Study Guide

"Fame" Characters in You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down

By Alice Walker

"Fame" Characters

Andrea Clement White

It's Hard to Be the Queen

While Andrea Clement White is probably the most entertaining of Walker's characters in this collection, she's still painted with a little sadness around the edges. So, okay, yeah, she's receiving her 111th major award for her writing, but does that really mean anything? She feels a deep dissatisfaction about her life and work that she just can't quite put a name to:

And yet—there remained an emptiness, no, an ache, which told her she had not achieved what she had set out to achieve. And instead must live out her life always in the shadow of those who had accomplished more than she, or had, in any case, received a wider and more fervid recognition. (Fame.11)

Clement White knows that her work is widely accepted and praised. Her interviewers fall all over themselves in admiration and say the stupidest things to her. They mention how many languages her works have been translated into. And so on.

That's all very well and good, but Clement White—like Traynor in "Nineteen Fifty-Five"—knows that the people kowtowing to her really don't know her. They don't really want her for anything but her fame. The proof? Check out the people at her old college, who are throwing her a luncheon to honor her success: "They would fulsomely praise her—obliterating from memory the times they'd wished her dead; she would graciously acquiesce" (Fame.13).

So her professional life is a delicate dance, with both sides making nice to each other—though neither really wants to. Clement White has two coping mechanisms: her personal assistant, Mrs. Hyde, and a very active imagination. It's hard to know if her assessment of Mrs. Hyde is accurate (we are deeply into Clement White's POV here), but to hear her tell it, Mrs. Hyde prefers Clement White's company to Mr. Hyde's.

A World of Her Own Making

Andrea Clement White's imagination helps her out of awkward situations like official events. In her mind, she can act exactly as she pleases, never having to "graciously acquiesce" to the suck-ups who invade her personal space and lie to her face. She imagines her way through the luncheon, mentally bludgeoning the gross dean of her college and the president, both of whom always paw her.

Because then there would creep up behind her Dean Cooke (whom she would have kept tabs on until now), who would glue his mouth to her neck in an attitude of falling.

She saw herself hit him in the groin with her award, a sharp-beaked silver goose. (Fame.31-32)

Of course, she will do no such thing. She will smile and take her meaningless award from people who really have no love for her. And that is probably why Clement White seriously doubts the truth of her fame.

Mrs. Hyde

Mrs. Hyde is Andrea Clement White's poor personal assistant, a woman who has had to learn to keep silent to soothe her boss's dissatisfaction with the world around her. She keeps still when Clement White deposits a whole entrée onto her lap, for fear of angering her:

Like most people who are not famous a small thing like getting a Rock Cornish hen out of her lap and back on the table paralyzed her. How could she be so indecorous as to plop the bird back into Andrea Clement White's plate? (Fame.26)

Okay, this is a hilarious scenario. It gets even funnier when Clement White starts eating the hen off of Mrs. Hyde's lap. But behind the comedy is a fact: Mrs. Hyde has no dignity. Actually, Clement White allows her no dignity. In her need for constant affirmation, the famous writer has no time for the feelings of underlings.

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