‘‘Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning’’ is a fifteen-line poem that consists of only fifty-six words. Almost a fifth of the poem is comprised of the title phrase. Additionally, the poem is only two sentences long. The first sentence describes what the speaker has seen, and the second relates what the speaker has subsequently learned.
The first line begins with the speaker stating that she is looking at her father, who is dead. With the finality that accompanies death, the speaker’s mother is described as speaking to her dead husband in a congenial and matter-of-fact tone. Much is made of the fact that the speaker’s mother is not crying; nor is she angry or happy. This stress is derived from the noted absence of any strong emotion aside from the courtesy that would be extended even to a stranger. Rather than cry over his body, bid her husband goodbye, or tell him how much he was loved, the speaker’s mother does something else entirely.
She instead says the words that become the title of the poem (and, ultimately, of the collection it appeared in). Notably, Walker’s father was actually named Willie Lee. Thus, this is how the first sentence in the poem ends. The second sentence explains what the speaker has learned from this peculiar act. She states that her mother’s words at her father’s deathbed have allowed her to realize that the only way to repair the damage that people do to one another is by forgiving them. The speaker obviously sees her mother’s statement as a declaration of absolution for all of the hard times that no doubt accompany a marriage.
By declaring that she will see her husband again, the speaker’s mother references heaven or the afterlife or perhaps the Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead and the day of reckoning. In this sense, the word ‘‘morning’’ is metaphorical, indicating a spiritual awakening rather than a physical one. Yet, the mother’s statement can be seen practically. The next morning she will wake and prepare the body for burial. She will see her husband in their home and the faces of their children. This, however, is not the meaning that the speaker sees; instead, she sees the former.
This is demonstrated by the final three lines, in which the speaker indicates that she understands her mother’s declaration of absolution to be one that allows an assurance for her father (and for all who are forgiven) to come back after all is said and done. This concluding observation does seem closest to the Christian belief in resurrection, though it skillfully avoids any overtly religious phrases. Because of this, the possibility of return is not only spiritual but physical and emotional as well.
Poetry for Students, Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 30, Alice Walker, Gale Cengage Learning, 2009