‘To Hell With Dying’ by Alice Walker

To Hell With Dying by Alice Walker, 1967

The magic trick:

Showing a unique relationship between the narrator and an old man back home over the years

This is a sweet story about an old man – appropriately named Mr. Sweet – who probably isn’t the best person in the world. He’s drunk and irresponsible. But in the eyes of our narrator, he’s pure gold. Which is a point of view he desperately needs. It’s sweet. It’s sweeter when the story jumps ahead in time and the narrator returns home as an adult. Nothing seems to have changed much except for her. But her maturation into a successful, worldly woman casts the original dynamic with Mr. Sweet in a new, even more poignant light. And that’s quite a trick on Walker’s part.

The selection:

When Mr. Sweet was in his eighties, I was studying in the university many miles from home. I saw him whenever I went home, but he was never on the verge of dying that I could tell, and I began to feel my anxiety for his health and psychological wellbeing was unnecessary. By this time he not only had a mustache but a long flowing snow white-beard, which I loved and combed and braided for hours. He was very peaceful, fragile, gentle, and the only jarring note about him was his old steel guitar, which he still played in the old, sad, sweet, down-home blues way.


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