Reflections on “The Third Life of Grange Copeland” by Alice Walker
I have had four of Alice Walker’s books sitting on my bookshelf for YEARS and never opened them. I often collect the works of black authors and wait for the book to find its way into my mind to read. That happened with this book.
I was cleaning off my bookshelves and getting rid of a lot of books I knew I would never read. When I read the back of this one, I decided to give it a try.
The Third Life of Grange Copeland is a very moving novel about the havoc sharecropping (slavery by another name) has wreaked on multiple generations of the Copeland family.
At first, I couldn’t stand it. I found myself shifting in my seat and my spirit unsettled as I read of the cruelties (to say the least) both Brownfield and Grange inflicted upon their wives. My desire to take this book, and the others by Alice Walker, and donate them grew very strong. I stepped away from the book for a day or two. Then picked up where I left off.
I realized as I continued to read what I was feeling: the hopelessness that so many black people felt, and still very much feel in the current racial climate. Men who couldn’t be men and provide the barest of necessities for their families because they were still bound by the chains of slavery, albeit under the new name of sharecropping. Women who bore the brunt of their husbands misplaced anger. Black people who were told by white people that all they should ever aspire to be is a dog under the table of white peoples’ lives waiting for whatever scraps the white folks deemed them worthy of. Disenfranchisement. The unrecognized potential and dreams of brilliant black people denied education and duped into believing they had no intelligence.
This is what this country has systematically done to black people–continues to try and do to black people.
Though this book is a work of fiction based on events that happened in the town in Georgia where Alice Walker grew up, the subject matter is not fiction to anyone who is black in America.
Though I detest both Grange and Brownfield, I also felt an utter sadness and a sense of compassion for them. Not for the things they did, no, but because they were both merely trying, as Grange stated: “…to free himself, he thought, and the best way he could.”
Women love to tout that Alice Walker is a feminist. In my opinion, that is not at all who she is. What she shows us here is that despite what white people have done (and continue to do) to black people to try and destroy us, we must not take it out on our own people with violence. Instead, we must find that place within ourselves and keep it “inviolate”. We must not fight against ourselves with violence, but fight — with violence if necessary — against those that commit atrocities against us.
I will be reading all her other books that I own now. Her writing is so moving. It goes straight to the heart of the inner turmoil black people experience every day. Reading this book is like sitting with a friend who understands the inner turmoil of being a black person in America, and that person just sits quietly with you when you’ve had a run-in with racism, and lets you grieve.