This is an essay written in response to "Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self" by Alice Walker. I will discuss the descriptive nature of the story over approximately four pages. If you haven't read the story and want to, the story is available online.
The imagery of this magnificent story serves to strengthen the girl’s character. Alice is an exceptional construct. The way it speeds through her life to represent the long-term effects of her ‘accident’ is fascinating. In just a few pages we get to see every image-every path-that has been affected by her accident. I can feel her dissonance, empathize with her feelings, and struggle alongside her. To me her character is by far the strongest imagery.
During her childhood she’s portrayed as a phenomenally cute, innocent little girl. In essence the author portrays her as perfect. The author, fully realizing Alice’s cutesy and adorable form, wrote: “Whirling happily in my starchy frock, showing off my biscuit-polished patent-leather shoes and lavender socks, tossing my head in a way that makes my ribbons bounce, I stand, hands on hips, before my father.” I admire this description because of how unique it is in comparison to a modern standpoint: frock, biscuit-polished, patent-leather, and ribbons all stand out to me. The image in my mind is just so, so adorable! It does a great job at showing off her adorable nature and the then-1947 time period.
Her innocence has been evident so far, but this quote bleeds with it: “At home that night I tell the unlucky ones all I can remember about the merry-go-round, the man who eats live chickens, and the teddy bears, until they say: that’s enough, baby Alice. Shut up now, and go to sleep.” It adds imagery to why she likes the fair, but it adds so much more to her character. “Shut up now, and go to sleep.” is such a brutally adult statement directed at a stereotypically wonder-filled child. So far every word, every sentence, serves to support the reader’s image of Alice.
In the next segment, Alice goes to an Easter party, and again her cute, girly appearance is masterfully crafted. She patronizes her childhood Easter poem, which I like for its simplicity: “Easter lilies/pure and white/blossom in/the morning light.” She’s in front of everyone, and: “I can tell they admire my dress, but it is my spirit, bordering on sassiness (womanishness), they secretly applaud.” I like how this gives a broad perspective of her bursting personality. It shows that everyone considers her wonderful. Indeed, they say of her, “Oh, isn’t she the cutest thing!” and that she’s “got so much sense.” It is not just her say that she’s cute! She really, really is! Unfortunately, her beautifully crafted character was built to be shattered: “It was great fun being cute. But then, one day, it ended.”
All of a sudden she’s a tomboy, no longer the perfect little girl. She plays with the boys, her brothers, and dresses in their garb. An interesting dissonance is created by her brothers getting guns and her being subjugated to bow and arrows merely because she’s a girl. This seems like a hard switch in tone – from fanciful parties to playing cowboys and Indians. And honestly, it should be. The subjugation softens it by identifying her girlishness, but the switch is still an early indicator of the story no longer being what it was.
In quick succession, her brothers alter her life forever: one of them shoots her with a BB gun and blinds her. She says it hurts; that she wants her mother. Her burning fever turns to chills. The imagery detailing her sickness is painfully realistic: “It is the last thing my right eye sees. I watch as its trunk, its branches, and then its leaves are blotted out by the rising blood.” The world is blotted out by blood. I can see her world fading with the red tinge of fresh gore. It horrifies me. The author doesn’t seem to focus much on the physical pain but rather on her feelings and emotions, the internal struggle being evident by “. . . I do not raise my head.” Her new-found blind eye and the perception of its scar have already altered her life via tragedy, frustration, and deformity.
She’s eight and lives where the “accident” occurred. The author doesn’t drop the persecution of Alice. Her torment is vivid… tangible… understandable. She’s doing badly in school. The other kids ask about her eye, but she’s yet to discover an answer, and for that they insist on fighting her. The helpless manner in which Alice is being tormented is truly insufferable. “After months of torture” she escapes only to enter a boarding school. The suffering is prolonged as she loses her beloved cat and the helping hand of a close and loving teacher. The icing on the cake is when her mother becomes deathly ill. These emotions are literally on a pendulum: the author seamlessly weaves anxiousness, the warmth of love, the coldness of loss, and the distress of a sickly mother. It’s quite exhausting. The pendulum swings from positive to negative over and over again.
