Be Nobody’s Darling by Alice Walker

When Alice Walker writes her pointed poetry, it’s often a good idea to pay close attention to the words she chooses to use to get her points across. Well-known for her blunt, to-the-point declarations of good advice, for her verses of short lines and creative metaphors, Walker’s poetry is always worth reading simply for the ideas and ideals contained within. Be Nobody’s Darling is no exception — and, as the title gives away clearly — is another of Walker’s poems born from her own life’s experiences that provide her with unique insight. Born to a poor family who was informed that their black children had no true need of an education in her early years, and later blinded in one eye, Walker learned early on in life what it meant to be an outcast, and it truly shows in her powerful works, such as Be Nobody’s Darling.

Be Nobody’s Darling by Alice Walker 

Be Nobody’s Darling Analysis

First Stanza

Be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast.
Take the contradictions
(…)
River beds
With other impetuous
Fools.

The first and longest verse of the poem, which can be read in full here, follows a simple structural pattern, wherein no line is particularly long, regardless of sentence or thought. This works as a tool to keep the reader interested — since it’s natural to keep moving from line to line to finish previous thoughts — but also works to effectively highlight the important lines. “Let them look askance at you” for instance, is given a line, and it is one of the longest lines in the poem, presumably because Walker did not want to divide up such an important element of the verse. As such, it stands on its own and stands out as a result. Similar structural decisions can be found throughout — “Fools” being its own line emphasizes scorn, while “Be pleased to walk alone” to stands alone as a rare complete thought on one line.

The actual meaning behind the words is fairly straight forward and examines Walker’s own experience growing up as an outcast in a variety of ways. Be Nobody’s Darling starts off with the titular expression and follows it with “be an outcast,” suggesting that it is better to be an outcast and shunned than to be nothing more than someone else’s favorite person — be your own favorite person, it’s saying. The poem compares life’s contradictions to a shawl but makes it the choice of the reader to create that simile. Should you choose, these lines say, the confusing contradictions of life can be made into a shawl, turning something stressful and confusing into something warm and beautiful.

After this, a more pointed exchange occurs when the poem says “Let them look askance at you / And you askance reply.” The repetition of “askance” is an interesting choice, because it adds a more grim tone to the poem briefly — it reminds the reader that there is a negative element to this outcasted life, either because other people will be staring in a suspicious way, or because the listener will be glaring back. It indicates defiance and independence, but it also indicates a difficult struggle. This is alleviated somewhat by the next few lines, which utilize words such as “pleased,” and “beds” to light the tone somewhat. When the verse references “impetuous fools,” it is an idea filled with scorn, suggesting a speaker who feels liberated by being an outcast, and therefore less well-associated with those they consider impetuous fools. This is also reflected in the use of “(uncool)” as a description of what is being said in a more “modern” way – and ultimately demonstrates what poor ammunition it is by using such a hollow and relatively meaningless word to demonstrate.


Second Stanza

Make a merry gathering

(…)

They said.

This verse of Be Nobody’s Darling is significantly shorter than its predecessor, as though the author is trying to bring the idea of emphasizing shorter lines onto the verses themselves. This stanza stands out for being so much shorter than the first one, and is also notable for being a culmination of one sentence: “Make a merry gathering on the bank, where thousands perished for brave hurt words they said.” In isolation, this is a strong statement, one that ties the present to the past. It is difficult to say who is being spoken to at this point — it seems as though this verse is directed at the aforementioned impetuous fools, who are “making a merry gathering” (i.e. celebrating) some kind of event of remembrance for outcasts, but it could also be a message to the reader outcast, who should remember that at one point, outcasts were doomed to lose their lives for being something other than whatever society dictated. It suggests a sense of pride by making note of this, as though the reader should be proud of the things they feel that were once worth dying for.


Third Stanza

But be nobody’s darling;
(…)
Among your dead.

At its end, Be Nobody’s Darling cycles back to its original message, adding to the idea of being an outcast by suggesting that the best company for the outcasts is other outcasts, who, by definition, wouldn’t join them. They are like the dead, and in many ways, they are the dead — this is literal and metaphorical at the same time. It is better to be an outcast, to be independent, to be one’s own person than it is to be someone else’s person, and better to relate to those who have died for being different than to someone that you don’t like.

It seems as though the primary themes written into this poem by Walker have to do with remembrance and independence. There is a strong theme of “think for yourself” running through Be Nobody’s Darling, written alongside an idea of remembering that such an idea was one shunned and held in disdain. It ties in well with Walker’s own history and experience, and coming from her, is a valuable bit of advice and a well-written story as well.

Interestingly, because of the brief nature of the lines that make up the structure of Be Nobody’s Darling, the entire work can be summarized in only a few sentences; Alice Walker wants the reader to be no one’s darling, but to be their own person, and take comfort and inspiration in being different from the majority. If the reader walks alone, they should do so gladly, and understand how truly important such a privilege is, and be proud of that — and she says so in a truly inspirational way.

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