CHAPTER 1– INTRODUCTION TO ALICE WALKER AND THE COLOR PURPLE
Alice Walker was born in February 9 (1944) is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and activist for racial civil rights, women’s equality and brought peace to black women’s lives and black women is an important subject for US American literature. Walker depicts the oppression of young black women in her novels. Walker portrays how an abused young woman rises through the help of other women and also with her own inner strength to throw off the shackles of male oppression to find love and affirmation within herself and in the arms of another woman. when Alice walker was a student at Spelman College in 1960s, where walker met Martin Luther king and credits king for encouraging her decision to return South American as an activist. Walker took part in Civil Rights Movement which was held in 1963 March on Washington also volunteered to register black voters in Georgia and Mississippi.
Alice Walker wrote “First book of Poetry” when she was a student at Sarah Lawrence College. In 1975 Walker’s article “In Search of Zora Neale Hurston,” published in Ms. Magazine, which helped to revive interest in the work of African-American writer and anthropologist. Alice Walker’s landmark novels is The Color Purple (1982), is an epistolary novel that depicted physical and mental violence, bisexuality and lesbian love among African Americans and also depicts the struggles of young black woman fighting for racist white culture but patriarchal black culture as well, Which drew upon her sharecropper family’s Southern roots, made Walker famous the world over and brought her the first Pulitzer Prize for fiction awarded to an African American woman, as well as the National Book Award. Later it was adapted in movies directed by Steven Spielberg, featuring Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg. In 1976 Walker’s second novel ‘Meridian’ was published and the novel is about activist workers in the South, during the civil rights movement with events that closely parallel some of Walker’s own experiences and The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970).
Toni Morrison is a notable figure in the field of African American literature in the 1970s and 1980s. Alice Walker succeeded in her career, in a decade with a series of controversial books namely: The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), is an epic novel that tracks three generations of a black Southern family through internal strife and an oppression to rise from sharecropping. Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (1973), is a collection of poems that urges the reader to “be nobody’s darling; / Be an outcast”; and Meridian (1976), depicts a novelistic redefinition of African American motherhood. Walker’s portrayal of motherhood in meridian is unbeatable.
Toni Morrison and Alice Walker made an artistic explorations of race, gender and class in a wide range in the novels of Paule Marshall (a novelist , who was not accepted as a major writer (though he published notable works), until the appearance of Praise song for the Widow 1983.
The remarkable popularity of Maya Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), one of the most widely read book by an African American women, in which it demonstrates the lasting appeal in whites as well as black American readers of much contemporary African American women’s writing, especially when it is informed by the upbeat, woman-affirming outlook typified by Angelou’s prose and poetry.
LGBT or GLBT stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. Since 1990s, the term is an adaptation of the initialized LGB, which was used to replace the term gay in reference to the LGBT community, in the beginning of mid-to-late 1980s.The letter Q for identity as queer or are questioning their sexual identity. In June 2013, Walker and other activits appeared in a video showing support for Chelsea Manning, an American soldier imprisoned for releasing classified information.
Walker says “Womanism is to feminism as purple is to lilac. Womanism gives us a word of our own.”
In 1983, an avowed feminist, Walker coined the term “womanist” to mean “A black feminist or feminist of color”. Womanism was an influential corrective to the focus on oppression of black women under the term “feminism” it broaden the women’s movement to include women of color and to appreciate their traditional cultural and creative roles. Alice Walker was deeply inspired by Zora Neale Hurston. Hurston received lots of criticism in her time, because she was an artist who was both African-American. Despite the possibility of receiving the same amount of criticism, Walker still decided to speak her mind through her work. She creates characters that are “incorrect enough to refuse to be measured by other’s standards”. Walker wrote in ‘In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens’ (1983), “To be an artist and a black woman, even today, lowers our status in many respects, rather than raises it: and yet, artists we will be”. Walker also discovered and promoted Zora Neale Hurston’s (1901-1960), notable works and also edited and interpreted it. Beauty in Truth (2013) is a documentary film about Walker directed by Pratibha Parmar.
