“Acceptance. It is the true thing everyone longs for. The one thing everyone craves. To walk in a room and to be greeted by everyone with hugs and smiles. And in that small passing moment, you truly know you’re loved, needed, and accepted” (Harmon, 2003-2004). This paper will discuss a literary piece called The Welcome Table by Alice Walker. This writing is about a journey a poor older black woman faces in light of racism and judgment from Christian churchgoers. Struggles of oneself and of society are brought to light with words and images from the life and mind of Alice Walker. The Welcome Table will be analyzed using a reader-response approach, and a historical approach. I connected with The Welcome Table through its intense story of struggle and hope, as well as very thought provoking because it intertwined the present with the past, reveals raw human impurity in the church, and gave insight to how this woman coped with injustice and how in the end, she prevailed. Upon reading this short story, I was touched in an impactful way because I have also felt the sting of a misinformed and judgmental world.
Alice used tone to fire up my emotions, like the old black woman, I have also felt the sadness of being a shunned hurting outcast judged and removed. And like this black woman, I know the feeling of peace, love, and acceptance in the Lord. In addition, Alice used very descriptive words and image to paint a picture of this woman’s being and of the people and things that surrounded her. In using a reader-response approach, my feelings were heightened when the story spoke about the tattered old woman being boorishly and publicly removed from the church. I felt immense sadness and anger that people can be so shallow and hurt another human being, especially in a church setting. I longed to feel the excitement and overwhelming joy this black woman felt when she saw Jesus, and the contentment she felt as she walked with him. This black woman, to me, symbolizes every hurting human being, the injustice of a broken world, and the evil that plagues the hearts of humanity. Alice used ambiguity, which according to Clugston (2010) means “use of language that has more than one meaning” (p.1.2).
The Welcome Table by Alice Walker left me thinking about life and death, good and evil, acceptance and judgment, and deeply about love and hate. This short story reestablished things I already am aware of and renewed my passion and desire to help change the world. A church is supposed to be a hospital for the broken hearted, not a museum for the perfect. Using a historical approach in analyzing Alice Walker’s, The Welcome Table, I found that some of the struggles along with the strong will of the black woman in the story also reflect some of the struggles and strong will of the author. Alice Walker grew up in poverty with a harsh and sometimes abusive childhood (Walker, 2003). According to the New York Times, Bradley (1984), wrote, “Alice Walker … [is] a rejecter of the organized religion to which that tradition belonged. She [is] a rejecter of black middle-class education and pretentions, and an acceptor of white upper-class education, but not pretentions. She [is] a southerner in the “liberal” north, a feminist who [is] also a wife and mother. She [is] also sensitive enough to be hurt by criticism” (The New York Times Company, Bradley, D., 2012).
When Alice was 8 years old, her brother accidently shot her in the eye with a BB gun and from this wound, she became scarred and blind. She has, herself dealt with racism, poverty, and abuse (Walker, 2003). Nevertheless, she endures with her since of strong will. In The Welcome Table, the tattered old black woman comes from a long life of poverty, slavery, and abuse; but still, she walks on. “On her face centuries were folded into the circles around one eye, while around the other, etched and mapped as if for print, ages more threatened again to live. Some of them at the church saw the age, the dotage, the missing buttons down the front of her mildewed black dress. Others saw cooks…maids, mistresses… Many of them saw jungle orgies in an evil place, while others were reminded of riotous antichrists looting and raping in the streets” (cited in Clugston, 2010, The Welcome Table, para. 2). She walked all the way to the church in horrid freezing weather. When the old black woman arrived, the reverend called her auntie and used an array words in such a way as to ask her to leave. This was an all-white church, and this tattered old woman was black.
“She brushed by him anyway, as if she had been brushing past him all her life…” (cited in Clugston, 2010, The Welcome Table, para. 4). She refused to be stopped, she wanted to sit and worship and sing songs of praise to her King. Again, the churchgoers tried to make her leave, “the young usher [calling her grandma]…went up to her and whispered that she should leave…she did not pay him any attention, just muttered, “Go ‘way”…” (cited in Clugston, 2010, The Welcome Table, para. 5). Eventually, some white women dared their husbands to remove her, because they could not be expected to sit there while this dirty old black woman was there. So the husbands physically tossed the old black woman out. The old poor black woman stood there for a minute and could not believe her eyes. Down the street, she saw Jesus walking her way, and immediately was filled with peace and joy. He came her way and said, “Follow me”, so she did. She walked with Jesus and talked to him and sang to him and was just content in his company.
The struggles of the author are reflected in the struggles of the old tattered black woman in the story. In addition, the poor black woman’s strong will also reflects the author’s strong will. Alice Walker has written many other literary works that also reflect struggles of poverty, racism, and spirituality. Alice gave extreme attention to tone and image of the words of this peace to make the literary work realistic, as well as convey a very real problem, still apparent in today’s society. Alice was able to deliver such a raw and honest writing because it came from her own heart and mind and experiences. In evaluating The Welcome Table using a historical approach, the meaning of this writing was to bring to light racism issues, impurities not only in people, but also in the church. To reveal and make known the inward hate and fear people harbor and project on to innocents. To make known the mask society so politely wears, as if adorning oneself with gold and silver can cover the stench of filth and evil. When the author wrote that, the churchgoers called the old black woman auntie and grandma; they know the woman but do not acknowledge her within the church.
This notion embodies the evil in the hearts of the congregation and society as the body. Though this woman was poor, hated, and scorned, she prevailed. Scripture says one must die in order to live. Soon after being removed from the church, the tattered poor black woman saw Jesus, in his delight and splendor coming her direction on the highway. She smiled and giggled with joy and content. She walked with him and told him all the heaviness on her heart, and told him how glad she was that he had come. “They walked on, looking straight over the treetops into the sky, and the smiles that played over her dry wind-cracked face were the first clean ripples across a stagnant pond” (cited in Clugston, 2010, The Welcome Table, para. 10).
This outcome suggests that, though there has been and still is a real problem in society, there is also a solution, a solution that implies peace, love, and hope. This paper has discussed The Welcome Table, a literary writing about a journey a poor older black woman faces in light of racism and judgment from Christian churchgoers, by Alice Walker. Struggles of oneself and of society are brought to light with words and images from the life and mind of Alice Walker. The Welcome Table was analyzed using a reader-response approach, and a historical approach. I expressed the connection I felt with The Welcome Table through its intense story of struggle and hope, as well as how thought provoking it was because it intertwined the present with the past, reveals raw human impurity in the church, and gives insight to how this woman coped with injustice and how in the end, she prevailed. Thus, insinuating truth brings freedom.
Bradley, D. (1984, January 8). Novelist Alice Walker Telling the Black Woman’s Story. The New York Times Company. Retrieved from www.nytimes.com/books/98/10/04/specials/walker-story.html Clugston, R.W. (2010). Journey into literature. Retrieved from https://content.ashford.edu. Harmon, R. (2003-2004). Rena Harmon Famous Quotes [Quotemountain.com]. Retrieved from http://www.quotemountain.com/famous_quote_author/rena_harmon_famous_quotations/ Walker, A. (2003). The Welcome Table (published in 1967). Literary Cavalcade, 55, 32-35. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/2104762505?accountid=32521