Exploring Identity through Personal Journaling


Grades: 9-12

Author: Maurine Philpot, Hattiesburg, Mississippi


Journal 2 (June 1932) is a portion of a 5” x 8” notepad, missing the front and back covers. Written when Margaret Walker was sixteen years old, the journal entries reflect her spiritual yearnings and journeys. She is desperately seeking understanding from her parents and siblings as well as a more intimate relationship with her Christian faith. She outlines her spiritual creed and relates her growing sexual/sensual awareness. The Journal ends one month before her 17th birthday in 1932.



Notebooks or folders prepared to keep on-going journals


This lesson will help open students’ minds (and hearts) to the exploration of self through personal journaling and self-reflection, inspired by Margaret Walker’s style found in the Digital Archives Project.


  1. For vocabulary development that can enhance reading comprehension, teachers should give students some key words, such as:

chastisement     influence         earnest

permeate           ambitious       immersed

devout               ardent            endurance

obligation          unrestrained    tumult

perplexing         adapt             consecrate

  1. Read Journal 2 (June 1932) aloud, focusing on select vocabulary words. Be careful to allow students to identify other unfamiliar words, aside from those on the list above.
  2. Define words in the context of Walker’s intention, using a common word-mapping exercise.
  3. Isolate the sentences that contain each word from the word list above.
  4. Map each word for clearer comprehension:
  • Infer meaning based on context;
  • Determine the part of speech;
  • Identify syllabification and practice proper pronunciation;
  • Analyze the author’s purpose–how does each word make the author’s message more effective?;
  • Establish a connotation–Does the word have a positive or negative connotation, and what effect does it have on the tone of the passage?; and
  • Choose a synonym that would effectively replace the selected vocabulary word.
  1. Vocabulary Connection: After analyzing each vocabulary word, as outlined above, students should craft a sentence with each word that reflects their personal experiences.
Table 2


  1. Explore some of the themes found in Journal 2, such as Walker and her parents’ expectation that she find “a career that should bring me fame—much training and in the end much money” (Journal 2, page 10, June 1932).
  2. Research sociological expectations of teenage girls in 1932, from sources such as the University of Virginia American Studies Department’s examination of “Relations of Class in the Great Depression” in The New Yorker.
  3. Compare and contrast those expectations with the same today.
  4. Interview parents, grandparents, and older family friends about their personal and career expectations at age 16. Were plans being made for them by parents and relatives or suggested to them? Was there a family business to support? What educational plans were needed to achieve their career goals? Did events such as the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, and the mid-century civil rights movement affect their choices?
  5. Research employment and career development opportunities for women in that era. The 1930 Census and other information about women’s history available online are good resources.
  6. Write an employment ad for a company looking for a female employee and for a male employee.
  7. Create a personal resume for positions announced above and conduct mock interviews.


  1. Explore other themes found in Journal 2, such as her search for the “ideal man” (Journal 2, page 12, June 1932).
  2. Identify Walker’s descriptions of an “ideal man,” and define each in terms of past and present societies.

For example, when she says “he must be clean,” what does she mean by the word “clean”? Discuss past and present meanings.

In her description, Walker may have meant “well-groomed and nicely dressed; appreciating cleanliness and order in his own grooming as well as his home and surroundings.”

Today, “clean” can also mean “free from attachment to any other party, such as an ex-wife, children, and the law.”

  1. Explore future journals that discuss Walker’s marriage, such as Journal 28, June 1947 and Journal 81, January-September 1967. Did she end up with her “ideal man”?
  2. Evaluate Walker’s fate with her teenage expectations.


  1. Explore how Margaret Walker challenges herself throughout the journals.
  2. Students should compose a personal mission statement based on the model outlined in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens.
  3. Students should keep a journal for the week reflecting on the challenges they are working on.
  4. Ask students to select two of the four examples identified and commit to those in the coming week.
  5. Identify excerpts where she discusses her ideas and inspirations.
  6. List at least three other personal challenges found in Journal 2 (June 1932).



  1. Explore Margaret Walker’s personal growth, especially as she turns seventeen years old and is “closing the door on childhood” (Journal 2, page 24, July 1932).
  2. Explore future journals to discover other examples of personal growth.
  3. Compare and contrast the social implications of turning seventeen in 1932 versus today.
  4. What aspects of “innocence” does Walker imply in this section of Journal 2?
  5. Encourage students to reflect on “closing the door” on their own childhood.
  • What “doors” have to be closed in one’s life?
  • What “doors” open for us along the way?
  • What kinds of “doors” are expected and easy?
  • What “doors” are more challenging?



The teacher should decide how to create incentives and opportunities for the students to write. Although teachers may wish to develop a grading rubric for this lesson, they should be wary of giving poor grades that might deter students from writing on their own.