Alice Walker's Beauty... Experience Essay

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Alice Walker's "Beauty..."

Experience as Beauty: An Analysis of Alice Walker's "Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self"

Alice Walker is one of America's greatest twentieth century authors not simply or even mostly because her voice as an African-American woman makes her unique as a member of a formerly underprivileged class that has experience heavy discrimination, but because the depth of her understanding of the human condition and her skill in expressing these fundamentally inexpressible concepts are the hallmarks of all great writers. Of course, her experiences growing up in a highly racist South have necessarily colored her worldview and her conception of herself, as have other incidents of her childhood, but in a way these experiences have enabled her -- through her literature -- to come to a more honest and poignant expression of her true inner self. Rather than limiting her internal sense of identity, the external realities of her life helped to shape and clarify this identity into a boundless and open spirit.

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Perhaps in none of Walker's works is this creation and formation of the self as clearly exemplified as in her story "Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self." Not only is this story entirely autobiographical, but it also deals directly and explicitly with her changing sense of self in different periods of her life. This sense of self is based almost entirely on external appearances, but the author/narrator goes through many changes in her internal interpretations of and attitudes towards these external appearances, and it is these transitions that make up the conflict, action, and resolution of the story. The story specifically addresses the concepts of beauty -- both inner beauty and external prettiness -- and the way this relates to perception and reality. As Walker points out, beauty is not just in the eye but also the mind of the beholder.

TOPIC: Essay on Alice Walker's Beauty... Experience as Beauty: An Assignment

The story opens with what is undoubtedly one of the author's earliest memories: she is two-and-a-half years old and is waiting for her father to choose which three of the eight children in the family will get to go to the fair. Hair brushed, shoes shined and ribbons bouncing, the toddler approaches her father: "Take me, Daddy,' I say with assurance: 'I'm the prettiest!'." The connection between a sense of outer beauty and an internal sense of confidence is instantly apparent in the author's description of her young self. At two-and-a-half years of age, the author/narrator's conception of her inner self was based entirely on her -- and others' -- perception of her outer self. In a way, then, the author experienced outer beauty as an inner phenomenon, and because she knows she is pretty she comments that "it does not surprise me to find myself' on the way to the fair, "sharing the back seat with the other lucky ones."

At this very early stage in her life, Walker's external reality is largely consistent with her perceptions of appearances, especially her own. Her inner and outer sense of beauty are also closely aligned. As the above incident clearly relates, the narrator knew -- not merely felt or guessed but truly knew -- that she was the prettiest, and therefore knew that she would be allowed to go to the fair. Her inner sense of confidence matched and indeed was created by her outer beauty, and her perception of the way the world worked accurately matched the realities of its machinations. Of course, at this time the author/narrator was only two-and-a-half years old, and though her worldview proved itself correct in this instance it lacked the wisdom of experience.

Walker would be granted the beginnings of this experience about four years later, when according to the story her right eye was shot with a BB by one of her brothers, causing it to go blind and to scar horribly. Instantly, the author/narrator's sense of… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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