This poem is very characteristic of Alice Walker's style and subject matter. The poem is written in free verse; therefore, it does not contain a regular rhythmic pattern. As you can see, this poem deals with a transformation of some sort from bondage to freedom.
In the first two stanzas, there is an allusion to Walker's experience as a child. For example, as a result of a BB gun accident, her eye was severely damaged. The stanzas continue their description of how the persona physically appeared and the effect it had on her outlook in life. This unsightly description is paired with the image of a person in bondage in stanza two. The persona relates how she is "holding their babies / cooking their meals / sweeping their yards / washing their clothes" with complete and utter disgust. I believe that she associates this time in her life with the physical abhorrence she describes as appearing in the first stanza. Walker ends the second stanza by emphasizing her plight in life as "dark and rotting / and wounded, wounded" in order to suggest exactly how horrible the plight of the African American can be.
However, the tone of the poem shifts drastically after these two beginning stanzas and becomes more optimistic about life. One of the repeated stanzas now enters and becomes the central focus of the poem. In stanza three: "I would give/ to the human race / only hope, " the persona asserts that she is no longer going to allow racial oppression to rule who she really is. She doesn't want to forget what has happened in her past life, but she strives to present all African Americans with the gift of hope. This gift alone creates the person that is introduced in stanzas four and five.
In these lines, hope has allowed this woman to recreate her self-image, making it more positive. She now proudly asserts that all the badness that once over-shadowed her life as a child has turned into a gift. She can know hear and understand the cries of the African American people. Her ailments that she once saw as debilitating are in turn stepping stones that she has overcome and finds them to be beautiful in their own distinct way. Then again we see the message in stanza six that she only wants to give hope to the human race. This reiteration serves to make the central message one that is loudly echoed and felt by the reader.
In the closing stanzas, there is a parallel between the two images and the "roots of the flower: justice and hope." Walker gives two distinctly different images of life in oppression and life out of oppression. As she asserts that "I am the woman / offering two flowers / whose roots are twin, " we understand that her depiction of bondage and physical deformities underline the principle of justice, while the repaired image of the woman comes about through hope. Therefore, justice and hope become the roots of who this woman was and what she eventually had the chance to become.
The last two stanzas are a challenge to the reader as an individual and also to society as a whole. Walker calls for the attention of all Americans to the unjust treatment of African Americans and presents them with the challenge of beginning to treat people justly. These roots, as she refers to them, are the roots of a happy society or a place without persecution. In this sense, justice and hope become interchangeably important in the survival of society that continually struggles with the topics of racism and slavery.
I see this poem as a gift that Walker is giving to anyone who is willing to stand against the injustices of society. She uses her own personal afflictions in order to better create a stronger, individualized woman after the acquisition of hope. She uses her story; she enlists the help of the reader to put justice and hope back into society. Therefore, "Let us begin."