Critical Essays on Alice Walker

By Ikenna Dieke | Go to book overview

When a Convent Seems the Only Viable
Choice: Questionable Callings in Stories
by Alice Dunbar-Nelson, Alice Walker,
and Louise Erdrich

Margaret D. Bauer

Get thee to a nunnery.
--Shakespeare, Hamlet

In her 1899 collection of short stories, The Goodness of St. Rocque and Other Stories, Alice Dunbar-Nelson included the story "Sister Josepha", one of very few of her writings that deals with particularly African American concerns. In the second half of the twentieth century, one of Dunbar-Nelson's literary "granddaughters," Alice Walker, included a remarkably similar story, "Diary of an African Nun", in her collection of short stories In Love and Trouble. Recognition of the parallels between these two stories highlights the subtleties of each. For example, while Dunbar-Nelson can only allude--and very vaguely--to the mixed blood that contributes to the dilemma of her protagonist, for she might otherwise offend her white readers by suggesting blame, Walker distances her protagonist's dilemma from her American readers by setting her story in Africa. In spite of writing almost a century later, Walker knew that race relations in America had not changed significantly. Indeed, she wrote this story at the end of the Civil Rights Movement, a period of American history even more turbulent than the post-Reconstruction period in which Dunbar- Nelson wrote. On the other hand, Walker does apparently perceive herself as freer than Dunbar-Nelson was to examine closely the origin of her protagonist's conflict. In her story, Dunbar-Nelson merely presents a vague depiction of one woman's conflict of identity that led to her decision to become a nun. In Walker's, the author delves deeper into her character's consciousness as the African nun examines the effects of the encroaching European influence on her life, limited now by her decision to become a nun, and upon her people, who are being coerced into abandoning their own religions in favor of Christianity, the dominant religion of the Western world.

Turning from these two stories to Native American writer Louise Erdrich "Saint Marie", one can see that this autonomous chapter of the composite novel LoveMedicine

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