In Alice Walker’s “Beauty: When the Other Dancer is the Self,” a narrative on self discovery and definition is crafted. Walker details pivotal moments in her life, from her own earliest memory at two and a half years old, to interactions with her own three year old daughter. In every experience, she pivots to life altering moments for her and how they created her identity and experiences. With a traumatic eye injury in the forefront of the narrative, the reader watches Walker struggle and grow throughout her years.
In this piece, Walker is consistently dealing with circumstances outside of her control. As a child, she is born into a large, impoverished family. She is a black woman, whose childhood is defined by race, social class, and the nuanced family dynamic she deals with. Throughout this piece, she is working to define “beauty” as a concept, working at first within the confines of the culture around her, but eventually a different perspective emerges. This piece is an example of how one’s self identity is formed by their environment, and how it effects one’s search of meaning and understanding of the world around them.
Her experiences catalog her beginning, which was a sweet, witty, talented child who knew she was smart, beautiful, and loved. She was the darling in her fathers eyes, and knew this to be true completely. However, when she was eight years old, her brother injured her. Following the after affects of the injury, she experiences shame, self loathing, and feelings of worthlessness. The way she orients herself within her life defines her experiences. A once confident girl could not disassociate any aspect of her life from her outward appearance. A notable feature of this essay is a question she asks her mother and sister: Did I change after the “accident?” The answer she received was no, of course she hadn’t. However, this work serves to illustrate just so much she had, even in the wake of those closest to her not realizing it.
Ultimately, the tone of the essay shifts near the end, when her infant daughter identifies her as “having a world in her eye.” In the eyes of her child, who is notoriously honest, she is beautiful, wondrous, and spectacular. The author’s perspective on herself begins to shift, and her pain dissipates. She recognized that she was capable of loving, and of being loved. Her potential and endeavors in life did not need to be marked by her “flaws,” because truly it was not a flaw, but an asset. In the last sentence, she writes that she is “beautiful, whole, and free.” Her search for self worth was finally fulfilled, through what she actually hated most about herself becoming a thing of beauty.