Alice Walker’s
Nineteen Fifty-Five
By: Alex Wood, Manny Oliva,
Kyle Mercier, and Shawn Nguon
Biographical Info.
This source is an interview conducted by a Miss. Evelyn C. White. The interview
was between her and Alice Walker. The interview consisted of questions regarding
her early childhood life and struggles. It also referred to her new and old book that
were coming.
or came out at the time. Some of the questions were “What did
you learn about yourself while writing the novel? ” and “You have
an extraordinary reach and ability with characterization in your
novels. Where did the characters in By the Light... come from?”.
The interview was long but mainly focused on questions
about her book. At the beginning it did talk of her early life.
She asked questions like “How was it like for an AfricanAmerican growing up?”.
Historical Context
Elvis Presley's "Hound Dog" is one of the
most instantly recognizable pop songs
known to man. It's a song so closely
associated with the King of Rock and
Roll, many mistakenly assume that it was
originally by Presley. When "Hound Dog"
was originally recorded for the first
time the rhythm-and-blues singer Ellie
Mae "Big Mama" Thornton in Los
Angeles, California.
Historical Context (Cont.)
Big Mama Thornton was a native of
Montgomery, Alabama, who came onto the
R&B circuit in the 1940s after starting her
professional career in 1941 at the young age
of 14. In 1951, she signed her first record
contract with Peacock Records and was soon
paired with bandleader Johnny Otis, who
brought Thornton out to join his band in
Hits like "Yakkity Yak," "Charlie
Brown," "Stand By Me," "Jailhouse Rock"
and "Love Potion No. 9" were written by
songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller but
their first hit was when Otis asked them to
Historical Context (Cont.)
In 1953, Big Mama Thornton and the
Johnny Otis Band recorded "Hound Dog"
and made it into a hit on the R&B charts,
where it stayed at #1 for seven weeks. It
wasn't Thornton's recording, however, that
made Elvis record "Hound Dog" three years
later. Presley's inspiration came from a
rewrite by a singer named Freddie Bell, who
changed the original lyrics to include the
now-familiar "Cryin' all the time" and "You
ain't never caught a rabbit."
The setting in the short story is pretty
vague. It is inferred that the story
takes place in a rural area in the South
around 1955. In this period of time
rock and roll musicians were
beginning to gain publicity rapidly
throughout America.
Literary Criticism
The article "You Just Can't Keep a Good Woman Down:
Alice Walker Sings the Blues." gives a detailed summary of
Alice Walker’s short story “Nineteen Fifty-Five”, along
with some literary criticism of the story. The article states
that Walker was influenced by the work of 1950s southern
Jazz musicians, and how their work was “stolen” by the
up-and-coming Rock n’ Roll musicians, like Elvis Presley
(whose character is portrayed in Walker’s “Nineteen FiftyFive”). Walker’s story also highlights the struggles that
black women (more specifically, black women who were
musicians) underwent during the 1950s.
Literary Criticism
Among these was the increasing difficulty to find a
respectful and a semi-colorblind audience that would
respect both the musician and their music. Also, black Jazz
musicians had to compete with the rising stars of the Rock
n’ Roll artists like Elvis during this time period. As stated
in “Nineteen Fifty-Five”, Rock n’ Roll singers often bought
(or stole) the work of Jazz musicians to be used as Rock
songs, and often made a pretty penny off them.
The conflict of the story is that Traynor is rich and
famous because of a song that was sold to him by an
african american woman named Gracie. He returns
to Gracie to ask her where the song came from. He
wants to know it’s meaning because he doesn’t like
knowing he is rich and famous over a song that
doesn’t have meaning to him.
The story addresses a political issue, but Walker’s approach transcends the
political theme by creating characters who live two different lives because of
their social class. Traynor becomes a pitiable character, as he is kind of put
againist his own will by the entertainment industry. The greatest irony
involves Traynor’s curiosity of the meaning behind the song; never being in
emotional possession of the song brings Traynor repeatedly to Gracie Mae,
who cannot explain what the true meaning is.
This relates to The issues of African Americans because they were not
recognized for any of their accomplishments as much as a white person
would have been acknowledged. It shows a racial discrimination against
African Americans and how they are not noticed for things they have done
in the past.
This story takes place in a time a racial bias. This
story is about a white male and a female african
american who create a trusting relationship through a
song. A boy by the name of Treynor had an agent who
bought a song from an African-American woman named
Gracie. In her neighborhood the song wasn’t getting
much popularity so she sold the song. As time passed she
heard on the radio her very song. It was a hit across the
country and it was song by Treynor.
Treynor returns one day to Gracie to ask her a
question. A question that builds their relation. What is
the meaning of the song. Treynor has become rich and
famous from this song and he wants to know where did
the song originate and what was the meaning of it.
They become close and throughout life Treynor never
got an answer because Gracie hadn’t really known the
answer. Eventually he learned the meaning of the song
by relating it to his own life. Later in life Treynor died.
Works Cited
""You Just Can't Keep a Good Woman Down": Alice Walker Sings the Blues."
African American Review Vol. 30 Ch. 2. Ed. Maria V. Johnson. John Hopkins
University, 15 July 1996. Web. 30 Jan. 2014.
“Hound Dog Is Recorded for the First Time by Big Mama
Thornton.” A&E Television Networks. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.

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