Study Guide

"Advancing Luna—and Ida B. Wells" Characters in You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down

By Alice Walker

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"Advancing Luna—and Ida B. Wells" Characters

The Narrator

Narrator Schmarrator

Once again, we're gonna warn you of the dangers of assuming that a first-person narrator is actually the straightforward voice of the author. Having said that, though, we'll admit that Walker does her best to turn this "story" into a work of autobiography, blending in details from her own life and stepping outside the narrative to talk about her dilemmas in the writing and publication of Luna's story.

So we believe it's fair game to talk about this otherwise nameless narrator as "Walker-as-character" (or "Walker" for short). Whew. Glad we got that off our collective chest.


Walker defines her major difficulty with Luna's revelation as a clash of ideologies in pretty clear terms: she believes that Freddie raped Luna, but she wrestles with the idea that interracial rape should be concealed to protect the vulnerable party. And in this case, the vulnerable party is Freddie Pye.

Walker brings in her reading of Ida B. Wells to explain her position. In an imaginary dialogue with Wells, Walker sums up her confusion:

You made it so clear that the black men accused of rape in the past were innocent victims of white criminals that I grew up believing black men literally did not rape white women. At all. Ever. Now it would appear that some of them, the very twisted, the terribly ill, do. (Luna.34)

Basically, the idea is that because so many innocent Black men have been accused of—and then punished (and often killed) for—raping white women, Black women should be silent about all cases of interracial rape, whether the claims are true or false.

Wells' imaginary responses to Walker aren't very helpful. She tells her to push back on her experience of reality and continue to deny that Luna's rape ever happened. Walker isn't able to do that.

But she also isn't able to forget that Luna has special power as a white woman, no matter what actually happened to her.

A Not-So-Tidy Ending

It's not personal. At least, it's not in the narrator's mind. She's looking at the larger issues before her, trying to thrash it out for herself so that she can get Luna's story right. But she really never can, and Luna's story remains unfinished.

Walker hedges her way out of the story by giving us possible scenarios between Luna and Freddie, by chatting up her writer friend to work through her moral quandary, and by debating the possibility that Freddie might have been used as a weapon by the government to disrupt the Civil Rights Movement.

In the end, Walker is still looking to exonerate Freddie—or at least to find some mitigating circumstance that could bring the two sides of her own warring mind together. Spoiler: she doesn't find it.


Just Meh

Walker's friend is the most unremarkable white person that she's ever met. Her looks are meh. Her attitude is meh. She's just not that exiting. Despite the fact that Luna is in Atlanta in 1965 to support the Civil Rights Movement, she's really very passive—annoyingly so to Walker. She's asthmatic and boringly uncomplaining.

Other than her quirky sexual policies—she'll only sleep with Black men so that she won't contract the enemy's "political germs" (Luna.47)—Luna is unremarkable. She hails from a wealthy family, so she doesn't really have to work if she doesn't want to. This is something that Walker resents tremendously.

There Is This One Thing…

But there is one very interesting—and horrifying—detail about Luna. During that summer in Atlanta, she was raped by a Black civil rights activist, Freddie Pye. She doesn't scream during the assault, and she never tells anyone about it because she's worried about the implications for the Black community.

This is, remember, a time when Black men were routinely lynched for pretty much even the slightest suspicion that they may have looked at a white woman. So when Luna finally tells Walker about the rape, Walker understands the significance of Luna's silence.

But that silence doesn't win Walker's admiration or even any particular pity. That's because Walker is conflicted. Given the history of lynching, Walker says, Black women are raised to protect Black men—to deny that there's even the chance that they could be guilty of assaulting a white woman.

Friendship, Interrupted

But Luna, of course, is living proof that Walker's beliefs aren't true. It gets even more complicated, too, when Walker thinks the situation through: even though Luna chose not to scream, she's still representative of a power that terrifies Walker—and that destroys their relationship:

And yet the rape, the knowledge of the rape, out in the open, admitted, pondered over, was now between us. (And I began to think that perhaps—whether Luna had been raped or not—it had always been so; that her power over my life was exactly the power her word on rape had over the lives of black men, over all black men, whether they were guilty or not, and therefore over my whole people.) (Luna.41)

So Luna becomes for Walker something larger than herself. She's no longer Luna, her friend; she's a person wielding the power of life or death over Walker's whole community. Luna acknowledges this power and acts accordingly. But the fact that an unjust society has put Luna in such a position of power makes it impossible for Walker to think of her as just a person to hang out with. The situation is just too complicated for Walker to make it right.

Freddie Pye

Freddie is a civil rights worker who spends time in Georgia with Luna and the narrator. He's also Luna's rapist. We don't know much about Freddie, except that he's uneducated. The narrator says that he "was the kind of man I would not have looked at then, not even once" (Luna.38).

When she constructs a hypothetical interaction between Freddie and Luna years after the rape, she depicts him as a man manipulated by "handlers"—educated, wealthy people staging fundraisers for the Civil Rights Movement. She sees them as taking advantage of Freddie, who's had a life marked by racial injustice:

[...] his leaders had introduced him as the unskilled, barely literate, former Southern fieldworker that he was. They had pushed him at the rich people gathered there as an example of what "the system" did to "the little people" in the South. They asked him to tell about the thirty-seven times he had been jailed. The thirty-five times he had been beaten. (Luna.68)

The narrator paints Freddie as a pathetic character to make us understand why Luna would allow her rapist to walk back into her life—and her bedroom—for any reason. Basically, Luna pities him.

We don't know how much of this imaginary knowledge might be true. The sketch really exists to give more social context for Walker's own dilemma: should she write about the fact that sometimes, Black men do rape white women? To see Freddie as a pathetic character further humanizes him—and makes it impossible for the narrator to offer her friendship to Luna any longer.

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