appearance after the accident with her eye. We see her insecurity with her own gender expression, referring to herself as “tomboy,” and being referred to as a “mess.” We see her insecurities in academia when she starts to struggle in school, something she has prided herself on until then. We see her insecurity as a daughter, watching her mother getting sick and not being able to do anything to help. And then we finally see the beginnings of her insecurity as a mother, wondering if her children will notice that her eye is different from not only their own, but of everyone else’s in the world.
The ending of this essay is beautiful. Something Walker has been insecure about, her daughter reminds her is what makes her beautiful and singular in the world. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about relationships between parent and child. A parent and child have a mutual respect and awe for each other–most of the time. They see perfection in each other and want to find other people like that. So as Walker looks on her baby and sees perfection and love to the greatest extent, she should remember her daughter looks at her the same way. There is that cliché moment when parents say that their children are their, “Whole world.” When Walker’s daughter says she can see a world inside her mother’s eye, it kind of replicates that same tender affirmation.

Liz

says:

That’s a beautiful analogy, Hunter — that her daughter is her whole world, and the daughter sees a whole world in her mother’s eyes.

Diana L Ramstad

says:

What moments I was first relating to was being captured and pulled into the story written by Alice Walker. The first moment I felt the scene was her being able to go to the Fair. She was being chosen to go to the Fair and felt special. This was a big moment for her as she got to ride in Miss Mey’s car and then tell everyone else all about it. The feeling of being special drew me right in as I related to that I grew up on a homestead in Alaska, and going to the Fair was a big deal. It caused me to reflect on those memories as well as happy thoughts of Ferris wheels and merry go rounds. This gives me a comfortable feeling about my childhood so I could connect right away to the story itself.
The story continues to be relatable when her world changes after being shot in the eye with a bee bee gun. I can remember at age 10, feeling my life was changing, and no one asked me if I wanted it to change so I can relate to this. When Alice is talking with her daughter, and Rebecca brings up her eye. Alice’s line, “I assume Rebecca will be the same,” is haunting as she prepares herself for her daughter’s even unintentional cruelty. But Alice is surprised that her daughter sees her as beautiful and has a “whole world inside her eye.” This moment reminds me of my mom and her unconditional love of me. Her daughter, who struggles with challenges and how, in my mom’s eyes, I am amazing even when I do not feel it. This story that Alice writes is relatable and touching in its simple beauty and the real-life story of a struggle that shapes someone’s entire life based on one incident of being shot with a toy gun.

Ana

says:

I appreciate Walker’s ability to show the reader her feelings regarding the accident and the impact it has had on her life, instead of telling the reader how she feels. She does this through a series of stories from her childhood after she asks her mom and sister if she was different after the accident. They suggest nothing had changed but Walker shows how her life was changed. She shares stories that paint a picture of a little girl who felt abandoned, unloved, tainted, angry. You feel her pain and empathize with her, knowing the accident did change her. Her perspective changes when her daughter makes a comment about her eye. Sometimes it takes a child’s perspective to provide clarity. Children provide a sense of innocence, truthfulness, and wisdom when we least expect it.

This essay made me think about how experiences with my siblings shaped the majority of my childhood memories. I am the middle child with an older and younger brother. Much of our time was spent together as we were a close family. I suspect many adults who grew up with siblings have stories that were concocted from lies. My younger brother was three or four and was walking through the living room. My older brother stuck out his leg and tripped him, causing him to fall into the coffee table. He hit his forehead on the corner of the coffee table, splitting his skin open, pouring blood, and began screaming. My older brother panicked as my mom came running into the living room to see what happened. We lied and said he had tripped over our short-haired Dachshund, Auggie Doggie. Auggie wasn’t denying anything and I sure wasn’t about to tell the truth. We still reminisce and joke about it today, particularly because my younger brother has a scar from the head injury.

I’m also reminded with siblings, there are others who know what it was like to be parented by your mom and dad. You all have experiences that define the role of “mom” or “dad”. I had an acute awareness of this when my dad was dying. My brothers are the only two individuals in the world who, like me, knew our dad as a father. When it came to our father, they are the only ones who felt what I had felt: love, disappointment, joy, humor. After his diagnosis we added anger, envy, unfairness, and sorrow.

Liz

says:

Ana, I’m so sorry to hear about your dad. I’ve never quite heard it put that way, that you not only share parents but you might even share the emotions that your parents inspire. I feel lucky to have siblings for that reason.

Aubri stogsdill

says:

The essay “Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self,” is an absolutely moving piece that talks about rejection, loss, change, and growth. Walker does an incredible job of moving the reader through her various stages of life. The constant use of the present tense was intriguing. It made me feel like I was right in the middle of this story. While it is clear that Walker is taking us on a journey, the use of the present tense makes it feel like we are viewing these events in real time.