“The Color Purple is the story of two sisters—one a missionary to Africa and the other a child wife living in the South—who remain loyal to one another across time, distance, and silence. Beautifully imagined and deeply compassionate, this classic of American literature is rich with passion, pain, inspiration, and an indomitable love of life. “Intense emotional impact . . . Indelibly affecting . . . Alice Walker is a lavishly gifted writer.”—The New York Times Book Review
CHAPTER 2- BLACK FEMINISM IN THE COLOUR PURPLE
Feminism is a movement that fights against oppression of women termed as the belief in the social, economic and political equality of the gender. Feminism rooted in ending men’s historical power over women. Women were confined to domestic sphere where men enjoyed their life reserved for them. In some parts of Europe, women have no rights to own property, to study and to participate in public life. Women were confined from conducting business without male representation. In 1960s’ the civil rights movement excluded women from leadership such as women were not allowed neither to vote nor to hold elective office in Europe and this perceived racism of the feminist movement.
Feminist scholars from African American women’s history emphasized on the aspect of race within feminism and called it as “role of race as a metalanguage”. Plato’s Republic suggests that in true utopia women would be educated and would work beside men equally.
“It is not women’s inferiority that has determined their historical insignificance: it is their historical insignificance that has doomed them to inferiority” (Simone de Beauvoir)
In the United States and Great Britain feminism began with the demand for legal autonomy, such as right to be seen women as more than a man’s wife or daughter.
The feminist movement also focused on determining the production of literary firmly on the map. From the beginning feminism involved much in literary studies for good reasons. For instance, “sexual politics” of Kate Millett delineates the attitude towards women that pervade the work of prominent twentieth century authors such as D.H. Lawrence and Henry Miller.
Feminism clearly delineates the widespread negative stereotypes of women in literature and film. Millett portrays a relationship between sex and power over the male and female partner who mirrors the distribution of power over men and women in the society. In the late 1960’s and 1970’s feminism seeks to change the power relations between men and women that prevail under what is called as patriarchy. The term patriarchy is referred as a complete domination of men in western society.
In feminist literary studies, the first phase focused on “the woman as reader” and “the woman as writer”. American feminist critic, Elaine Showalter’s “Towards a feminist poetics” (1979) delineates formulation such as
“Its subject include images and stereotypes of women in literature, the omission of and misconceptions about women in criticism and the fissures in male constructed literary history”.(Showalter:128)
When feminist criticism focus on “the woman as writer” it concerns itself with
“Woman as the producer of textual meaning, with the history, genres and structures of literature by women .Its subject include the psychodynamics of female creativity; linguistics and the problem of female language”. (Showalter: 128)
Women started to pen down to establish female tradition through writing. In 1979, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar’s “The Madwomen in the Attic: The woman writer and the nineteenth – century literary imagination” brings out an obsessive interest in these limited options. Gilbert and Gubar delineates the ” Obsessive imagery of confinement that revels the ways in which female artist feel trapped and sickened both by suffocating alternatives and by the culture that had created them”.(Gilbert and Gubar:64)
For instance, in Jane Eyre (1847) by Charlotte Bronte portrays the mad wife that Jane’s employer and future husband, Rochester keeps locked up in the attic in the novel. Overall female experience has been reflected in literature written by women over ages.
Feminist criticism also leads to a thorough examination of gender roles. men and women are actually constructed, in which women are called as naturally timid, sweet, intuitive ,dependent and self -pitying ,to construct a role for them in society. Same holds for men with its connotation of strength, rationality, stoicism and self-reliance. Even masculinity is social construct where the traditional representation of homosexuality, in which maleness and masculinity are uncoupled.
Black feminism was portrayed well in the Colour Purple. Patricia Hill Collins is the author of “Black Feminist Thought” in which Collins depicts a fairly complete insight into black feminism and also brings out the dimensions of oppression found in The Color Purple .The first dimension is economic oppression which states the exploitation of black women’s labor is depicted in the novel . For instance, Sofia is forced to work for the mayor if she denies to work she is punished. There is another incident in the novel where the mayor’s wife asks her to stay as her maid, but Sofia rejects. The mayor then slaps Sofia for her behavior towards him and his wife, to which Sofia reacts to mayor’s act by hitting him back. Therefore, Sofia is sentenced to work as the mayor’s maid for twelve years. As a result, Celie is economically dependent on Albert, though this dimension remains in the background of the novel.
The second dimension is political oppression which states a personal view on the male dominant society that exists in the novel, which Collins calls as the denial of the vote. Celie was taken from school by her step father when she becomes pregnant. But Nettie, Celie’s sister taught her how to read and write, only because of that Celie is little literate. Eventually Celie’s father takes her children away from her, rapes and beats her. He also forces Celie to marry Albert, who also beats her and the excuse given is Celie is his wife so he has all right reserved to beat Celie. The political dimension in the novel present the way in which women were treated in an American society.
