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" She wasn't an "old collie turned out to die," but some people apparently had pity on her and saw her that way. That is a good metaphor, "old collie," and Walker also explains that she was "the color of poor gray Georgia earth, beaten by king cotton and the extreme weather."
Walker is just as effective using similes (82): Her elbows were "wrinkled and thick, the skin ashen but durable, like the bark of old pines." She word an old "mildewed black dress" with missing buttons, and when people saw her, some "saw the age, the dotage," and others saw in her "cooks, chauffeurs, maids, mistresses, children denied or smothered in the deferential way she held her cheek to the side..."
All these descriptions are stereotypes that people have of an old black woman, and Walker packs this story with descriptions of those stereotypes. The reader has a whole lot of images to plug into, to take one's pick up, in sizing up this woman. How could some people see "riotous anarchists looting and raping in the streets" when they saw this sad old women? How could others see "jungle orgies in an evil place"? The truth is, Walker is pointing out how prejudice against a race of people, in this case, African-Americans, can create all kinds of negative images and stereotypes in the minds of racists. When they see an old black woman, they think of riots, because some black inner city communities have burned down during riots? So, they link the color of a woman's skin with all the negative images they have in their heads about blacks?
Would it be fair for a black person to think of Adolf Hitler every time a she sees a white man? There is a point of fairness in society that a lot of people haven't reached, and a lot of people can't get past their narrow bigoted ways, and this is what Walker is apparently alluding to in this story.
On page 84, readers begin to assume the old woman is confused, and perhaps homeless, and certainly in the wrong church. But the usher wasn't polite in telling her she had to go out of this house of God, which is an irony from Walker. A house of God and some people aren't welcome because of the way they look? Is that right? "God, mother, country, earth, church. It involved all that, and well they knew it," Walker writes on 84. And the women in the rich church who dared their "burly indecisive husbands" to throw the old black woman out, wore "good calfskin gloves, and looked "with contempt at the bloodless gray arthritic hands of the old woman."
So they threw the old woman out, then sang and prayed and meantime outside the old woman sees Jesus coming down the highway "at a firm but leisurely pace."
And the old woman tells Jesus about her life, as they walked past her "forlorn and sagging, weather-beaten and patched" house, she did not even see it, she was so delighted to be with Jesus.
She seemed to be walking on clouds, able to look over the treetops, Walker writes, and the reader can guess that the old woman actually died, and is in heaven. There are guesses in the story from people who wondered what happened to her, and Walker leads up to the understated ending by point out that black families said they had seen her "high-stepping down the highway"; the white folks in the church heard "sometime later" that an old "colored woman" had fallen and died on the highway. But the crowning moment in the story, the sad part of the story, is the last sentence, on page 87. Understatement builds the characters around the old women in this line: "they guessed maybe she had relatives across the river, some miles away, but none of them really knew." That's the key: all the people who saw her could do is guess as to what she was doing or who she was, because nobody had taken the time to find out. "...none of them really knew."
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