In the portions of the essay when Walker is describing her younger years, I noticed that she uses lots of extremely simple sentence structures. These simple and short sentences seem quick and abrupt and they remind me of what it is like to interact with young children. 2-3 year olds are fast paced, easily distracted, and oftentimes very confident in their convictions. As the essay progresses, there is a loss of this abrupt confidence.

There is a resounding sense of being overlooked or invisible and misunderstood by her family. Walker asks her mother and sister if the accident changed her, to which they respond with a resounding no. Clearly, the accident had a massive impact on Walker. It is clear that her confidence was completely lost. She expresses that she no longer looked people in the eye because she felt her eye was ugly. Walker is deeply self conscious about the state of her eye and she also feels alienated from her family. As she looks back over her life, there is a strong sense of loss and disappointment. Even the description she uses to express the situation with not being able to take her cat to her grandparents house, and then the cat getting lost, is so heartbreaking.

When Walker recounts her daughters first recognition of her blind eye, I nearly cried. She braced herself for criticism and cruelty from her daughter, but instead she is met with wonder and awe. Her daughter sees Walkers blindness as a world– and asks where she got that world. Rather than seeing her blindness as a loss, her daughter sees her eye as something she received. The healing of this moment is so beautiful. I loved this essay!

Logan McGinnis

says:

Reading through Walker’s memoir I find myself feeling so many different things. As a reader I’m intrigued by her personal journey. She speaks about so many experiences she’s lived some good and some not so much. As a writer I read through this amazed. When I’m writing something my main focus is always seemingly to ask the question: How will this make the reader feel? I always try to match my tone to whatever story I’m telling. Walker in this memoir does such a beautiful job of painting that picture. The choice of what stories to tell and what ones not to tell plays a big part but also word choice I feel is a key component. She uses simple language, not overly complicated words that would drown the story, but she chooses words that help the story flow smoothly all while maintaining that steady stream of emotions. I think it’s interesting the way in which Walker uses not only the questions to hook the reader but also as a way of starting a new story. She also does this with the mentioning of age and her apparel at the time. Which I think is important as she focuses so much on change. She puts a significant amount of description into each of her different outfits only to explain to the reader she hasn’t changed. However, by the end we as the reader see that she has in fact changed, not necessarily appearance wise but her thought process and emotions towards certain things.

Isabelle Jacobson

says:

I really admire how Walker uses concise wording to describe strong visuals, and the observations are so direct an unapologetic that it adds a quirky humor to the author’s voice within the essay. It seems like no word or sentence is out of place and they are exactly where they are meant to be. If I were editing this essay, I wouldn’t cut anything or rearrange, since I think everything written serves a purpose and connects well for what the author is trying to get across. The structure comes across as simple and effortless, but it actually takes quite a bit of effort to make every action, piece of dialogue, and element of setting relevant and important. It doesn’t seem like an essay full of fluff, which is oftentimes what my own written pieces like this turn into. She is very aware of how to keep her audience interested and say exactly what she means without muddling things with fluff. I think that’s a really important reminder I received from reading this essay. I need to make sure I say what is important so my point or the audience’s immersion isn’t ruined or reduced.
I also like that Walker uses questions to show the reader the narrator’s internal dialogue/thoughts. This also brings the reader in further because when a question is asked, the reader is asking themselves that question and trying to answer it, which keeps them moving through the essay linearly, but also moving in and out of POVs (narrator’s or reader’s). This, in addition to the relatable scenes and the structure change toward the end of the essay (the poem), keeps the reader interested and kept on their toes without being so unfamiliar that the reader feels like an outsider to the story or loses interest. I think this is an important balance to strike when writing so that what is being said is from a unique perspective without alienating the audience and instead drawing them in.

Erika Goddard

says:

Compared to other memoirs I’ve read, there is a sense of foreboding of what is to come simply from the first few paragraphs on how Walker felt beautiful as a child. While other memoirs specifically focus on a certain theme, this one not only focuses on the author’s view of self-beauty, but also a significant incident that strongly affected her life from the accident and after. It really conveys strong emotions when I read this by the time it draws to its conclusion.
What really drew me into the memoir was the moment of the incident, when she begins to lose sight in her right eye. The visuals alone were chilling and adds to the affect of a little girl becoming terrified at what was happening. From her writing, it’s easy to understand how scary the moment was for an eight-year-old at the time as well as thankful that the injury didn’t worsen.
I never had an incident that could relate to Walker’s “accident”, but how she went through bullying does strike a chord with me. When I was little, I had trouble with my speech to the point where my peers would make fun of my voice. It got so bad that I didn’t want to speak in fear of being mocked at. I kept my head down. Eventually, got grew out of my fear and learned to appreciate my voice as Walker learned to love her eye.

