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Representation of Phillis Wheatley in the Essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens' by Alice Walker

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In the essay “In Search of Our Mother’s Gardens,” Alice Walker primarily talks about the important artistry and expression of creativity African Americans possess and how that was directly linked to their survival before they were taken into slavery and were forced into a way of living. The quote “To be an artist and a black women, even today, lowers our status in many respects, rather than raises it: and yet artists we will be” (Walker 430). shows that the artistry of black women is significant whether or not it affects their status of survival in the world. Walker uses Phillis Wheatley, a slave in the 1700s who was absolutely maltreated “black, kidnapped, [and] enslaved” (Walker 429), as an example of how African American were treated and considered as unworthy and how they were forced to follow the commands of white people. It was a punishable crime to write, read, paint, sculpt, express creativity, produce art, and expand the mind that was clearly nonexistent for African American women. Towards the end of this essay, Alice explains the creativity her mother showed through working very assiduously in her ambitious gardens by watering her lovely flowers, chopping the grass, laying out new beds, digging pits, and planting a variety of plants. Even though black women were treated with disrespect and were judged more harshly, this shows that being an artist and pursuing in creativity can lead to a successful life in addition to leaving a legacy for future generations.

Part II-

Through the use of figurative language extensively throughout the essay, Walker easily connects her ideas and adds ample details to support her main argument on how African American women were considered unimportant and had brutal lives but still were able to have the potential to become great artists and have their own expressions of creativity. She displays the strength and power of African American women and how they weren’t given any opportunities or credit for all their hard work and effort. The first example of figurative language Walker writes is what Jean Toomer’s describes the 20th century women in the South as, “exquisite butterflies trapped in an evil honey, toiling away their lives in an era, a century, that did not acknowledge them, except as “the mule of the world” (Walker 426). This simile brings direct attention to the imagery outlining how African American women were shown as unworthy and unaware of the richness they were enchanted with. Walker includes this to demonstrate that African Americans were seen as inferior and hopeless people who were living their lives with “contrary instincts” and cruel punishments. Although this is true, she recognizes that the inspiration and creativity of African American women may be hidden and suppressed but will never disappear. The second example Walker says is “I hear again the praise showered on her because whatever rocky soil she landed on, she turned into a garden” (Walker 433). This is considered a personification describing how Walker’s mother embraces her creativity through gardening and how that energy of working hard with flowers can show recognition of her artistic values and styles. She emphasizes her mother's distinctive talent and expression of creativity and individuality even though her mother worked intensive, difficult labor; her mother brought the beauty out while still living in poverty and harsh conditions.

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Although Walker provides a personal anecdote in her essay, she has several instances where she mentions the works of other authors to support or deepen her main argument. Alice Walker uses evidence and makes a reference to Virginia Woolf's book, A Room of One’s Own. Woolf was a feminist and one of the most famous writers of the modernist era in the 20th century. A Room of One’s Own explored the history of black women and their educational, financial, and social problems they faced during their lives. Walker uses Woolf’s claim as a counterargument when she describes what Woolf said “that in order for a woman to write fiction she must have two things, certainly: a room of her own (with key and lock) and enough money to support herself” (Walker 428). Walker disagreed with this statement that there was a lack of black women who expressed their creativity and unique personalities through art and a lack of money that acted as a barrier to women from writing, and to prove her dissimilarity, she uses Philip Wheatley’s life as an example. She mentions that Wheatley was a slave who didn’t even have the ability to own herself but still was able to create astonishing poems. She says that Wheatley used her gift for poetry that made her a save and was hindered by “contrary instincts.” By adding depth and her own personal spin to Woolf’s statement, Walker strengthens her argument by looking at the situation from another perspective.

Alice Walker’s audience in the essay is primarily African American women but can also include all the women in the world. She makes a universal choice to use the word “our” in the title and essay to bring the idea that her argument is applicable to as many people as possible. She makes sure her audience understands and pays attention to the import legacy of African American women by not only using logical appeal and discussing information but also including a narrative. Walker's personal experience about her and her mother’s passion and creativity in her gardens allows all women to discover and admire the creations and values of the art of African American women. Additionally, she uses African American figures throughout her essay, one being Phillis Wheatley who was a “sickly, frail black girl who required a servant of her own at times” (Walker 428). She includes these anecdotes relating to black women to exemplify the strong relation between her essay and her audience. Additionally, she defines 'womanist' as it correlates to black feminism and writes about the racism and harsh conditions black women had to encounter and how that still allowed for them to have a sense of spirituality and creativity in their lives. Throughout her essay, Walker repeatedly references “black women” to show her passion for the topic, and she ties her evidence back into the reader's emotions and personal life to make it relatable to a multitude of diverse women.

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Representation of Phillis Wheatley in the Essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens’ by Alice Walker. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 2, 2024, from
“Representation of Phillis Wheatley in the Essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens’ by Alice Walker.” Edubirdie, 12 Aug. 2022,
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Representation of Phillis Wheatley in the Essay “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens’ by Alice Walker [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Aug 12 [cited 2024 Mar 2]. Available from:
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