Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

Reconciliation with Family in Alice Walker's "Kindred Spirits"

Academic journal article Southern Quarterly

Reconciliation with Family in Alice Walker's "Kindred Spirits"

Article excerpt

One of the most endearing scenes in contemporary southern literature is the homecoming at the end of Alice Walker's The Color Purple (1982), showcasing the reunion of Celie with her family - her two children, Adam and Olivia, and her sister, Nettie, who have returned to America from Africa. This reunion creates some semblance of the restoration of a home-like feeling by reuniting Celie and members of her family who have been separated from her for many years. Walker's "Everyday Use" (1973), her oft-anthologized story, also treats a homecoming reunion, though not a mutually pleasant occasion for family members. Rather, this story represents a cross-cultural confrontation and the ensuing conflict focusing on the return of Dee Johnson (who has changed her name to Wangero) to visit her mother and younger sister in her rural childhood home. Dee, whom Margaret Bauer aptly describes as a "superior-minded child looking down on her mother's simplicity, and, in effect, the simplicity of her heritage" (150), disconnects with mother and sister and their rural lifestyle and is ashamed of her familial roots about which she knows little. Smugly egotistical, educated, and materialistic, Wangero wears fashionable African dress and an African hairstyle, has a Muslim boyfriend, resides in the city, and desires to preserve some of her family's artifacts, which she can proudly display to her friends. A story in a somewhat different vein, "A Sudden Return Home in the Spring" (1981), features another educated African American woman, Sarah Davis, who is studying art in the North and who has alienated herself from her father. In returning home to Georgia to attend her father's funeral, Sarah reacquaints herself with her grandfather and brother, thereby reconnecting with family and finding in them "the house of heritage," as Donna Haisty Winchell perceptively points out (9).

There is yet another instance of homecoming, a reconnection of family members, in Alice Walker's work, this being in her story "Kindred Spirits," which Walker published in Esquire magazine in August 1985. "Kindred Spirits," which received the 1986 O. Henry Award for short fiction, involves another female character, Rosa, whose renewed understanding of family connections seems to begin to fill the void in her dismal and broken life. Still recovering from a divorce from her white husband, Rosa, whose visit "home" (home being a reconnection with her dead grandfather and older sister Barbara), represents "a kind of sentimental journey" for her (106).

This essay will explore meanings of home, homecoming, and particularly family through Rosa's reflections on the past and her confrontation with present circumstances, both of which affect how she feels and the attitudes that she formulates. In a review of Walker's The Way Forward Is with a Broken Heart (2000), a short fiction collection that includes "Kindred Spirits," Kelly Koepke generally perceives the stories in this volume as depictions of "wounded people who carry the scars, some old and shiny and some unhealed, inflicted both by loved ones and by society." In part autobiographical, the stories of The Way Forward, Walker points out in the preface, are "mostly fiction, but with a definite thread of having come out of singular life" (xiv), seemingly inspired by some of Walker's own personal misfortunes and losses. "Kindred Spirits," no doubt, evolved from the author's divorce in 1 976 from Mel Leventhal, a white civil rights attorney whom she married in 1967. Rosa, the story's middle-aged central character, seems to share the same conflict that plagued Alice Walker of "never to be able to forget, truly, but only to appear to forget. And then to record what you could not forget" (111). As Walker explains, "Kindred Spirits" and the other twelve stories in The Way Forward,

came to me to be told after the close of a magical marriage to an extraordinary man that ended in a less-than-magical divorce. I found myself unmoored, unmated, ungrounded in a way that challenged everything I'd ever thought about human relationships. …

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