Study Guide

You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down Women

By Alice Walker

Women

Story 4: The Lover

Even the distraction caused by the birth of her child was a price she was, ultimately, prepared to pay. She did not intend to have a second one, after all—that would be too stupid—and this one would, before she knew it, be grown up enough for boarding school. (Lover.18)

Like so many of Walker's heroines in this work, this woman knows what she wants out of life: freedom, adventure, time for creativity, and professional productivity. She's had a baby to please her husband, but she looks forward to a time when she won't have the responsibilities of a mother. It sounds harsh, but Walker points out an important issue in this story: work-life balance is just not a thing for so many women.

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

But, surprisingly, while watching herself become her mother in the mirror, she discovers that she considers her mother—who carefully braids her average-length, average-grade, graying hair every night before going to bed; the braids her father still manages to fray during the night—very sexy. (Coming Apart.25)

The wife in this story finds herself in an awkward situation: all that porn her husband loves—not to mention pretty much everything on TV and in film—tells her that she isn't as desirable as she could be. The standards and expectations set by these industries are way unrealistic, and it takes a serious effort on her part to stand her ground and tell her truth: she, like her mom, is worth loving, and she's beautiful as she is.

Story 7: Fame

In her husband's silence there was tension, criticism of her, impatience. He held his tongue the better to make her know what he thought. Mrs. Hyde held hers as a comfort; she knew Mrs. Clement White needed the silence—after an encounter with other people—to settle into herself again. (Fame.15)

The companionship between famous author Andrea Clement White and her servant—er, assistant—Mrs. Hyde feels a little abusive at times. Actually, Clement White sounds pretty unbearable. But Mrs. Hyde gets her—at least Andrea Clement White thinks she does. We'll never know what Mrs. Hyde actually thinks, but there seems to be a friendship between the two women that insulates them from the insufferable men in their lives.

[…] she was battling him with her eyes. DON'T YOU DARE KISS ME! But he closed his froglike eyes, descended his head, his pendulous lips, and kissed the most prominent of her liver spots. Yuck. So many Yucks. (Fame.31)

Andrea Clement White is imagining what will happen when she has to approach the president of her old college to receive her award. And y'all, if you're a woman, you probably know exactly what she's mentally preparing herself for: a hardy defense of her personal space. And it doesn't help that President Nasty Kisser never did anything to encourage her work while she was part of the university. No wonder she wants to come out swinging.

Bohemian Belle, he had called her. She had wanted to be bohemian: to write on a kitchen table perhaps; but not among her children's unwashed cereal bowls. Patchouli was as close as she got. (Fame.25)

Andrea Clement White has a deep sense of dissatisfaction about her life and work. Sure, she's famous, but she feels like something's missing. Like she didn't do the thing she set out to do with her work. And perhaps this is key to her feelings, that she was forced into (or at least accepted) a role that she really didn't dig—like becoming a mother when she really wanted to pour all her energy into her art.

Story 11: Laurel

What I've most resented as "the other woman" is being made responsible for the continued contentment and happiness of the wife. (Laurel.28)

Walker pulls zero punches in this work, especially when sharing the thoughts and philosophies of her main characters. The narrator of this story is so blinded by her physical attraction to Laurel that she only sees one thing: personal satisfaction. Her moral universe orbits around that alone. In the end, this callous response to Laurel's wife comes back to bite her when a brain-damaged Laurel won't respect the boundaries of her own marriage—or the fact that she's a mother.

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

It was as if these women found a twin self who saved them from their abused consciousness and chronic physical loneliness; and that twin self is in all of us, waiting only to be summoned. (Letter.8)

Miffed professor Susan Marie explains her idea of God to Lucy, a colleague who has offended her by dressing as Scarlett O'Hara for a feminist ball at their college. Susan Marie says that this idea of God as self was developed from her readings of slave narratives, and it gives a dignity and strength to women, especially, who undergo suffering and confinement. It's this dignity and sacredness that the stereotype of the contented slave—reinforced in Gone With the Wind—threatens to destroy. No wonder she's furious.

But, Lucy, regardless of the "slave" on the television, black women do not want to be slaves. They never wanted to be slaves. We will be ourselves and free, or die in the attempt. Harriet Tubman was not our great-grandmother for nothing; which I would advise all black and white women aggressing against us as "mistress" and "slave" to remember. (Letter.25)

Susan Marie has zero tolerance for the shenanigans pushed by the television industry and proponents of sadomasochism (which sometimes favor a "master-slave" role-playing relationship). Her problem with this is obvious: it reinforces the ideas that slavery wasn't so bad, that women enjoy having their freedom taken away from them, that it's all a game for the enjoyment of someone else. Susan Marie reminds her colleague Lucy that this is a giant NOPE. No backsliding into acceptance of the stereotype will be tolerated.

Story 13: A Sudden Trip Home in the Spring

Stare down the rat, thought Sarah; and whether it disappears or not, I am a woman in the world. I have buried my father, and I shall soon know how to make my grandpa up in stone. (Trip.7.9)

Sarah Davis not only has to bury her father, but she also has to deal with an actual rat that has decided to chill out under his coffin. Yuck (as Andrea Clement White would say). As gross as this is, Mister Rat gives Sarah a useful metaphor for all the offensive and unpleasant people and situations she will encounter in life. Sarah has learned that just like the actual rat, the metaphorical ones will back down under her determined glare. With this knowledge, she's ready to take her place in the world.

Story 14: Source

They were still linked together, but it was not, now, the link of race, which had been tenuous in any case, and had not held up. They were simply two women, choosing to live as they liked in the world. (Source.207)

Anastasia and Irene's friendship has been through a lot. There was that episode with Source that nearly broke them, but then there's also stuff in the past that Irene conveniently forgets—like when she made some uncharitable assumptions about Anastasia because she's biracial. When the two women are finally able to see each other for who they truly are, something good happens: they realize they cherish their friendship, and they wish each other well.

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