Critical Essays on Alice Walker

By Ikenna Dieke | Go to book overview

"Nothing can be sole or whole that has
not been rent": Fragmentation in the
Quilt and The Color Purple

Judy Elsley

In W. B. Yeats poem Crazy Jane Talks with the Bishop, the speaker is a wild old woman, a culturally marginal figure, who meets the epitome of respectability in the form of the Bishop. The Bishop reacts predictably to Jane, despising her broken body and exhorting her to turn his way toward "a heavenly mansion." But social respectability means little to her. She answers his reproof in her strong, lifeaffirming voice, unintimidated by him or the patriarchal law he represents. Her reply refuses the epistemology of opposition, showing the Bishop that what seems opposed is, in fact interdependent:

"Fast and foul are near of kin,
And fair needs foul," I cried
"For nothing can be sole or whole
That has not been rent."

Her aphorisms seem like nonsequiturs to the Bishop and his ilk. Yet they make sense in an untraditional way by asserting that wholeness is composed of that which it is not fragments.

"Crazy" is just one label attached to women who don't fit in, or who refuse to play the patriarchal game. But Jane is not so crazy. She speaks a wild wisdom which does not coincide with linear reasoning. Jane shows a profound understanding of a way of being for women marginalized by a culture that uses them for its own convenience. Nothing can be sole or whole that has not been rent.

A woman makes the world her own by taking apart the patriarchal ways of being to create a space for herself. That space allows her to accept her own fragmentation, embrace those fragments, and thus validate herself. Recognizing rather than denying her pieces is often a woman's way to become "sole or whole" in a more feminocentric way. In effect, she makes a patchwork quilt of her life.

Elaine Showalter, in her essay Piecing and Writing, connects patchwork quilts and writing in North American short stories. She asserts that

A knowledge of piecing, the technique of assembling fragments into an intricate design, can provide the contexts in which we can interpret and understand the forms, meanings, and

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