The third dimension is ideological oppression which brings out the stereotypical images of black women found in The Color Purple .In several scenes where the images are reflected upon the characters of the novel. The characters are well aware of the gender roles that they need to perform in an American society and feel pressure to behave according to those socially constructed images. For instance, Sofia and Harpo in the novel adhere to their gender roles that are expected in the society, even though they do not want to fit in. Harpo enjoys doing ‘women’s work’ and working in the household, whereas Sofia likes to do manlier physical work. These incidences in the novel clearly shows the fact that the characters know what society expects from them and feel the need to adhere to them, even though they will be happiest if they let go of that pressure in them.
In a way, Walker lambastes this ideological oppression in the novel by reversing the stereotypical gender roles and presenting female characters to work more masculine and vice versa. The female characters in the novel try hard to rise up against black men to strive their equal rights among men. Basically, women will not share their struggles they go through to secure their loyalty towards the male family members. For instance, Celie in the novel is an insecure and timid character. Celie was subjected to physical and mental abuse. According to Celie, she thought to maintain silence and make her invisible could be the only way to survive in black patriarchal society. Celie never dare to fight against her husband or step father, since her childhood Celie had been in the same environment which does not shake her current situation. In the course of time, Celie slowly releases her oppression to a woman named Shug. Shug feels things are not set good for Celie and she deserves much better family and someone who loves her truly. Shug says to Celie,
“Oh, Celie, there are coloured people in the world who want us to know! Want us to grow and see the light! They are not all men like pa and Albert, or beaten down like ma was”………….
Shug made Celie realize her seriousness of the situation and lack of freedom she has within herself.
Moreover, Celie lambastes Albert when he mentions to her that he mentions Shug’s masculinity. Celie tells him that she thinks the characteristics that he appropriates to men, are womanly. Also, The Color Purple deviates at certain points from the dimensions of oppression, as the strong female characters in the novel do resist the struggle they face. For instance, Sofia resist herself be beaten by her husband as a submissive wife and Shug rise up for Celie when she learns that Albert beats her. A feminist aspect can be identified in the fact that the characters do not passively endure the oppression they encounter.
CHAPTER -3 PHYSICAL AND MENTAL VIOLENCE IN THE COLOUR PURPLE
The colour purple presents plethora of the physical and psychological violence in economic, social and emotional crisis faced by black women during the first half of twentieth century. Celie’s relationship with her stepfather and husband portrays the psychological and sexual oppression delineated in an African American patriarchal society. Celie underwent physical violence by bother stepfather (who rapes her and also snatches her baby from her) and celie’s husband, Albert (who beats her with lame excuse of being her husband). Violence curbs women’s resistance and fractures female subjectivity, it leads to threat for both women’s wholeness and the establishment of a whole black nation- the professed goal of Black Nationalism. Celie was called ugly and worthless often by her Mr. Albert and Alphonso. These words resisted Celie to go dumb as cattle.
“It’s All I Can Do Not Cry I Make Myself Wood. I say To Myself, /Celle, You a Tree. That How Come I Know Tress Fear Man”…. (Alice Walker)
Celie’s physical violence turns herself into a tree of patience’s. (Ram Badode)
“A black woman’s proximity to the passive suffering and agony of nature” (The colour purple 38)
“When people compliment Celie for her behaviour towards Mr. Albert’s children. Celie says “I be good to them. But I don’t feel anything for them. Patting Harpo back not even like patting a dog. It’s more like patting a piece a piece of wood. Not a living tree, but a table, a chifferobe”… (The colour purple)
This comparison in the novel brings out dehumanization and celie’s lack of self – worth and self- esteem within herself. Celie accepts Albert’s beloved “Shug Avery”. This shows how Celie underwent a massive psychological violence and also it proves that Celie does not possess any sense of individuality in front of her own eyes.
Celie comments,” Bible says honor father and mother no matter what………sometimes Mr._____ get on me pretty hand……but he my husband. I shrug my shoulder. This life soon be over. I say. Heaven last all ways”……
Initially Celie wrote letters to god both in hope and hopelessness. Mr. Albert intercepted between Nettie and Celie, where Celie lost that little ounce of hope in her. Domestic sphere is the only place where women can feel sense of protection, comfort and their own identity in an African American society.
Walker wages treacherous assault upon a myth logically unified black community. Mohit ray says that Neeru tendon observes “The jail that Sofia is held is a metaphor for all black people caged by racism. For others, though they do not serve in a literal prison and instead and confined to servitude and domesticity with their homes”.
