gods, gardens, rooms

Like many others who have posted on “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens”, I also really enjoyed these excerpts. I noticed, particularly in “A Room of One’s Own”, that there is a space missing for black women, and that this missing space in this one particular essay is indicative of a space I believe exists in many spheres for black women. As I was reading these excerpts, I found myself struggling to name black female artists beyond Nina Simone and Aretha Franklin. I doubt that this is due to neglect on my part so much as a lack of a ‘room’ for black women to create in, so to speak. What I found really interesting about Alice Walker’s introduction and title is the notion of a garden instead of a room, and I’d like to explore the difference between the two.

Walker describes a beautiful quilt in the Smithsonian Institute, writing that it is “made of bits and pieces of worthless rags”, but is nonetheless “the work of a person of powerful imagination and deep spiritual feeling” (239). It is not credited or named the way most works probably are at the Smithsonian; it is instead noted that it was made by “an anonymous Black woman in Alabama, a hundred years ago” (239). Walker concludes that the artist left this tangible evidence of creative spirit with the only materials available to her and in the only medium she would have been allowed a hundred years ago. Despite these limitations, the genius shines through; the limited resources with which to create both stifle and demonstrate the artist’s potential.

Walker’s mother, a black woman, released her creativity in a similar fashion by transforming her social sphere into a place of creation and art. She planted “ambitious gardens” full of “over fifty different varieties of plants” (241). Walker describes her mother watering her flowers and laying out new beds early in the morning, and returning home from the fields to dig, uproot and replant roses, and prune branches until nightfall. Anything her mother touched would grow beautifully, and was praised by anyone who came to the yard. Walker describes her mother with a kind of religious reverence: “I notice that it is only when my mother is working in her flowers that she is radiant, almost to the point of being invisible- except as Creator: hand and eye…. Ordering the universe in the image of her personal conception of Beauty” (241). Her mother takes on the role of a God in this creation; the garden is not only a place of art, but also a universe. Much like God forming mankind in his image, she forms the garden in the image of what she believes to be beautiful. She fed her creative spirit in a garden, and not a room- the implications of nature, growth, and fertility are obvious (it occurred to me to reference the Garden of Eden, but I’ll save that for another discussion). I’m not sure I have a clear idea of what I believe to be the difference between the garden and the room after these short excerpts, but I thought it might be interesting to look at the different spaces as they are described by Walker and Woolf, particularly in light of the religious devotion Walker grants to her mother and the limited resources of black women.

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4 thoughts on “gods, gardens, rooms

  1. Both the Walker’s garden and Woolf’s room rely on a sense of ownership. The woman must be in control of her surroundings–Walker’s mother exerted her influence on her surroundings through the work she did with the garden–so I feel like the exact nature of the surrounding might be less important, at least from this perspective. I do think the religious aspect found in the Walker is very interesting, because religion is something that (almost) anyone can have, regardless of material wealth.

    • I hadn’t considered that aspect of religious accessibility, which is interesting. I guess I was considering it more from a perspective of power, in which creation is enabling and profoundly empowering. I think religion and creativity might be connected in this accessibility, considering how Woolf and Walker write about artistic spirit.

  2. I think this comparison between the ideas of Woolf’s room and Walker’s garden is especially interesting in considering the role women play in each particular environment. In Woolf’s discussion of the room, I was repeatedly reminded of de Beauvoir’s comment in The Second Sex: “they [women] have won only what men have been willing to concede to them” (8). Woolf’s room seems to exist in an environment still very much under male patronage (i.e., the women’s college). The woman, in Woolf’s discourse, seems to be allowed her room by men as only a place she can act within, rather than having it be her own domain that she can act upon.

    In Walker’s garden, however, the woman seems to have direct influence and sovereignty upon her environment, yet still exercise creativity. Even the way Walker writes about the relationship between her mother and the garden posits her mother as a Creator, as a subject who shapes her own world rather than someone who must create within another’s world. Despite the limited resources that Walker’s mother must have had as compared to Woolf, she seems much more in control of her domain (though of course, these same liberties could hardly extend outside the room/garden), and it’s interesting to consider who was actually “truer” to her creative spirit.

  3. I also feel like the garden is more of an open place so it is perhaps open to the community, maybe a female community, whereas the room has connotations of isolation and personal struggle.

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