Born into a poor family of black sharecroppers, Alice Walker became a widely known and respected poet, novelist, and civil rights activist of the late 20th and early 21st century. She published her best-known book, The Color Purple, in 1982, and received the Pulitzer Prize and national book award in 1983. Her poetry focuses on the value of humanity, emotion, and different aspects of life primarily focused on women and blacks. Coming from a poor background, she often focuses on poverty and suffering, and much of her work is about civil rights activism, both focused on women’s rights and racial equality. Though she has been involved with men and women, being married to a male Jewish man in the ??60s, and having a relationship with Tracy Chapman in the ??90s, she does not consider herself straight, bisexual, or gay, refusing to conform to any of the titles. She continues to create new works of poetry and novels, her most recent books both released in 2013, a novel The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way, and a book of poems The World Will Follow Joy Turning Madness into Flowers (About Alice Walker).
On February 9, 1944, Alice Malsenior Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia as the eighth and youngest child of African American sharecroppers Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Lou Tallulah Grant. When she was young, she was accidentally blinded in one eye by her brother, and her mother gave her a typewriter, allowing her to write instead of doing chores. Her mother firmly believed that she should be educated, and at the age of four, her mother enrolled her in school, where she learned to read and write. Later in childhood, she was valedictorian in high school, and as a young adult received a full ride to Spelman College in Atlanta in 1961, where she was influenced by her professor Howard Zinn to become a part of the civil rights movement. She later transferred to Sarah Lawrence College near New York City, from which she graduated in 1965. During her time at Spelman College, she also met Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who inspired her to return to the south and continue her activism there (Alice Walker Biography). She participated in voting drives, campaigned for welfare rights, and contributed to children’s programs. She more recently has been outspoken on international rights issues regarding the middle east, including the treatment of women and children as well as the governments of countries such as Israel (Editors).
In 1965, Walker met a man named Melvyn Leventhal, a white Jewish lawyer. They were married in 1967 and bore a child, Rebecca, in 1969. She and her daughter later became estranged, Rebecca feeling as though she was more a symbol of her mother’s ideology than a loved child. Walker has not been speaking to her daughter since the birth of her son Tenzin because Rebecca “dared to question her ideology.” She was also removed from her mother’s will for this reason and was replaced with a distant cousin (Alice Walker Biography).
Walker’s writing career began with her first book of poetry, written in her senior year at Sarah Lawrence College, and her poetry books have been published periodically since 1968. She began her career as a novelist in 1970 and has more often released novels every few years. She continues to release novels and books of poetry regularly, and posts poems on her dedicated website, alicewalkersgarden.com. Most of Alice Walker’s poetry style is in free verse and has no significant rhyme scheme. She tends to write poems on injustices in history and in the current world and calls upon the reader to reject these unjust groups of people. Her novels primarily focus on women, their feelings, their ideas, and emotions (Thefamouspeople.com Editors).
In this poem, she does not have any rhyme scheme or pattern, but uses repeated phrases, such as “when they torture” and “plant a tree”. She expresses that in response to those you love and respect being tortured, to respond with doing good, planting trees until you have a forest. In the end when she says, “when they begin to torture the trees,” she says to start another forest. I like the message of this poem, not retaliating against your torturers with violence, but to do good and let that be your retribution for the injustice done to those you love. This poem seems to be about civil rights, the torture of her and her family, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., and to “plant a tree” rather than seeking revenge on those that try to oppress you.
This poem has a beautiful message, that we should love all things though they may not be rare or expensive as gold, and that we as a society decide that gold and such valuable items are worth what they are. She says that items of nature are just as rare and that we can “love what is plentiful as much as what’s scarce.”
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