Sofia is another character who faced discrimination of race in the novel and she was not allowed to set in front seat while teaching driving to Mrs. Mayor. In contrast to celie’s silent obedience in Mr.Albert’s home. Through the letters Nettie also points out how African in western discourse has African graphically situated as a place of violence. How they steal the land from people to build roads and taxes imposed on water, land and food. Nettie points out, “children of eight and over are……workers in the fields. In order to pay rent for the barracks, taxes on the land and to bring water, food and wood everyone must work”….. (The Colour Purple 205)
Plethora of violence against women in the form of gender discrimination, imperialism in Africa and racism in America is voiced in the colour purple. Perpetrators of violence in the novel are themselves victims of sexism and racism. Harpo beats Sofia only after his father points her behaviour affects Harpo less of a man. Characters in the novel are well aware of cyclic nature of violence seen in Sofia’s character. As a whole white race caused by her deep sense of pain and hurt being separated from her children for twelve years. The colour purple examines violence and factor of identity and selfhood and it also shows how the lines of demarcation between perpetrators, victims and observes are blurred in the face of violence.
CHAPTER 4 -SEXISM AND RACISM IN THE COLOUR PURPLE
Racism is defined as the beliefs of one race are dominated by the members of another race.
In the colour purple white race had an antagonistic treatment against a helpless black people.
In the colour purple, the term racism is presented as a cage in the novel that is because the blacks were suppressed but white race. There is an incident where Sofia was imprisoned by whites. This incident shows how black race were treated by white race.
Alice walker portrayed the stereotypes of an African American community in the novel that bright skin is more beautiful. For instance, Mr. Albert’s ex- wife was criticized by his sister and eventually killed for being black by skin. These incidents show how an African American community see black race as their dolls to play. White race has reserved rights to practice anything against black race as they wish, even murder because of being black by skin.
“She seem like a right sweet little thing, I say to Sofia.
Who is? She frown.
The little girl, I say. What they call her, Eleanor Jane?
Yeah, say Sofia, with a real puzzle look on her face, I wonder why she was ever born.
Well, I say, us don’t have to wonder that bout darkies”…. (43.21-25 The Color Purple)
The above lines depict racism in an African American society. Where Sofia and Celie are the victims of racism and racial violence. The above lines are the conversation between Sofia and Celie regarding the differences between white folks and black folks.
“Yes ma’am, I say. I’m slaving away cleaning that big post they got down at the bottom of the stair. They act real funny bout that post. No finger prints is sposed to be on it, ever.
Do you think you could teach me to drive? she says.
One of Sofia children break in, the oldest boy. He tall and handsome, all the time serious. And mad a lot.
He says, don’t say slaving, Mama.
Sofia say, Why not? They got me in a little storeroom up under the house, hardly bigger than Odessa’s porch, and just about as warm in the winter time. I’m at they beck and call all night and all day. They won’t let me see my children. They won’t let me see no mens. Well, after five years they let me see you once a year. I’m a slave, she say. What would you call it?
A captive, he say.
Sofia go on with her story, only look at him like she glad he hers”… (44.5-11, The Color Purple)
The above lines depict Sofia’s position of slavery at the mayor’s house. But Sofia’s son refuses to let her think that way because he has got too much pride for their community. Sofia is only allowed to see her kids once a year, for crying out loud.
“Oh, Celie, there are colored people in the world who want us to know! Want us to grow and see the light! They are not all mean like Pa and Albert, or beaten down like Ma was. Corrine and Samuel have a wonderful marriage. Their only sorrow in the beginning was that they could not have children. And then, they say, “God sent them Olivia and Adam.” (55.13,The Color Purple)
Nettie’s experience of cruelty differs from Nettie as a child is not the way of the world, or the way of black folks as a whole, from the way of her father and Celie’s husband.
“Think what it means that Ethiopia is Africa! All the Ethiopians in the bible were colored. It had never occurred to me, though when you read the bible it is perfectly plain if you pay attention only to the words. It is the pictures in the bible that fool you. The pictures that illustrate the words. All of the people are white and so you just think all the people from the bible were white too. But really white people lived somewhere else during those times. That’s why the bible says that Jesus Christ had hair like lamb’s wool. Lamb’s wool is not straight, Celie. It isn’t even curly”. (56.3,The Color Purple)
these lines describes Nettie’s realization that the Bible is full of black people. One manifestation of racism had just been that white people had whitewashed the bible.
