Untitled Essay, Research Paper
By Jennifer Crowe
Alice Walker does not like to be called a feminist. Instead she prefers to
use the term: womanist. Walker defines a womanist as being a Black Feminist.
The word derives from the phrase ‘You’re acting womanish…’ willfull
or outrageous. As she defines it, it’s a woman who loves other women, sexually
or non-sexually and men sexually and non sexually. It’s also a woman
who loves music, loves to dance, and who loves her spirit. Walker states
that a…’woman is to feminist as lavender is to purple’.
So why would I choose the book, The Color Purple by Alice Walker, to illustrate
my views on the “feminist approach” to literary theory? I believe
The Color Purple to be the most complex, real and truthful novel I have ever
read. Walker does not hide the harsh realities that Black woman had to, or
still have to suffer. However, not only did Walker apply the feminist approach
to literary theory, she also managed to use the common sense approach.
The book was written in what Alice termed as “Black Folks English.” It was
the kind of speech that wouldn’t intimidate men and women whom she knew all
her life. Walker just presumes that her “alien” readers will understand
the language. When I first began the book, I had trouble understanding words
such as ‘cussing’ (p. 4) and ‘git’ (p. 68). After awhile,
however, one begins to slowly unravel the language, and smile at the mistakes
the characters make, and how different other cultures can be.
Walker also believes that her opinion is right. She says that she is not
a feminist as such, however she manages to drive the maltreatment of Black
woman home. Quotes such as ‘…he [Mr. ______ ] beat me like he beat
the children. Cept he don’t never hardly beat them. He say, Celie git
the belt. The children be outside the room, peeking through the
cracks…’ (p. 22) really manage to shock the readers, and help us
picture the wrong that has been placed on woman in general. ‘She [Sofia]
say, All my life I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my brothers. I had
to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain’t safe in a family
of men. But I never thought I’d have to fight in my own house …
I loves Harpo, she say. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before
I let him beat me’ (p. 38). Those few lines manages to sum up the point
that Alice Walker appears to be trying to convey: women seem to be getting
tired of being taken advantage of, and are starting to stand!
up for their own rights.
Walker paints colourful characters in The Color Purple, each of them undergoing
a series of changes. In the beginning of the novel, Celie proves herself
to be a pathetic character, almost begging the readers to say she should
stand up to Mr. ______ and fight back. Sofia is a tough character, but her
experiences show that fighting back does not work. Shug Avery begins are
a mistrusting role model for Celie, but actually proves herself to be a force
of strength for her in the end.
The men start off as being the strong ones in the novel, however as their
flaws being to show, and the women (especially Celie) start to rebuild their
lives, the men become weaker, and weaker. Shug begins to show Celie the truth
about the relationships between the men and women, in the patriarchal society
they live in, in the following statements: ‘Man corrupt everything,
say Shug. He on your box of grits, in your head, and all over the radio.
He try to make you think he everywhere. Soon as you think he everywhere,
you think he God. But he ain’t. Whenever you trying to pray, and man
plop himself on the other end of it, tell him to git lost, say Shug. Conjure
up flowers, wind, water, a big rock. But this hard work, let me tell you.
He been there so long, he don’t want to budge. He threaten lightning,
floods and earthquakes. Us fight. I hardly pray at all. Everytime I conjure
up a big rock, I throw it.’ (p. 168).
‘Although she received a lot of praise for her novel, Walker received
criticism from some in the African-American community who thought her novel
portrayed black men in negative stereotypical fashion as abusers and
rapists.’ I believe that Walker did not aim to portray the men in her
novels as such violent abusers, however there must have been some truth in
her story, as it seemed straight from the heart. In the view of feminist
criticism, Walker proved herself a true “womanist”, allowing the
issue of patriarchy to shine through with her portrayal of Mr. ______, and
Celies “father”. Gender equality was also evident, as the woman
worked in the field, and yet still came home to prepare a meal, serve their
husbands, and well as their friends drinks.
‘Mr. ______ not going to let his wife wear pants’ (p. 124) is a
classic example of gender equality, as well as it being perfectly acceptable
for Celies “father” to choose who she may marry.
Walker managed to captivate me from the very first line in the book, and
as I read on I found myself thinking The Color Purple to be a perfect way
to illustrate feminism in literary criticism. Walker laid the cold facts
down, and allowed us to become aware of them. She believes she is right,
as one can tell from her strong language and shocking contents. I am interested
to read more works by Walker, as I am sure she shall tackle the issues as
she has done so effectively in The Color Purple.