Jennifer Karulski

says:

Jennifer Karulski
ENG 377
Dr. Farmer
21 January 2020

Reading Response 2

Alice Walkers essay “Beauty When the Other Dancer is the Self” is an honest portrayal of the event of Alice Walker’s life and how they affected her growth and development as a human. She starts with herself as a young child and works up to the ‘accident’ of getting shot in the eye with a BB gun. We get to see first-hand how this disfiguring event changed how she saw herself, and clouded her view of the world both physically and emotionally.
I appreciated the honesty of her writing. It would have been easy for her to cast herself as a hero, getting over the childhood trauma, instead she gives the reader a look into the feelings she went through as she dealt with this unfortunate occurrence, eventually coming to appreciate how it helped her become the person she is today.
I was particularly struck by the first time her child noticed her unusual eye. She dreaded it and her writing put me in her place, holding my breath as I dreaded what her daughter would say right along with her, breathing a sigh of relief when it not only turned out to be nothing to worry about, but became a beautiful story that speaks of her daughter’s unique view of the world and acceptance of the difference in the mother she loves. Worrying for no reason is a universal human experience anyone can relate to.
Walker’s accurate portrayal of a child’s place in the world made me think of times in my own childhood which paralleled the author’s experience. I distinctly remember being young and cute and getting away with murder because of it. I also remember the awkward, in-between years, difficult for all kids even without a physical characteristic that sets them apart.
I also related to her questioning how others in her family couldn’t see that she had changed as a result of the accident. She repeatedly asks them, and they repeatedly reply that they did not notice a change when she felt that she had gone through very real changes within herself. This showcases the human reality that other people can be completely oblivious to what someone else is going through even if the person lives in the same family.
This brought to mind different narratives from my own family that are the backbone of our history, but have always struck me as false. My role in the family as the one who bumbles through life, somewhat of an airhead, and makes a lot of mistakes has never been true, but my family is comfortable with casting me in that position. This persona does not match who I am, but to go against the beloved family stories of my past foibles would be blasphemy of the highest order. I can only be thankful that along with these fables, I also was gifted with a family-wide detachment that makes me not care what they think. No, I never broke that antique bowl, but if it makes them feel better to tell the story every Thanksgiving, who am I to spoil their fun? We are brought together by our fabrications. I feel for people who try to impress their parents and siblings, but I don’t share the desire.
Writing about experiences from the past is a way of coming to terms with them and finally getting your version of the truth out.

Erik Grazulis

says:

While reading the essay, I found it interesting that Walker plays with the concept of how her understanding of her own life is limited and colored by the fact that it is just a single perspective. Walker speaks with authority on her feelings. She states definitively that her brother’s bragging made her feel sick. She describes her time in school shortly after the accident as torture, because that is how she perceived it at the time. However, she introduces doubt whenever she discusses a direct relationship of cause and effect between her life experiences, and change in personality. When she describes her insecurity after the injury, and her improvement after the scar removal, she always qualifies her statements by declaring that she only assumes that her eye is the cause of the changes. Her inclusion of the obliviousness of her parents emphasizes the fact that she can’t ever be certain about the true relationships of cause and effect in her life because she only knows her own perspective. I find her use of uncertainty admirable because she is not only presenting her memoir honestly as a subjective truth, she also incorporates this fact as a core theme of the piece.
This piece reminds me to be deliberate about the way that I report my memories. Choosing whether or not to describe a past event as objective fact can have an effect on how the reader interprets the story. Also, this piece makes me think that approaching writing on a life experience from various levels of objectivity, from the completely objective, to the completely subjective, might reveal more meaning from the experience which I could develop into a theme in that piece.

Lucie Anderson

says:

What stood out to me in this essay was the author’s willingness to describe both the positives and faults of her family. This ambiguity made them much more real and three dimensional and also gave personal insight into her experience. I was most drawn to the poem she shared and and the moment when her boyfriend states that he thought she had gotten over the accident. The poem was effective because it brought the reader to a piece of writing she wrote in the specific moment she was describing. This was a poignant way to create a greater impact (coincidentally something that may have come from the journal process chapter two describes). The boyfriend moment was also effective because of its revelation of how real life thinking truly works. Walker is emphasizing that healing is a process that must be repeated over time. While she may be okay with her eye one moment, her feelings of insecurity may return. This essay reminded me of my own insecurities I struggled with as a child. Some I still struggle with today, despite many times thinking I have conquered them. I also agree with Liz’s observations. I thought Walker’s self-directed questions were very powerful. While they show the audience how she is feeling, they also make the reader question themself along with her. By not giving a direct answer to these questions, the piece takes on new layers of meaning that may change each time it is read.

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