This story is super autobiographical. Walker talks about meeting a white girl named Luna in the summer of 1965 when she went to Atlanta to attend a civil rights rally.
Walker thinks that Luna is too passive because she doesn't challenge Walker when she refuses to ride in the bed of a pick-up truck with her.
We learn some historical context. The mid-1960s is full of assassinations and general political chaos—and not just in America. Walker and her friends feel responsible for changing the world.
Walker and Luna work together in a super segregated town in southern Georgia.
Walker paints a picture of Luna for us: she's asthmatic, pimply, and flat-chested. She's "moderately attractive." Um-kay.
Luna doesn't complain about anything, including the amazing heat, and she works hard to register voters.
Walker and Luna are taken in by Black families as they continue their work in the South.
Walker realizes that she thinks of Black people as superior—as in, she takes their graciousness for granted. Luna is appalled by her attitude.
Walker also doesn't expect the families to talk about the risk they're taking by having civil rights workers stay with them. She expects them to be courageous—because they always have been.
Walker remembers a time when their group is stopped and harassed by a Georgia state trooper. There's a pic of this, and none of them look scared (though they all are).
This is extraordinary because of the historical context: three civil rights workers were abducted and murdered in Mississippi by local officials the year before.
Walker and Luna learn a lot about each other. Luna dreams of going to Goa, a city in India. Walker wants to go to Africa. In fact, Walker skips out in the middle of the summer to head out to Africa.
Walker says that she is welcomed like a lost relative in Africa, and she writes to Luna about her adventures. But she doesn't see Luna again for another year.
In fact, Walker and Luna move in together. It's a crummy apartment in a part of the city filled with drug addicts and homeless people.
Walker and Luna get comfortable with each other. Luna works in a kindergarten, and Walker works for the welfare department.
And then Luna drops a bomb: she tells Walker that she'd been raped by a Black civil rights worker back in Georgia.
Walker is horrified. She explains that it was a time before rape was being talked about by Black revolutionaries as a way to injure white fathers and husbands.
Walker even knew Luna's rapist—a guy called Freddie Pye—and didn't like him because of his aggressive and possessive stance on Black women.
Luna tells Walker that she didn't scream when she was being raped. She tells Walker that she ought to know why she kept silent.
Walker thinks that if it had been her, she would have screamed her lungs out. But Luna tells her to think: what would have happened if a Black man was found raping a white woman?
The two of them both think of what happened to Emmett Till. (He was lynched.) That's why Luna stayed quiet.
Suddenly, Walker gets mad at Luna. Why did she have to tell her about the rape? Why couldn't she continue to stay quiet?
It puts Walker in an awkward position. As a woman and a friend, she's appalled. But as a Black person, the dynamics are trickier for her.
Walker says that Black women are schooled to protect the men in their lives, particularly in a place famous for the lynching of Black men. This is especially the case with interracial rape.
Walker says that she'd read the autobiography of Ida B. Wells three times while trying to write a rape scene in a novel. She'd found herself apologizing to Wells, who had spent her life protecting Black men accused of raping white women.
And Walker has a little convo in her head with Wells, arguing a little bit with her. Walker says she was raised to think that Black men could do no wrong, but now Luna's experience has changed things.
Wells in Walker's head answers that it doesn't matter. She should never write anything bad about Black men. It's too dangerous.
But as a writer, Walker can't keep quiet. And yet, her relationship with Luna cools off. Walker had taken their relationship for granted—she thought that they would be friends forever—but now…
Luna eventually gets into drugs and quits her kindergarten job. Her dad makes a visit, and Walker gets the impression that he silently blames her for the fact that his daughter is living in a slum.
Walker knows that this whole thing is temporary, anyway. She's a Sarah Lawrence girl with talent—no way she's going to keep working for the welfare department.
