The Third Life of Grange Copeland: How Relationships, Personality, and Violence Shape Manhood

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In the book ‘The Third Life of Grange Copeland’ by Alice Walker, the author explores the themes of relationships, personality, violence, and manhood. The novel portrays the gradual development of a person’s character within the context of racial discrimination and their pursuit of happiness. Alice Walker highlights how families can be negatively impacted by the societal norms they are surrounded by, often unaware of the harm inflicted on their own kin through brutal and aggressive behavior.

In this passage, the author explores the effects of both economic and racial oppression on the growth of manhood and interpersonal connections, as well as highlighting the significant role social inequality plays in disrupting the everyday lives of common individuals and their families. The author utilizes the relationship between a father and his son to convey their insights. By doing so, Walker aims to convey the theme of manhood. Brownfield, who has been deprived of love, particularly from his father, is metaphorically portrayed as blind because he lacks the ability to love. Grange’s coldness and sporadic use of aggressive language towards Brownfield initiates a cycle of ruthless violence.

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Brownfield’s father ignored him, resulting in Brownfield having low self-esteem (Walker, 9). Additionally, Grange verbally threatens Brownfield at least once, saying “I should throw you down the god dam well.” (Walker, 12) The author also addresses the theme of racial inequality and discrimination, highlighting how Grange becomes figuratively blind and objectified in the presence of white people: “A grim stillness settled over his eyes and he became an object.” (Walker, 8) Grange also possesses “veiled eyes” that are unable to see the truth.

When intoxicated, he would stumble through the pasture and woods, moving with reckless abandon, as if he were unable to see. This blindness is symbolic of Grange’s ignorance towards the possibilities of changing his life from that of his ancestors, and his acceptance of being relegated to a lower position in society. Additionally, the novel emphasizes the concept of manhood through various symbols. The presence of a gun throughout the story represents masculinity and serves as a constant reminder of the violence that will ultimately overpower the characters’ lives. On the porch, Grange sits, clutching something close to his chest.

In the novel, a gun is described as long, dark, and glinting in the light (Walker, 27). Later, Grange attempts to show Brownfield that the continuation of violence is unnecessary, but Brownfield responds by waving his shotgun on the porch. Mem, Grange’s wife who is blind, walks towards the gun and Brownfield shoots her in the face. Their child desperately asks if she is sleeping, unaware that she has been killed (Walker, 172). Mem’s blindness symbolizes her refusal to see Brownfield’s transformation into a monster and her own worthiness of a normal life. Her children question why she walked towards the gun after seeing it, suggesting that she may have accepted her fate and welcomed it as an end to the cycle of violence.

The idea of violence is conveyed through familial relationships and is apparent in the Copeland family’s community. Key questions to consider include what factors in society or culture perpetuate the cycle of violence, and why do individuals persist in accepting it across generations? One reason is that previous generations have set an example, leaving future generations without alternative options. For instance, Brownfield witnesses his father disrespecting and mistreating his mother.

The violence in Brownfield’s life is evident after his father leaves the family and his mother passes away. Initially, Brownfield was not violent, like most children. He had the same aspirations as other young individuals, dreaming of a better life than their parents had. When he meets Mem and falls in love, he envisions providing her with a good life and treating her kindly. Brownfield desires to surpass his father’s treatment of his mother and ensure Mem’s well-being. However, his dreams are soon shattered by the harsh reality of the Southern society, where he continues to be regarded as nothing more than a black person and a slave.

The system has doomed him to indebtedness to a white master, living in extreme poverty, and having his masculinity undermined. He has reached a level of frustration and hopelessness that previous generations also experienced. Consequently, the wife Brownfield once found attractive and loved became a victim of beatings due to his frustration and depression. Mem, dealing with her own depression and frustrations, aged quickly and was transformed by Brownfield. “Everything about her changed, not to please him…He transformed her into someone he did not want, could not want, which made it easier for him to mistreat her as he believed she deserved” (Walker, 57). Mem initially enters the novel as an educated woman, a schoolteacher; this exacerbates Brownfield’s frustration and low self-esteem since he is illiterate. Brownfield wants to view himself as ‘the man’ and the provider. His masculinity feels threatened when Mem, exhausted and tired of living in leaky cold huts, takes matters into her own hands; she secures a job and a decent home for the family to reside in. Brownfield despises her because she will earn more money than he ever has and does a better job caring for the family than he ever could, leading him to refuse to move.

Mem responds with violence for the first time, threatening him with a shotgun and pistol whipping him. She wants to establish rules, which include stopping the beatings. Brownfield agrees and it seems like the family is happy for several years. However, Brownfield only agrees because he’s waiting for Mem’s downfall. He can’t accept his happiness because he didn’t achieve it himself. He desires revenge against Mem and wants to eliminate her from the world, but he patiently waits for the right moment.

Walker emphasizes the slow development of character in the face of personal feelings and societal unfairness. The children of Brownfield openly hate him, often devising childish plans to kill him. Unbeknownst to them, their thoughts align with those of their mother, although no one takes any action. The children witness their mother’s murder and all but one are brought north. Ruth, who stays behind, goes to live with her grandfather, Grange. Grange has come back in an attempt to make amends for the wrongs he committed towards Brownfield, but Brownfield has become too hardened to forgive or love.

Grange’s goal is to demonstrate to Brownfield that there are alternatives to a life of extreme poverty and that prioritizing family and avoiding violence is essential. However, Brownfield remains resistant to listening. Grange shifts his attention towards Ruth, viewing her as the catalyst for his newfound existence. He loves her and guides her towards self-improvement, not with the intention of becoming white but rather to enhance her identity as a black individual. Despite this transformation, Grange still retains some elements of his former self, which are evident in how he mistreats Josie. He resorts to name-calling and belittling, demeaning her by labeling her as just a prostitute. Initially, he refers to Josie as being lazy and light-skinned while cautioning against defending herself or speaking up when he is present.

The narrator expresses strong resentment towards a woman, using derogatory terms and insults to attack her character. The disrespectful words of the narrator reveal their disdain for the mentioned woman, criticizing her appearance and questioning her morals. Additionally, the narrator displays animosity towards white individuals, perceiving them as malicious and covetous of their possessions. This intense hatred leads the narrator to commit a callous act of negligence, allowing a pregnant white woman to perish in a lake in New York.

According to Walker (245), he occasionally states that the reason for his fence is to create a clear division between white and black individuals, and if they dare to cross it, he will kill them. Furthermore, he holds a negative view of Black people, believing that they allow themselves to be controlled by whites while also engaging in their own violent behaviors. The prevalence of domestic violence is evident both in the North and South. In New York, Grange talks about deacons who resort to fatal beatings of their wives when unable to provide for them using their “rough pious hands” (Walker, 154). It appears that family violence exists universally.

The novel concludes with the final act of violence within the Copeland family: Grange shoots and fatally wounds Brownfield instead of letting him take Ruth and subject her to his wretched ways. Subsequently, Grange flees, only to meet his demise at the hands of authorities. This conclusion leaves us with the belief that by educating and loving Ruth, Grange has potentially put an end to the cycle of violence within this particular 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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The Third Life of Grange Copeland: How Relationships, Personality, and Violence Shape Manhood. (2018, Feb 19). Retrieved from

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