The term “sexism” differs from biological context to that of social construct of male and female, are sex categories. Societal framework of the term sexism constructs the role of male and female in a society and also gender prone to change.society determines male or female by birth but one learns to behave as per his /her wish by growth.
Beauvior says that, “one is not born, but rather becomes a women”.
The colour purple presents a disturbing and realistic account in the lives of young black women like Celie and Sofia with abusive past of theirs. Sexism is a form of discrimination based on a person’s sex, with such attitude being based on belief in traditional stereotypes of different roles of the sexes. For instance, in the case of Harpo and Sofia, they did not follow how the society wants them to be. Sofia is more masculine and she enjoy doing masculine work whereas Harpo is too feminine who loves to do domestic work. This incident brings out the traditional stereotype of different roles of sexes. For instance, Harpo starts to beat Sofia for not being feminine, only after Mr. Albert points it out, that Harpo Is less of a man due to which Sofia resist obeying him.
Sofia says, “Nothing can do that better than a good sound beating “(The Colour purple)
“He beat me today cause he say I winked at a boy in church. I may have got somethin in my eye but I didn’t wink. I don’t even look at mens. That’s the truth. I look at women, tho, cause I’m not scared of them. Maybe cause my mama cuss me you think I kept mad at her. But I ain’t. I felt sorry for mama. Trying to believe his story kilt her”. (51, The Color Purple)
These lines portray Celie’s view on men. The only man she believed was her stepfather but later he was the only man Celie hated to the core, because he raped Celie brutally in the end.
“All the men got they eyes glued to Shug’s bosom. I got my eyes glued there too. I feel my nipples harden under my dress. My little button sort of perk up too. Shug, I say to her in my mind, Girl, you looks like a real good time, the Good Lord knows you do”. (36.26 The Color Purple,)
These lines portray how Celie compares herself to masculity but Celie was attracted to Shug, Walker depicts that Celie possess no masculine in her. Celie is sexually attracted by Shug.
Alice Walker’s The Color Purple had a massive significant role in black feminism. In analyzing black female sexuality in The Color Purple it is necessary to acknowledge how race and gender are interlinked with each other and to recognize the oppression that black women face in all of these notions. Patricia Hill Collins divides black female oppression into the economic, political, and ideological dimension of oppression.
Feminist theory written by white scholar often neglect the intersectionality of sexuality, race, gender and class and even the word black women in their theory. Theory of feminism has massive role in the oppression of black women. However, sexuality of black women is different than for white women in an African American society. Another type of oppression in terms of sexuality is the stereotype and the emergence of controlling images in American society. Additionally, the “culture of dissemblance” arose, which presents issues of black women regarding their sexuality with silence and secrecy.
Women face as African-American women, black feminism arose, dealing not only with gender and sexuality like traditional feminism, but also with the aspects of race and class that come with being African-American and female. To examine how The Color Purple is situated in black feminism, in which it depicts the aspect of sexuality in the novel. Where sexuality binds oppressions of race, gender and class together.
The novel also portrays the sexuality present in the male dominant society. where the oppression of gender and the pressure of adhering themselves to stereotypical gender roles created by the society. However, there are also strong female characters like Shug and Sofia present in the novel and there is a change of consciousness throughout the story. Some types of oppression that black women face in the society is presented in The Color Purple, including sexism, heterosexism and the “culture of dissemblance.” Alice Walker created a voice of a young black woman, to hold up a mirror in the face of American society. Criticizing it in a time where the consciousness of black women started to change, contributing to the shift from a “culture of dissemblance” to the creation of black women’s voices on black feminism.
In the late twentieth century white feminist theory barely discusses black feminism and its intersectionality even though this is an essential aspect of feminism. Lights have been shaded on the most important themes like racism, womanism and violence. The main aim is to study this novel to present the oppression of young black women in the twentieth century in an African American community.
This novel presents the exact condition of the young black women like Celie and Sofia. Celie and Sofia are just characters in the novel represent the whole community of black race and their struggle among the white race in an African American community. Alice walker is fond of presenting social issues of women through her writing. Walker’s words sharply focus on the issues of the society and presents the truth of the society and its oppression underwent by people, especially women.
To limit the scope of this thesis, I chose to mainly focus on one of multiple black feminists, namely Patricia Hill Collins. Black and white feminism remains divided, one of the reasons being they have different experiences and different priorities within feminism. However, even though there is a clear division between traditional feminism and black feminism, the ultimate goal of both movements remains the same, equality for women. As Alice Walker accurately articulated it: “Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender” (Alice Walker, 4).