Walker, Baldwin, Alexie -- Short Stories Essay

Pages: 4 (1771 words)  ·  Style: MLA  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Literature

Walker, Baldwin, Alexie -- Short Stories

From Homer's Iliad to a modern day short story, the theme of place, background, and roots of the author plays a predominant role in the way the story is written, its intended audience, and the manner in which the characters interact to form something real for the audience. The idea of place, not just the temporal "now," but of background often tells us as much about the writer and characterizations as does dialog. Indeed, using place as an implicit background brings a number of messages and ideas into the work that are transparent without understanding the background of the author or the main character (Obsfeltd, 2002). Three such Short Stories that have characters inexorably tied to their place -- more of cultural and family, are: Alice Walker's "To Hell With Dying," Sherman Alexie's "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," and James Baldwin's, "Sonny's Blues." Coupled with the characterization within the story, though, is also the socio-biographical stance that the author's own background influenced the selection and exposition of the stories.

Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
for only $8.97.
Alice Walker (b. 1944), is an African-American author who has written extensively on race and gender in American life. Most famous for her Pulitzer Prize book the Color Purple, Walker grew up in Southern America during a time in which the Jim Crow Laws were fully in effect. Thankfully, her parents pressed for education, and combined with an accident that left her blind in one eye, she became an outspoken advocate for the peaceful solution to racial and gender issues -- globally (White, 2005).

Essay on Walker, Baldwin, Alexie -- Short Stories From Assignment

"To Hell With Dying," surrounds the themes of aging, death and dying, and alcoholism. The narrator, initially a little girl summoned with her siblings to the bedside of a neighbor, Mr. Sweet; whenever he believes he is dying. Somehow, this old man, alcoholic, heavy smoker and rather indifferent curmudgeon endeared himself to the children, and whenever he felt death upon him, the narrator's father would indict, "To hell with dying," and the children would leap on the bed and "heal" Mr. Sweet with their exuberance and joviality -- indeed, many times they revived him when the doctor had given up. Time passes; the narrator has graduated from high school and is pursuing a graduate education. Another summons comes, and now Mr. Sweet, over 90, briefly revives but the healing is not the same, and he passes into the after life.

James Baldwin (1924-87) was also an African-American author and civil rights activist who focused on racial and sexual issues in mid-20th century America. His works are personal, and yet the focus on the complexities of what it meant to be a dual minority -- African-American and homosexual, prior to the era in which either group was accepted. In contrast to Walker's Southern upbringing, Baldwin grew up in a poor Harlem neighborhood, but, like Walker, excelled academically and used that to propel himself out of economic disparity and into Greenwich Village, a New York neighborhood famous for being a haven for writers and artists (Lester, 1984).

Baldwin's "Sonny's Blues" is a story of two brothers on the road to self-actualization who come to understand each other through a duality of African-American experience. The narrator has assimilated into white society as much as possible, but is still a victim of institutionalized racism and the glass ceiling of opportunity. On the other hand, Sonny, the second brother, never wanted to assimilate and needs an outlet for the pain and anguish he continually feels as an outsider to society. Sonny channels his suffering and angst into music, and finds that it is almost a religious calling to him -- his mission to spread the turmoil of the Black man through music- something worthwhile.

Sherman Alexie (b.1966) is an author and social-comedic commentarian on contemporary American life, particularly from the standpoint of the Native American issues. Alexie lives in Seattle, Washington, but grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. He was so moved by John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath that he focused on poetry and literature, earning a degree from Washington State University (Grassian, 2005)

Alexie's "This is What it Means to Say Phoenix, Arizona," was also the basis for Alexie's first movie, Smoke Signals. The story centers on Thomas, a deeply spiritual young man who believes in his tribal traditions but understands the reality of the "white" world. Victor, another reservation child, greets Thomas and their dialog forms the basis of the story, surrounding the pull from tradition to modernity. The chronology of the story is structured around Victor's father's death in Arizona and the task of retrieving his ashes and returning to the reservation. Portraying the juxtaposition of spiritual conflict in the story, Victor asks Thomas how he learned of his father's passing. Thomas replies, "I heard it on the wind. I heard it from the birds. I felt it in the sunlight… Also, your mother was just in here crying." This type of cynical repartee' leaves the reader just wondering enough about magical realism to proceed further, but with a wry smile from the humor.