Then, one day, it's Luna's turn to be annoyed. Walker brings home a (white) guy and a friend. When Luna finds the friend sleeping in their living room, she thinks less of Walker. It's not because there's a strange guy in their apartment; it's because Luna herself has taken to sleeping only with Black men, as a political statement of some kind.
This is the end of their relationship, Walker says. But there's one more awkward episode left: Walker awakens one morning to see Freddie Pye (Luna's rapist) coming out of Luna's bedroom.
Walker is freaked out. She can't figure out what the heck is going on.
Luna never tells Walker how this visit from Freddie came to be, or what happened.
Afterwords, Afterwards, Second Thoughts
Walker talks about Luna's story to a Black friend. She tells him that she's written two endings to the story: the one we've read, and one that takes place in a just society.
In the just society version, Freddie and Luna would figure out what the rape meant. (FWIW, the rape never happening is not an option Walker gives.)
Walker and her friend agree that the rape is wrong on every level. But they also both agree that given the context—south Georgia, where many Black men would have suffered—Luna was right not to scream.
Walker says that this fear of what would happen prevented her from finishing or publishing Luna's story.
As she waits for the right time, Walker takes notes about how she should present the story. Now, she shares them with us.
Walker gives a character sketch of Luna: very white, with no ability to absorb another person's culture or to appropriate anyone's culture.
Walker imagines what might have happened between Luna and Freddie Pye the night he slept in their apartment.
In this version, Freddie called up Luna begging for mercy because he was stranded in New York and had nowhere to stay. She gives in and tells him he can stay, but she arms herself with a steak knife and makes him sleep outside on the church pew that they use as a couch.
Luna worries that the church pew will be too hard to sleep on, so she lets Freddie sleep on her bed—after showing him the knife.
Freddie had been "used" at a fundraiser for the movement—paraded in front of an audience as a man who had been arrested and beaten dozens of times. Then, they'd dumped him.
When it's Luna's turn to talk, she brings up the problem of screaming. Did she have a right to scream in a place where Black men were lynched by whites?
It turns out that Luna's question in this imaginary dialogue is the same as Walker's.
Walker says that she believed Luna's story about being raped. But she's used both Freddie and Luna as characters in her imaginary ending to illustrate a point.
Walker sees the rape as an issue that has to be "removed" before we can ever create a more just society (i.e., where a white person can't use the accusation of rape to intimidate Black people).
Until this happens, Walker says, white women and Black men can't really have "untainted" relationships—without the threat of prejudice and violence.
Postscript: Havana, Cuba, November 1976
Then, we change scenery. Walker is in…Cuba. She has read "Luna" to a group of Black American artists.
While she's hanging out with a muralist/photographer, Walker asks him what he thought of her work. He's not impressed.
The muralist tells Walker that she doesn't seem to understand that men can have zero conscience. She's not taking into account the possibility that a guy can be totes evil.
The muralist suggests that Freddie Pye could have been raping white women for the government. Walker admits that she can be naïve. Her muralist friend also says that he hopes he's shocked her.
There's more. The muralist says that it's already been proven that Black men can be hired to hurt other Black men, and he gives Malcolm X as an example.
It's a subversive act. If the government can reinforce the idea that Black men rape white women, then the races will be always divided, politically or otherwise.
The muralist suggests that Walker should follow the money. It isn't about violence or racial hatred, exactly; it's about maintaining the balance of power in the country—and at the taxpayers' expense.
And he should know, the muralist says, because he was offered that kind of "work" when he was a down-and-out artist. Walker makes the assumption that he didn't take up the offer.
But you know what happens when we assume—and the muralist tells Walker as much. She has to stop thinking the best of people all the time.
Walker points out the flaw in this scenario. If Freddie was paid, why did he return to Luna's apartment?
The muralist doesn't have a totally plausible answer. But he does suggest that Freddie might have appreciated that Luna was woke enough to keep from screaming. Which means that he had a conscience, after all, Walker thinks.
The muralist thinks that Walker will never understand about the big, bad world.