"Like the Pupil of an Eye": Sexual Blinding of Women in Alice Walker's Works

By Warren, Nagueyalti; Wolff, Sally | The Southern Literary Journal, Fall 1998 | Go to article overview

"Like the Pupil of an Eye": Sexual Blinding of Women in Alice Walker's Works


Warren, Nagueyalti, Wolff, Sally, The Southern Literary Journal


The injury occurred in childhood. Alice Walker was playing outdoors with her brothers. The boys had received BB guns for Christmas--the kind that shoot copper pellets. The moment is described in enduring present tense, as if still occurring in her vivid memory. She was standing on top of a make-shift garage, with her brothers on the ground below:

   I feel an incredible blow in my right eye. I look down just in time to see
   my brother lower his gun.... [A] tree growing from underneath the porch
   that climbs past the railing to the roof ... it is the last thing my right
   eye sees. I watch as its trunk, its branches, and then its leaves are
   blotted out by the rising blood.(1)

From that day, she sees life differently.

She loses the sight of her right eye. The incident marks her: the wounded eye becomes cloudy, blank, and--to her--grotesque. Though partial, Walker's blinding shatters her spirit, fragments her world, and delineates the beginning of her reach--through literature--for whole sight. Years later Walker explained in an essay entitled "Beauty: When the Other Dancer Is the Self" (In Search 363) that, because she was a girl, her parents had not given her a gun. This was her first true encounter with violent manifestations of sexism: what she would later call a patriarchal wound.

The wounded eye and, by extension, the wounded "I" becomes Walker's thematic unifier. Walker associates her eye with the center of her physical, social, and sexual self. She has been incestuously raped by her brother, his gun and copper pellets metaphorically penetrating and despoiling her physical sense of completeness, as well as her soul's ability to visualize its wholeness. Writing about Walker's women, Bettye Parker-Smith observes that [Walker] "transposes her `self' into her writing" to gather "up the historical and psychological threads of" her own life (453). As she develops artistically, Walker associates her childhood injury more directly with violence against females in general, and against poor, black, rural women and children in particular. The wounded eye signifies the violent acts directed not only against her but all abused women. As her career proceeds, Walker complicates and deepens her representations of this theme, which remains predominant through her works.

Thematic blindness develops over time. From her early poetry to her most contemporary novels, including Warrior Marks: Female Genital Mutilation and the Sexual Blinding of Women (1993), a journal and documentary filmed in West Africa, Senegal, and The Gambia, Walker's writings about blindness culminates in a complex and raw articulation.(2) Written with filmmaker Pratibha Parmar, Warrior Marks, the journal, describes the thoughts, fears, and frustrations of their filmmaking experience. In this book Parmar is inspired by "the painful honesty with which [Walker] confronts having been blinded in one eye by her brother" (131). Walker's partial blindness becomes the source of her militant feminism and activism for human rights, from which issue the central concerns of her writing.

Walker could not accept what had happened to her as merely accidental. She views this incident as the distillation of all her moments, asserting that "although he was only ten, I had seen my brother lowering his gun after shooting me and knew the injury had been intentional. Perhaps he had not planned to shoot me in the eye, but that he was aiming at me was unmistakable" (16). For her, the conflict took form and grew, in part because no one would accept accountability: her father died without ever talking to her about what had happened; Walker claims "he completely withdrew. His own mother had been shot to death when he was eleven, by a man who claimed to love her; maybe the sight of my injury pained him, as it struck that old bruise of loss and fear" (16-17).

After many years of pain and confusion, Walker began to delineate in her writing the cultural intersections of sexism, racism, and violence. …

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