She’s twelve, and a photo of her had been taken for school, one she didn’t like. Of course her cousin Brenda wanted to see it. “You still can’t see out of that eye?” Brenda asked. No. Of course she can’t. Throwing this fact in her face, one that makes her feel deep sorrow, does precisely nothing to help her feel better. “That night, as I do almost every night, I abuse my eye. I rant and rave at it, in front of the mirror, I plead with it to clear up before the morning. I tell it I hate it and despise it. I do not pray for sight. I pray for beauty.” Her eye still pains her, but emotionally, not physically: people just don’t understand.
She’s fourteen. She has the white glob removed, leaving a bluish crater. This change has a profound impact upon her morale. She becomes confident. She “wins the boyfriends of [her] dreams,” has plenty of friends, and is successful in school. The pendulum of emotion is in effect—she’s happy. She’s older still, roughly in her mid-twenties, and a journalist comes to interview her. She wrote a book. She talks to her lover, saying she doesn’t want to do it because “in all probability [her] eye won’t be straight”. Again we have simultaneous success and shame—both swings of the pendulum. She’s content with herself, but deep down the same problems fester. She still worries about her eye: what it means, how it’s changed her, and how to deal with it.
She visits the desert and admires its beauty. An epiphany befalls her, a sudden gratitude for her one healthy eye. She can experience the beauty and wonder of the world. She’s 27 now with a three year old baby. Still she worries if her child will accept her blind eye, but her little girl isn’t mean-spirited, and she thinks of the eye as a magical globe. A world in Alice’s clouded sphere. Again she is relieved, freed of her long-lasting pain by the loving honesty of her innocent babe. This last pendulum swings dramatically upwards - revolutions upwards - and releases Alice into the cozy embrace of happiness.
This story is complicated and vivid for so many reasons. Every sentence is relevant to Alice’s character. Some details are mentioned only in passing; a fleeting thought not to be revisited, an overt glimpse into the peripheral of her reality. The pregnant woman that gets shot comes to mind, and the electric chair. Other plot devices are embedded deep into the story: asking family if she’s changed after the accident, her constant aging, and the prolific use of imagery and color. I haven’t spoken much about which senses the author uses. Honestly, it’s (ahem) blindingly obvious: sight, vision, imagery. I quote several passages that are extraordinarily strong in this respect. This irony is nearly overwhelming, but only nearly so. I found this story overwhelming and enriching. It was a page-turner for me, something I couldn’t get enough of. Honestly, the author swallowed me whole.
Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self by Alice Walker
730 WordsFeb 23rd, 20183 Pages
Some people look at adversity as a learning experience, while others view adversity as a situation marked with misfortune. When a person is faced with adversity, rather than viewing it as something to hate, they should see it as a opportunity to grow. In the stories by Doris Lessing, W.D Wetherell and Alice Walker, they all show different types of challenges each character had to over come and their journey to do so. These stories all shared similar outcomes, they demonstrate how each character used an obstacle they were faced with, and turned it into a beneficial experience and how it shaped them into the person they are today. A form of adversity is in Alice Walker’s essay, “Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self”, it shows how a person’s perception of everything is always greatly influenced by their past experiences. Walker uses various elements throughout her writing to show her outlook towards her appearance. Walker uses the incident that happened in her childhood to show that a persons mindset can be changed by a experience and how her attitudes changes from a sassy, conceited kid to a matured and powerful women who finally sees beauty in her life. Alice Walker’s essay is a great example of a person whose fear of adversity allowed themselves to be worn down by it. She begins the story with a cocky outlook on life where she knows she is beautiful. “I’m the prettiest!” (Alice Walker), as a young child she would use her…