Study Guide

You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down Manipulation

By Alice Walker

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Story 1: Nineteen Fifty-Five

They want what you got but they don't want you. They want what I got only it ain't mine. That's what makes 'em so hungry for me when I sing. They getting the flavor of something but they ain't getting the thing itself. They like a pack of hound dogs trying to gobble up a scent. (Nineteen Fifty-Five.127)

Traynor has this profound thought about the song he'd bought from Gracie Mae Still and turned into a hit. His audience, it turns out, is willfully blind to the source of their favorite beats: they want the song but not its real meaning. And they certainly want the hip-shaking, handsome Traynor, not 300-pound Gracie Mae.

This bit also highlights how the music industry often manipulates discriminatory practices to promote white entertainers—always at the expense of people like fictional Gracie Mae. Traynor gets it, but that doesn't keep him from being used (up) himself by the industry.

Story 6: Coming Apart: By Way of Introduction to Lorde, Teish and Gardner

He begins to feel sick. For he realizes that he has bought some if not all of the advertisements about women, black and white. And further, inevitably, he has bought the advertisements about himself. (Coming Apart.69)

The husband in Walker's "fable" has a moment of clarity in the middle of his wife's education of him. He finally understands how media forces have been shaping his ideas over the years. It's a rude awakening, especially since he'd been rolling along with it and enjoying himself all this time. What he hasn't understood up to this point is how much his use of other people (like his wife and the women in the porn mags) really harms them.

Story 7: Fame

Because, in truth, she grew used to being served by Mrs. Hyde, had come to expect her service as her due, and was jealous and contemptuous of Mr. Hyde—a dull little man with the flat, sour cheeks of a snake—who provided his wife little of the excitement Andrea Clement White felt was generated spontaneously in her own atmosphere. (Fame.14)

This is the story that the famous (but hugely insecure) Andrea Clement White tells herself about her assistant, Mrs. Hyde. It's her way of justifying her thoughtless and cruel behavior toward her—and making herself look like a benefactor of epic proportions. As in, look how I'm saving you from a boring life, Hyde. It's hard to know if any of Clement White's observations about Mr. and Mrs. Hyde are true, but we're betting that Mrs. Hyde might have a different story if she had a chance to tell it.

Story 10: Advancing Luna—and Ida B. Wells

He had been painfully aware that he was on exhibit, like Frederick Douglass had been for the Abolitionists. But unlike Douglass he had no oratorical gift, no passionate language, no silver tongue. He knew the rich people and his own leaders perceived he was nothing… (Luna.68)

Walker tells herself this story about how Freddie Pye, Luna's rapist, came to spend the night with Luna at the apartment she shared with her. It's important to remember that this is total guesswork on Walker's part. Her goal is to turn Luna and Freddie into characters she can force into dialogue with each other. That way, they can make sense of the rape and move toward a more just balance of power. But it doesn't happen. Luna's story—and the massive injustice on both sides—remains unresolved.

[…] you find it hard to believe a black man could be hired by someone to rape white women. But think a minute, and you will see why it is the perfect disruptive act. Enough blacks raping or accused of raping enough white women and any political movement that cuts across racial lines is doomed. (Luna.80)

Walker talks about Luna with a Black American artist in Cuba. He thinks that Walker hasn't considered all the possibilities in Luna's experiences. Here, he suggests a particularly sinister turn of events, that Freddie Pye did not just randomly pick Luna for violence. It's a conspiracy theory of the highest order, but the muralist promises that it could be for real. He talks about rape as a deliberate, politically motivated "disruptive act," something that could polarize people of both races so that racial relations never improve. It's a chilling thought—and one that Walker isn't totally ready to accept.

Story 11: Laurel

I want so much to make love to you as we never could do. I hope you know how I lost part of my brain working for your people in the South. I miss you. Come soon. (Laurel.66)

Okay, we hardly have to do any interpretive work on this one for you. Laurel pulls out all the stops here to convince the narrator to leave her husband and consummate the relationship that never got off the ground between them years before. Laurel's phrasing is about as subtle as a sledgehammer, but we get a feeling that Walker has heard such ham-handed guilt trips before. Ugh.

Story 12: A Letter of the Times, or Should This Sado-Masochism Be Saved?

We understand when an attempt is being made to lead us into captivity, though television is a lot more subtle than slave ships. We will simply resist, as we have always done, with ever more accurate weapons of defense. (Letter.25)

Susan Marie is trying to end her letter to colleague Lucy on a conciliatory note, but not before making sure that Lucy understands how strongly she feels about this issue—which is, of course, the stereotypical depiction of slave women as somehow happy or passive about their enslavement. Susan Marie wants to make herself understood—never again will anyone get the opportunity to use Black women in this way.

Story 14: Source

I think really that Source was a fascist. Only a fascist would say nobody's anything. Everybody's something. Somebody. And I couldn't feel like somebody without a color. (Source.174)

Anastasia has done a 180 in her opinion on Source, her druggy guru from her days in San Francisco. Now that she's out of his clutches, she sees what total rubbish his "philosophies" were. Of note is Source's idea that there's no such thing as race. Being biracial, Anastasia begs to differ. Her inability to find a place in society caused her a lot of misery. Irene may not agree with Anastasia's choice to "be white," but she begins to understand Anastasia's need to shape her own identity.

Now her mind stuck on fifteen years ago, and her own witnessing of similar signs coming down in the South. But the signs had already done their work. For as long as she lived she knew she would be intimidated by fancy restaurants, hotels, even libraries, from which she had been excluded before. (Source.183)

It doesn't take much to shape the way we see our place in the world, as Irene acknowledges here. Segregation may have ended—the signs enforcing separate spaces for Blacks and whites have come down, for example—but the sense of being unwelcome doesn't go away that easily. It's just one of the many ways that racism affects the mindset of a nation.

Of course, all the "doing good" is really for yourself, nobody else. Nobody ever does anybody else any good. The good they do is for them. Altruism doesn't exist. Neither do good works. (Source.53)

Anastasia is quoting Source here as she argues with Irene. Source is clearly a fraud and a manipulator extraordinaire, but Anastasia doesn't see this for some years. At this moment, she's schooling Irene on her misery, which Anastasia says is of Irene's own making. After all, nobody told Irene to hang around smelly poor people all the time. Since Irene can't change anything, she might as well do what she can to make herself happy. That's a whole lot of mental gymnastics for one convo.

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