In Alice Walker’s “Looking for Zora” the question of expressing someone as your kin despite the fact that you never knew them is introduced. Throughout her narrative, Alice expresses Zora as her kin in several ways. The most obvious being the fact that she lies about being her niece, her entire journey centers around looking for, finding, and helping someone who she never knew. At the end of her text, she describes,
“There are times–and finding Zora Hurston’s grave was one of them–when normal responses of grief, horror, and so on do not make sense because they bear no real relation to the depth of the emotion one feels. It was impossible for me to cry when I saw the field full of weeds where Zora is. Partly this is because I have come to know Zora through her books and she was not a tear sort of person herself; but party, too, it is because there is a point at which even grief feels absurd” (115).
It really struck me that Alice expresses such strong emotions for Zora despite the fact that she never knew her. Yet, she claims to know her, as she states. And to fill in the blanks that Zora’s books leave, she searches for and questions everyone who knew Zora when she was alive. Yet, one must question just how much Alice really knows Zora. Those who knew and cared for Zora, including Dr. Benton didn’t mark Zora’s grave. Was this because they knew Zora wouldn’t care whether or not her grave was marked? If so, was Alice disrespecting the wishes of Zora simply because she thought she knew better than those who really knew her? It’s confusing to consider whether Alice or those who really knew Zora knew her better. Truly, Alice feels so strongly for Zora solely through reading her stories. Yet, those who knew Zora, too, feel strongly for her as seen by Dr. Benton, her neighbor, and Mrs. Moseley. So why didn’t they mark her grave, while Alice felt the need to? Was it simply to pay tribute to someone she so admired, whereas those who really knew Zora felt no need to pay tribute for they did while she was alive?
The question remains as to how kinship is expressed in this tale. It’s obvious that Zora had no biological kin, for she excommunicated herself from them. She had many friends and, as Dr. Benton describes, “Everybody around here loved Zora” (112). Did Zora express her friends as kin? Did she feel that she needed kin at all? If she knew Alice, and that Alice so admired her from her stories, would she have expressed Alice as kin? If Zora was still alive when Alice came to pay her a visit, would she have welcomed her, and praised her for claiming to know her through her stories? Or was the Zora in her stories and the Zora in real life very different? I believe that the fact that Zora is dead allows Alice to express her as kin. In this way she can uphold Zora as an ideal, and nothing that one can say can tarnish Alice’s view of Zora. If Zora was alive, Alice would be able to express her as kin, but to meet Zora would be to understand that the real Zora is, perhaps, different from the Zora in her stories. Yet, I find this problematic, for this allows anyone to express anyone else as kin without those who are expressed as kin knowing they are someone else’s kin. In this way, the person can’t really be someone else’s kin. We’ll never know if Zora would have expressed Alice as kin, and because of this, I don’t think Alice should treat Zora as her kin.