Initially, one might see disparity in authors hailing from Georgia, Harlem, and Washington. However, upon closer examination, the author experience and the main character experience in each of these stories parallel each other. If one thinks of the 17th century quote, "Stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage," one can find commonality in the prison the authors' felt during their formative years. Walker in Jim Crow South Georgia, was unable to travel freely, participate in events, even shop where she wanted; Harlem, for Baldwin, was a racial and sexual prison in which his minority status was tolerated inside the community but his homosexuality was not, and moving to the more artistic side of New York, found the opposite true; for Alexie, the boundary was an artificial but very real "reservation existence" placed upon the group by the United States from some "treaty or another" from hundreds of years ago. Similarly, Walker's narrator is part of a more insular community in which faith-healing and the power of the soul is accepted as reality. One gets the sense that leaving that community to pursue the outside world renders her less powerful spiritually, yet her roots call her back for Mr. Sweet's final passing. Both Victor and Thomas share Alexie's experiences as a "reservation kid," yet it is interesting that their journey takes on an almost holy pilgrimage in that following traditions of retrieving a loved one's ashes they attempt to come to terms with modernity and tribal spiritualism.

Thematically, magical realism from the place of origin is a powerful metaphor for growing older. For Walker, we can believe that the love and excitement of the children was just enough to revive an old man. We remember James Barry, in Peter Pan, telling the world that a child's imagination could stir anything, even flying. Since all believed in the children's power, it worked. For Sonny, the evangelical power of music -- sublime, angry, passionate and serene was an outpouring of such honesty that it had the power to change and transform both his own soul and the audience. Just enough mysticism exists for Alexie, too, that one wonders whether Thomas has a gift or simply pays more attention to the world around him -- soaking up clues that many just dismiss?

Yet, what is it about these three stories that seems to hint that the magic of the place of the author/main character's birth is somewhat lost when the "reality" of the outside world hits? The path toward the doctorate, for Walker's narrator, is clearly an escape from her place of birth, an unveiling of new thoughts and ideas -- but at what cost?

My brother had not been able to come as he was in the war in Asia. I bent down and gently stroked the closed eyes and gradually they began to open. . . When I opened my eyes, sure that I had reached him in time, his were closed. Even at twenty-four how could I believe I had failed? That Mr. Sweet was really gone? He had never been gone before. . .

Yet, for all her sadness, this passing did signal something else -- a self-realization of limitations, and of allowing someone to pass into a better place -- away from the turmoil of living. For Baldwin, an almost identical place realization -- that of the power of Harlem in its own way, has biblical implications as the "cup of trembling" from the Old Testament morphs into a glass of Scotch and milk given to Sonny to alleviate him of his own suffering, the glass which "glowed and shook above my brother's head like the very cup of trembling." Thomas and Victor reconnect the circle of life as well in their journey to find beauty and meaning. Walker and Baldwin have characters connected by blood; Alexie shows that the blood connection (Victor has lived most of his… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

Two Ordering Options:

Which Option Should I Choose?
1.  Buy full paper (4 pages)Download Microsoft Word File

Download the perfectly formatted MS Word file!

- or -

2.  Write a NEW paper for me!✍🏻

We'll follow your exact instructions!
Chat with the writer 24/7.

Common Themes Etc. In Kate Chopin Short Stories Term Paper

Raymond Carver's Short Story "The Cathedral Term Paper

Them in Sonny's Blues by James Baldwin Essay

Irony in Two Short Stories of Guy Essay

Stephen King's Short Stories Term Paper

View 200+ other related papers  >>

How to Cite "Walker, Baldwin, Alexie -- Short Stories" Essay in a Bibliography:

APA Style

Walker, Baldwin, Alexie -- Short Stories.  (2009, October 11).  Retrieved December 3, 2020, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/walker-baldwin-alexie-short-stories/76522

MLA Format

"Walker, Baldwin, Alexie -- Short Stories."  11 October 2009.  Web.  3 December 2020. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/walker-baldwin-alexie-short-stories/76522>.

Chicago Style

"Walker, Baldwin, Alexie -- Short Stories."  Essaytown.com.  October 11, 2009.  Accessed December 3, 2020.