Study Guide

You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down Truth

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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 laments that his fans don't really know what they're screaming for. The song they love so much isn't his—but they could never accept and adore Gracie Mae, even though the song is a reflection of her life and experiences. Traynor also feels empty because they don't really adore him, and on top of that, he can't write his own music based on his own life. In fact, there's nothing genuine or authentic about his life.

Story 2: How Did I Get Away with Killing One of the Biggest Lawyers in the State? It Was Easy.

Mama worked in private homes. That's how she described her job, to make it sound nicer. "I work in private homes," she would say, and that sounded nicer, she thought, than saying "I'm a maid." (Lawyer.2)

Sometimes it's easier to tell a story about ourselves than to face the truth. That's clearly what this young woman's mother is doing to keep her dignity intact—at least in front of her daughter.

Story 3: Elethia

The experience undercut whatever solid foundation Elethia had assumed she had. She became secretive, wary, looking over her shoulder at the slightest noise. She haunted the museums of any city in which she found herself, looking, usually, at the remains of Indians, for they were plentiful everywhere she went. She discovered some of the Indian warriors and maidens in the museums were also real […]. (Elethia.8)

After Elethia makes the discovery that Uncle Albert's "effigy" is actually Uncle Albert's stuffed body, the world becomes a more sinister place. She moves through the world with opened eyes and a traumatized heart. She sees the truth, which is ugly: humans are very willing to objectify to do violence to others to suit themselves.

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

He knows that to make love to his wife as she really is, as who she really is—indeed, to make love to any other human being as they really are—will require a soul-rending look into himself, and the thought of this virtually straightens his hair. (Coming Apart.63)

The porn-using husband in Walker's "fable" can't face up to reality—that other humans, like his wife, are complex, feeling creatures. To be able to encounter her as she really is means that he'll have to fix his expectations and perceptions—hard work that he really just isn't into at this time.

Story 7: Fame

Her chronic dissatisfaction was always captured by television, no matter how cleverly she tried to disguise it as, oh, fatigue, too much to think about, doddering old age or whatever. (Fame.12)

Andrea Clement White may be a famous author about to accept her 111th major award, but she's still a woman who feels that something's missing. For one thing, she can't accept that she's famous. In her heart, she doesn't deserve the acclaim: she hasn't accomplished the thing she set out to do (though she never says what that is). So she winds up hiding whenever she's in public to cover her private disappointment.

She was smiling and chewing but without any intention of listening. She nodded—still grinning and chewing as each person sat down. "In spite of you I'm sitting here," she thought, and reached over for the apple ring from Mrs. Hyde's plate. (Fame.30)

Andrea Clement White has mastered the ability to detach from reality, especially when she has to attend award ceremonies given by people who never wanted her to succeed in the first place. On the outside, she's a famous author, just enjoying her lunch. But on the inside, she's planning ways to push back against all the people who have stood in the way of her success. And her little revenges are pretty hilarious.

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

I wanted them to be unable, when they left my class, to think of enslaved women as exotic, picturesque, removed from themselves, deserving of enslavement. (Letter.12)

Susan Marie has spent an entire semester working her students hard, pushing them to deconstruct this stereotype and to reject it. But it seems that the stereotype won't die. On the night before the last class, it rears its ugly head on a TV show. The whole class is frustrated and freaked out: when will society understand how damaging this image really is?

Story 13: A Sudden Trip Home in the Spring

In Georgia, she knew that even to Pam she would be just another ordinarily attractive colored girl. In Georgia, there were a million girls better looking. Pam wouldn't know that, of course; she'd never been to Georgia; she'd never seen a black person to speak to, that is, before she met Sarah. (Trip.18)

Sarah Davis is getting pretty tired of the girls in her all-white Northern school calling her "beautiful" and "exotic." It doesn't feel like a compliment to her since they don't have any context for judging her beauty. The truth, in her mind, is that she's just one of many beautiful Black women from her hometown. But Sarah is literally the only Black woman her classmates know. It's an isolating experience, and one that forces her into a position of "representing" when she may or may not want the job.

[…] Wright's father was one faulty door in a house of many ancient rooms. Was that one faulty door to shut him off forever from the rest of the house? (Trip.36)

Sarah Davis thinks about author Richard Wright's dad dilemma: does he really need a dad to be a fully realized person? Her conclusion: probably not, but he does need access to his path to truly understand where he comes from and who he is. Sarah has the same problem in her life, but she finds that her brother can act as an access point to her authentic self.

Story 14: Source

But my color wasn't the problem. Oh God, I'm so bored with color being the problem. It was my underdeveloped comprehension of the world. My parents already had the Truth, which is why they love Source so much, as much as I do. They knew nobody's anything, that color is an illusion, that the universe is unchangeable. (Source.110)

Anastasia is trying to get at some kind of truth about her identity when she stumbles on Source. His easy philosophy—nobody's anything, therefore race isn't a "thing"—is attractive to a young biracial woman who has been traumatized by Blacks and whites alike. But Source's philosophy simply isn't true: race does matter, and people are somebodies—as Anastasia acknowledges later in life.

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