As literature has progressed throughout the centuries, one of the basic principles has remained the same and that is: for literature to be effective, the reader must establish a connection of some sort to the literary work. Looking at the story from a theological standpoint, Alice Walker’s short story, The Welcome Table (1970), makes the reader not only imagine the struggles colored people had to endure but also knowing that having faith in Jesus can bring about a sense of joy. This piece of literary work captured my interest because of its true soulfulness and also how the story was told. The text explains about a point-of-view called omniscient, which is used in this story. Omniscient, according to Clugston, is “when the story is being told by someone who is not a character but knows the thoughts and feelings of the characters in the story” (Clugston, 2010, p. 3.1). After reading the story, it made me somehow feel the plight of the old woman. This story brought up feelings that challenge the reader to look within from a sociological and psychological point-of-view. Even though the civil rights movement radically changed the way people look at race, there still are cultures out there that embrace the old ways.
Utilizing the reader-response approach, as outlined in the text, the reader is creating a connection with the literature. Not only that, but Clugston also goes on to say, “you must not depend solely on your feelings and opinions as you develop a critical essay: you must account for your feelings by finding specific aspects of the literary work that make you feel as you do (Clugston, 2010, p. 16.2). This is especially true when I started to read about the old black woman. The story starts off describing the old black woman in detail, which sparked my imagination. The author made no recompense for the way she looked, just described her as she appeared, “The old woman stood with eyes uplifted in her Sunday–go–to–meeting clothes: high shoes polished about the tops and toes, a long rusty dress adorned with an old corsage, long withered, and the remnants of an elegant silk scarf as head rag stained with grease from the many oily pigtails underneath” (as cited in Clugston, 2010, section 3.1).
The author also spoke of the old black woman’s strength and weakness. It is not made clear whether or not she was senile but she definitely moved with a tendency that made one believe that she belonged in the church or perhaps knew enough about the church, “Still she had come down the road toward the big white church alone. Just herself, an old forgetful woman, nearly blind with age… she brushed past him anyway, as if she had been brushing past him all her life, except this time she was in a hurry. Inside the church she sat on the very first bench from the back, gazing with concentration at the stained–glass window over her head” (as cited in Clugston, 2010, section 3.1). Rather than suggest that the old black woman was lost or suffering from some sort of mental breakdown, the author creates a picture of a strong-willed woman with years of oppression on her face and reaching a point of her life with nothing else to lose but everything to gain. After being literally tossed out of the church and onto the pavement, you would think she would have given up but not so, her spiritual eyes were open and she walks and talks with Jesus bringing upon a sense of joy and pride that no man or woman can take away from her.
The meaning of this literary work, to me, is one that highlights racial tension and divide that was commonplace back in those days. It also can be used as a literary tool to promote peace. According to Adolf, “peace literature is undoubtedly an Aristotelian genre because it makes full use of mimesis (“representation”), a ubiquitous and multifaceted literary device which, given established sets of cultural norms, elicits more or less predictable ethical and affective reader responses” (Adolf, 2010). The story was made even more powerful because the church, which was supposed to be a place of worship and a gathering place of God’s people, still had people that looked down on the old black woman as being from an inferior race. The descriptive talent of the author makes the reader not only connect with the story by initially feeling a sense of hopelessness for the woman, but completely turns it around and promotes a sense of victory.
Adolf, A. (2010). WHAT DOES PEACE LITERATURE DO? AN INTRODUCTION TO THE GENRE AND ITS CRITICISM. Peace Research , 42 (1/2), 9-21,177. Clugston, R. W. (2010). Journey Into Literature. (E. Evans, Ed.) San Diego, CA: Bridgepoint Education, Inc.