Analysis of Alice Walker’s Roselily

From Alice Walker’s collection In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women, “Roselily” depicts a young black woman unsure whether she is in love and worried that she might be inviting trouble. Her thoughts occur during her marriage to an African-American man who will take her away from her difficult life as an unmarried and hard-working mother in the Mississippi town of Panther Burn. On the surface, Roselily’s future life sounds ideal: She and her husband will go north, a traditional metaphor for freedom in African-American fiction, to Chicago, where she can “rest,” no longer required to work in a sewing plant. Her place will be in the home, he says.

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The principal structuring device is the conventional marriage ceremony, and Roselily’s hopes and fears, narrated between the preacher’s lines, unfold in the third-person point of view to focus solely on Roselily. Significantly, her husband is never named, probably because he personifies the politically conscious, educated, urban African-American male. The symbolism of Roselily’s name, however, is obvious: The mother of four children with apparently different fathers, Roselily has led a passionate if not “immoral” life, and she welcomes the opportunity to be married at last, “like other girls” (1,291). Her husband proposes to purify her, to change her from a rose to a lily (Charters 164), and now, poised between the two elements of her nature, Roselily is torn by doubts. She admires her husband’s pride and sobriety but fears the severity of his religion, apparently Islam, and his traditional view that women should stay home and have babies. She longs for a chance to begin a new life in the land of Lincoln, but she cannot help dreading the unfamiliarity of the urban sprawl of Chicago, which the narrator describes in imagery of soot, dirt, smoke, and cinders. Attracted to the concept of resting from labor at last, she also understands that she is rooted in the rural South, where she can bare her skin to the warm sun and where her mother and grandparents are buried.

Roselily is taking a chance, but the dominant imagery of “ropes, chains, [and] handcuffs” (1,289) lends more than a little gloom to the story, as does her husband’s self-contained coldness at the end of the ceremony. One of Walker’s themes, prominent in “Everyday Use,” another story from this collection, is the incompatibility between southern, traditional African-Americans and their sophisticated, more liberal northern counterparts. The other is the radically different goals of women and men, and the obstacles that men so often place in the path of women’s fulfillment of their desires. Roselily’s future is undetermined, but the narrator strongly implies that this young woman is simply trading one set of difficulties for another.

Charters, Ann. Resources for Teaching Major Writers of Short Fiction: Stories and Commentaries. Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s, 1993, 163–166.
Petry, Alice Hall. “Alice Walker: The Achievement of the Short Fiction.” Modern Language Studies 19, no. 1 (Winter 1989): 12–27.
Walker, Alice. “Roselily.” In Major Writers of Short Fiction: Stories and Commentaries, edited by Ann Charters, 1,289–1,292.
Boston: Bedford Books of St. Martin’s, 1993. Winchell, Donna Haisty. Alice Walker. Boston: Twayne, 1990.

Categories: Literature, Short Story

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