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Story Review: Roselily by Alice Walker

Roselily by Alice Walker

Roselily is an impoverished African-American woman, a mother of three children, and is now a bride to a man she knows not much about. As the two are being married, Roselily dreams not of a life of wedded bliss with this man but of herself as a little girl in her mother’s robes, dragging herself across the world. This thought does portend an unhappy marriage, and what could one expect when a woman marries without asking him the questions that would make her know him?

The structure is what makes it standout from the myriad of stories out there. The preacher’s words serve as the frame from where Roselily’s story is pegged, which are as follows:

Dearly Beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God to join this man and this woman in holy matrimony. If there’s anybody here that knows a reason why these two should not be joined together, let him speak or forever hold his peace.

These two sentences are divided into smaller phrases as if to let the reader pick up fragments of Roselily’s life through the narrative that follows each phrase. One could imagine being part of the wedding ceremony, listening to the preacher’s words before the groom and the bride are pronounced husband and wife, and hearing what is inside the head of the bride as each phrase triggers a thought or a memory, therefore providing the reader both Roselily’s character and history.

We learn that Roselily is about to marry a Muslim. She imagines a life as a woman covered in veils and abaya. She thinks this is a small sacrifice to give her children a better life. This is motherhood, perhaps, but let us not forget that she had a fleeting wish of not having any children. For this she should not be judged. This secret ill wish of hers actually lets us see more depth in her complex personality.

Roselily, all throughout the wedding ceremony, contemplates the possibilities in her new life. She fears that she is at the point where her spirit is resistant to changes. What psychological, social, and emotional transformations will she go through after she becomes the wife of a Muslim man? Is a life free from poverty a life that is lived to the fullest?

And just before the wedding kiss seals the sanctity of their marriage, she wonders if she really loves this man. Sure, he has qualities that can make him endearing to many women. He is sober, he must have a bit of savings, he is understanding, he is full of effort. But all these amount to a sense of sadness. She is now a married woman, but as she sees her husband draw away from the guests and probably from herself, she wonders if marriage is something that will make her truly happy.

She blinks her eyes. Remembers she is finally being married, like other girls. Like other girls, women? Something strains upward behind her eyes. She thinks of the something as a rat trapped, cornered, scurrying to and fro in her head, peering through the windows of her eyes. She wants to live for once. But doesn’t know quite what that means. Wonders if she has ever done it. If she ever will.

At the end of the story, there is the mention of President Lincoln. It lends a political sheen on the story, as if to say that Lincoln and the Civil Rights didn’t empower her as an African-American woman, for why would she feel so ignorant and wrong? Why would she need to marry a man she doesn’t love for economic gain and social respectability? Why would she need to depend on this man?

Roselily is a short read yet packs a lot in terms of beautiful and thematic storytelling.

Published in: In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars


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