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Page One: Early Life
On Feburary 9, 1944, in the small farming community of Eatonton, GA, Willie Lee and Minnie Grant gave birth to their eighth and final child, a girl, they named Alice. Little did her parents know that their youngest daughter would become one of the most prolific, controversial and respected African-American novelists of the later-half of the 20th Century.
But the potential in Willie Lee and Minnie Grant's baby may not have been recognized early on by others living in their farming community. Alice would have to overcome a number of difficulties in her lifetime that would profoundly influence the way she pictured herself and the world around her and would later help shape her views as a writer.
Alice Walker began her childhood in a crowded household with five of her older brothers. The house she lived in was a small and cramped hut with temeperature extremes that sometimes made life uncomfortable. During the Georgia summers filled with bright sunshine, it was very hot. During winters when the frosts would come, it was equally cold. And when it rained, the roof leaked.
Alice's father was a sharecropper who earned only $300 a year. Her mother was a domestic who sometimes earned extra money as a seamstress.
As a young child, Alice loved to explore the world around her. She said that one of her favorite pastimes in the world was "people watching." Even at a young age, she loved to closely observe a person's facial expressions. She enjoyed watching others' actions in relation to their neighbors in her community.
At the age of four, Alice began school. Because of her precociousness, Alice was advanced to the first grade. During this time, she was relatively outgoing and self-confident. Alice had a very good body image of herself and believed herself to be pretty, even at a young age. In her youth, she loved to get up in front of crowds of people, especially at church and recite speeches. Alice also described herself as a tomboy who enjoyed keeping up with two of her brothers who were two and four years older than she was. On Saturday afternoons, she, her mother, and her two older brothers went to the movies to spend time at the matinee watching Westerns.
At the age of eight, her rambunctious play as a tomboy suddenly came to an end however. While playing a game of "Cowboys and Indians," Alice was accidentally hit in her right eye by a BB pellet shot by one of her brothers. When her two older brothers saw that she was injured, they climbed up onto the tin garage covering where Alice had been lying on and helped her down in order to get help from their parents.
Because they were afraid of getting a whipping from their parents, Alice's brothers persuaded her to lie say that she had been struck in the eye with a protruding piece of wire. Alice's right eye quickly began to fill with blood. As she was lying down on her parents' porch, the last thing she remembers seeing of her eye was the trunk of a tree growing next to her house.
Because they did not realize what had truly taken place, Alice's parents did not take her to be seen by a doctor immediately. Instead they tried treating her injury at home. In the days following the accident however, Alice's injured eye became infected and she developed a fever. Her father placed lily leaves around her head to try to help bring the fever down. Her mother tried to keep Alice nourished with soup to help her recover. But Alice was too sick to eat and she didn't get better. In the end, they decide to take Alice to a local doctor in town.
When they arrived, the doctor admonished them and asked them why they waited so long to see him. As he treated Alice's infected eye, Alice's sight in her right eye probably wouldn't return. He also explained to them that since eyes are sympathetic, it was possible that Alice could lose sight in both her eyes. Luckily this doesn't happen, but Alice remained fearful for a long time that this would eventually happen. Slowly over time, the injury in her right eye calcified and healed. It developed into what Alice described as a "hideous white scar."
After her accident, Alice's grades plummeted. Because of the noticeable scar in her right eye, she became an easy target for the other children in her school who teased her mercilessly. The very same brother who accidentally shot the BB pellet that had blinded Alice, soon became her one of her staunchest defenders against her bullies. However, since her brother loved to brag so much about coming to the defense of his youngest sister's it began to become tiresome. He boasted so much about being her protector that it started make Alice sick.
Alice's personality changed significantly. The once out-going girl who loved to speak in front of crowds, became withdrawn and introverted. Because she is teased by her classmates, Alice became deeply ashamed of herself and began to believe that she was ugly. When people would look at her face, she would quickly turn away or look down. She refused to look other people directly in the eye for fear that they might stare back at her and see only her scar.
Because of her new difficulties, her parents decided that it might be better if they sent away Alice to live with her grandparents. They thought that being around her her old friends would help to cheer her up. But Alice saw being sent away as a form of punishment. She thought that she was being blamed for the accident which she felt wasn't her fault. She stayed with her grandparents for a year and then moved back home.
It was during this time that Alice decided to pray to God. She asked God not for the sight in her right eye to return. Instead, she prayed for her scar to go away. She prayed for beauty.
During this time, Alice described herself as being a solitary person who daydreamed of falling upon swords rather than living happily ever after in fairy tales. After she returned home, Alice was allowed to sit quietly and read books for hours upon end. Alice believed that her mother allowed her to skip doing her chores because her mother saw reading as being an outlet to help with the pain and difficulties Alice endured after the accident. It is during this time that Alice discovered the classical authors. She also began to write poetry as a way of dealing with her feeling of loneliness and shame as a result of the accident.
Although her difficulties were painful, it was through persecution that enabled Alice to grow as a person. She credited the time that she spent as an outcast as being instrumental in allowing her to view people and things as they truly are. She says that the cruelty enabled her to make more realistic observations of people and to be patient in nuturing relationships. The tragedy of losing her eye also enabled Alice to see that her body was merely a covering, hiding the person she truly was inside.
At the age of fourteen, Alice visited her older brother, Bill in Boston. He realized the shame she faced as a result of her scar. So while Alice was babysitting for him during the summer, Bill took Alice to a local hospital where he paid for her to undergo surgery to have the scar removed. After the eye healed only a blue crater was left in place of where the white cataract used to be.
When it is gone, Alice transformed from a girl who could not lift her head to look others in the eye into one who could be proud. She began to speak up in classes and her grades improved significantly so much so that by the end of high school, Alice graduated as valedictorian. She also succeeded in making many new friends in the time after her operation. Alice made so many new friends that she was elected as the most popular student in high school by her graduating class. She was even voted to be queen of the senior prom.
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