Relationships, personality, Violence, and Manhood in the Third Life of Grange Copeland The novel ‘The Third Life of Grange Copeland’ by Alice Walker can be seen as a set of lives depicting the gradual formation of the personality living in the environment of racial discrimination and striving for human happiness. Alice Walker demonstrates how families can be adversely affected by the culture in which they live, and are often blind to its effects through the depiction of ruthless and violent treatment of family members.
The author argues the impact of economical and racial oppression on the development of manhood and interpersonal relationships in addition to centralizing social inequality and its interference with the family life of ordinary people. The author demonstrates relationships between a father and his son. Through this idea, Walker tries to depict the theme of manhood. Brownfield, a victim of the lack of love, especially by the father, is metaphorically blind because he is unable to love. Grange’s coldness and occasional violent words toward Brownfield set a ruthless violence in motion.
Brownfield’s father “never looked at him”; (Walker, 9) consequently, Brownfield never develops a sense of self worth. Furthermore, at least once Grange utters something violent to Brownfield; “I ought to throw you down the god dam well. ” (Walker, 12) Racial inequality and discrimination is one theme raised by the author as in the presence of white people, Grange’s figurative blindness intensifies: “A grim stillness settled over his eyes and he became an object”. (Walker, 8) Grange also has “veiled eyes”: they are unseeing of the truth.
When drunk, he “would make his way across the pasture and through the woods, headlong, like a blind man”. (Walker, 14) Grange is blind to options of how he can make his life different from his forefathers and how he does not have to be reduced to the low position in society, which he accepts. Manhood is also stressed through symbolism in the novel. The gun is a symbol of masculinity as it frequently appears and represents the violence, which will dominate the lives of the characters. Grange sits on the porch, “cradling something in his arms.
It was long and dark, like a steel rod, and glinted in the light. ” (Walker, 27) A gun appears again later in the novel when Grange has a final chance to rectify some of his past mistakes and attempts to show Brownfield that to continue the way he has, is not necessary, but Brownfield has only followed in his father’s footsteps of violence. “Brownfield lurched out onto the porch waving his shotgun. ” Mem, his wife, “walked blindly toward the gun and Brownfield shot her face off”. Her child asks piteously, “’She sleeping . . . in’t she? ’ trying to see closed eyes where there were none at all”. (Walker, 172) Mem is blind also, which manifests itself in her refusal to see Brownfield for the fiend he has become, or to see herself as a whole person who deserves a normal life. This is evident in the question posed by her children: why had she walked toward him after she saw the gun? Was she blindly accepting the way things had become and her fate? There is even the possibility that she welcomes it as a final end to the continuous violence as her only option.
The concept of violence is expressed through the relationships between family members and early in the novel, violence is shown to be a part of the culture in which the Copelands live. Questions to ask are what is it in a society or a culture that creates the perpetual cycle of violence and why do individuals, generation after generation continue to accept it? Part of it is that it has happened before and future generations follow the example of those, who have lived before them and are never taught any other choices. For example, Brownfield watches as his father berates his mother, calling her names and treats her poorly.
The notes of violence are shown after Brownfield’s father has abandoned the family and his mother is dead. The young Brownfield did not start out violent, as most children don’t. He had the same dreams that all the young share, of a better life than their parents. He eventually goes on to meet Mem and falls in love, with dreams of giving her a good life, including treating her well. Brownfield wants to treat Mem better than his father treated his mother, but His dreams soon are confronted by the reality of the Southern world, where he is still a black and considered no more than a slave.
Under the system he is doomed to be indebted to a white master, live in abject poverty, and have his masculinity threatened. He reached a level attained by earlier generations, of frustration and hopelessness. As a result, the wife Brownfield had found so attractive and loved so much became the victim of beatings, out of frustration and depression. Mem, with her own depression and frustrations, aged rapidly and was changed by Brownfield. “Everything about her changed, not to suit him…He changed her to something he did not want, could not want, and that made it easier for him to treat her in the way he felt she deserved. (Walker, 57) Mem had entered the novel as an educated woman, a schoolteacher; this combined with Brownfield’s illiteracy only adds to his frustration and lack of self-esteem. Brownfield wants to believe in himself as ‘the man’ and as such the provider. He feels his masculinity is threatened when Mem, frustrated and sick of living in leaky cold huts decides to take matters into her own hands; she finds a job and a decent home for the family to live in. Brownfield despises her because she will earn more money than he ever has and does a better job taking care of the family than he ever could resulting in him refusing to move.
Mem, for the first time responds with violence. She threatens him with the shotgun, pointing the barrel at his genitals and pistol whipping him. She has decided to lay down the rules, which include demanding an end to the beatings. Brownfield complies and it appears for a number of years that the family is content. (Walker, 133) However, Brownfield only complies, to wait for her to fall. He cannot accept his contentment because he did not achieve it by his own hand. He wants to avenge himself against Mem. He wishes to rid himself of her and remove her from the world, but he waits patiently to actually do it.
Walker stresses a gradual formation of personality living under the pressure of personal emotions and social injustice. Brownfield’s children openly despise him, frequently plotting in their childish ways to murder him. Their thoughts unknowingly are similar to their mother’s, but no one acts. The children are witnesses to their mother’s murder and all but one are taken north. Ruth who remains behind goes to live with her grandfather Grange. Grange had returned to try to right what he had done wrong with Brownfield, but Brownfield has hardened beyond the point of forgiveness or love.
Grange wants to demonstrate to Brownfield that life does not have to continue in abject poverty, that caring for one’s family is important and violence is not necessary, but Brownfield does not listen. Grange himself turns to Ruth as the object of his new life, loving her and teaching her to better herself, not to become white but to be a better black. Despite his ‘new life’, Grange does harbor some of his old self, as seen in his treatment of Josie. He calls her names and berates her for being nothing but a whore. “You lazy yaller heifer! ” he would start out, “and don’t you come saying nothing defending to me.
You no-good slanderous trollop, you near-white strumpet out of tallment, you motherless child, you pig, you bloated and painted cow! Look to your flopping udders hanging out in mass offense! You lustful she-goat! Close up your spreaded knees before this innocent child and my gray head! ” (Walker, 179) He also continues to hate white people, if not more than before. He views them as evil, only there to try to take away from him what is his. (Walker, 197) In his hatred, although somewhat justified, he allows a pregnant white woman to die in a lake in New York.
He occasionally says that the reason he puts up a fence is to draw the line against whites and blacks and should they attempt to cross it, he will kill them. (Walker, 245) He does not hold Blacks in high esteem either, allowing themselves to be controlled by the whites and continuing in their violent behaviors. Both in the North and the South, violence in the family is common. In New York, Grange speaks of the deacons with their “rough pious hands that beat their women to death when they couldn’t feed them…” (Walker, 154) Violence in the family appears present everywhere.
The novel ends with the last act of violence in the Copeland family as Grange shoots and kills Brownfield, rather than let him take Ruth and subject her to his miserable ways. In turn, Grange flees, only to die at the hands of law enforcement. We are left with the hope that in educating her and loving her, Grange has broken the cycle of violence at least in one family. Works Cited Walker, Alice. The Third Life of Grange Copeland. Washington Square Press. 2000. Assisted in research by Nikkala Martinez. (646)400-2584. Assisted in editing by Omar Amin. (201)388-3081.
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Relationships, Personality, Violence, and Manhood in the Third Life of Grange Copeland. (2018, Feb 19). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/relationships-personality-violence-and-manhood-in-the-third-life-of-grange-copeland/