African-American Women Literature: Didion and Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

That being said, it is quite difficult to be honest with oneself, even thought as we stand in front of the mirror, naked and bare, Didion says we remain "blind to our fatal weaknesses." One might think that being too self-critical would damage the ego, but for Didion, it is completely the opposite -- by knowing out flaws, accepting some and working towards the goal of solving others, we become more actualized and powerful. Without this realization, "one eventually discovers the final turn of the screw: one runs away to find oneself, and finds no one at home."

Both Didion and Walker focus on self-respect, self-actualization, and in a very real way, a pseudo-Marxian approach to alienation from society. There are several points in common for the authors: one's own approach to self; seeking and finding self-respect; and taking an active role in our own place in the universe. Conversely, Didion and Walker differ in their central approach to the subject, ways of internal and external communication, and the ability to find the "center" as a means of affirmation and attribution of self.

Walker's approach to the paradigm of self-respect is like a comfortable robe, frayed at the edges, but something we seek out to wear as we sit by the fire, bundled up, insulated from the outside world as we consider her parables and metaphorical approach to the larger problem of self-esteem. We can imagine, as a child, crawling up in Walker's lap to learn ways that one can be both true to oneself while still being active and inwardly powerful. With Didion, however savory and enlightening the message may be, the scenario is more reminiscent of a strict "school marm" with a willing propensity towards corporal punishment. It is not that either author does not genuinely mean what they say, but one finds the taste buds soothed with warm tea and honey vs. stout and tangy lemonade.

Seeking self-respect, for both authors, is part of the natural progress of life; the evolution of slowly realizing that one must move from external to internal stimuli- or forever be caught in an emotional
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hamster cage for which there is no escape. This journey, it seems, is part of language and personality acquisition. Walker's prose is filled with words that are primarily left-brained -- love, emotion, feelings, alarm, gently; while Didion's prose leans more towards the right-brained, logical, harsh world construct a more militaristic approach in rhythm: "lost the conviction that lights would always turn green," for instance, can be chanted to a marching band cadence.

In some ways, the approach towards actualization seems to be a philosophical difference of opinion about the very nature of personal power. Both authors agree on the basic structure (the world is round), yet both are not certain if there is a reason for its roundness. Walker has innumerable faith in humanity, justice, and the optimism of the future. Didion is not quite sure; the jury is out on humanity's ability to resurrect itself. Both do insist that the only way to fulfill one's inner needs, contribute to society in general, and find one's true purpose is to realize that the answer comes from within. The actual "within" -- a cartoon characterization of a conscience, the power of faith, or the continual philosophical questioning of the world -- matters not, it is the nature actualization that is central. To paraphrase Aristotle, "Happiness comes not at the end of the journey, but along the way."

That is not to invalidate either approach -- sometimes one wants a warm cup of soup, other times, the most refreshing thought is a candy-bar, bursting with taste sensation. Too, when all the stylistic and prose-related axioms are stripped, the general point-of-view is exactly the same: do not depend upon others for your own self-respect; self-respect is internal, and it is earned; and more important of all -- one can never be truly complete without the honesty of one's own convictions and the desire to continue the long, arduous process of self-actualization.


Bates, G. Alice Walker: A Critical Companion. Greenwood Publishers, 2005.

Hooks, B. Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem. Washington Square Press, 2004.

Sanford, L. Women and Self-Esteem: Understanding and Improving the…

Sources Used in Documents:

Hooks, B. Rock My Soul: Black People and Self-Esteem. Washington Square Press, 2004.

Sanford, L. Women and Self-Esteem: Understanding and Improving the Way We Think

About Ourselves. Penguin, 1987.

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