Ecofeministic Perspectives in the Select Novels of Alice Walker and Toni Morrison
Ecofeminism is a multi-elemental cultural perspective about Nature and sub ordination of people especially women. Referred to as the third wave of feminism, ecofeminism represents a merge of ecology and feminism. Ecofeminism glorifies the harmony between Women and Nature. The decisive aim is to destabilize the ideology of patriarchal society in which men subjugate both women and nature. A multi-hued and multi-perspectival phenomenon, the leit motif is that the domination and subjugation of both women and nature is inextricably linked.
As a movement, it intended at dismantling this interconnected oppression of the patriarchal system governed by dualistic hierarchies of male/female, culture/nature, reason/emotion, white/black and human/animal. Greta Gaard, very tacitly presents her perceptive of the umbrella term in her book Ecofeminist Literary Criticism: Theory, Interpretation, Pedagogy (1998) in the following words that “Ecofeminism is a practical movement for social change arising out of the struggles of women to sustain themselves, their families and the common unities. These struggles are waged against the maldevelopment and environmental degradation caused by patriarchal societies, multinational corporations and global capitalism. They are waged for environmental balance, hierarchical and multifocal societies, the continuance of indigenous culture and economic value and programs based on subsistence and sustainability”(1998:2).
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Toni Morrison, an excellent American woman writer in the 20th century, was awarded Nobel Prize in literature in 1993 for her Beloved and became the first black woman writer in winning the prize. Her second novel Sula is her favored one and the best to represent her writing styles and thoughts. Through the recitation of the fates of three typical black women—va, Sula and Nel, the novel demonstrates under the triple oppression of sexism, racialism and classism, black women have experienced great hardships and misery in the process of searching for identity and struggling for freedom and equality. Devastating the image of stereotyped black women, Morrison addresses black women with strength, wisdom and rebellious spirit of exploring themselves. The novel explores various subject matter as racial discrimination, the self-growth, women friendship, marriage and sex, evil and goodness, modernity and convention, individual and community and etc. After its publication, Sula immediately attracts the attention of critics for its notorious protagonist Sula, unique narrative techniques and rich and profound themes. On the one hand, the foreign and domestic scholarship on Sula’s feminist consciousness appears in a great deal and some repetitions cannot be avoided; on the other hand, Morrison’s ecofeminist anxiety for nature has seldom been studied.
Ecofeminists argue that nature and women are in the “”other”” position and being oppressed and that the root cause of all oppression is hierarchy and anthropocentrism. Therefore, to solve ecological crisis and eradicate various social inequality and oppression, they argue to combine feminist movement with ecological movement to challenge the patriarchal and anthropocentric ideology to construct a harmonious world. As a black woman writer, Morrison, in her novels, specially shows her anxiety for and reflection about the destiny of the black women, the African-American culture and their communities.
Through the representation of human domination over nature, men’s oppression of women and the white’s intolerance against the black, she reveals the great trauma of nature, women and the black caused by patriarchy and anthropocentrism. Morrison also proposes to take equality, independence, love and care as core values, and replace dualism and hierarchy in patriarchal values thus constructing a harmonious world. Morrison realizes that anthropocentric standards are the root of human domination over nature and that human and nature are internally connected. Moreover, the natural images of water and plants in Sula with rich meanings reveal the affiliation between women and nature. With the detailed reading of three main female characters: Eva, Sula and Nel and their fates, the novel discusses the hardships they have experienced and the labors they have made in the process of struggling against oppression and searching for self-identity. The relationship between the black men and women and the interpersonal relationship in the community are specially explored to put up new black communities. Thus the novel Sula gives a full and perceptive expression of Toni Morrison’s ecofeminisit thoughts and shows her ecofeminist longing for the equal and harmonious relationship between human and nature, men and women, the white and the black, individual and the community.
The Bluest Eye is a work of complex symbolism right from the very first page of the text. The novel begins with a reproduction of essence from a primer widely read at elementary level in American schools. This rhyme-like text is highly symbolic and paves way for the reader to silt in his/her mind that despite this novel being a story of a Black American family, there is no mention of the blacks in the given rhyme. This is symbolic of how blacks are insignificant, not inevitable and not reusable in the typical American society constituting white families which further consist of a white father, a white mother and their white son and daughter –with white names – Dick and Jane. The family name of Pecola’s father ‘Breedlove’ is highly symbolic. Cholly, who is not capable to ‘love’ and is only proficient of breeding, breeds with his own daughter doing the most dreadful of the things in the blurry thoughts of love and lust. In this novel, the Black children and women are subjugated and seen as victims like the natural world in the hands of men. The following extract by Zora Neal Hurston, well illustrates this concept of domination.
Honey, de white man is de ruler of everything as fur as ah been able tuh find out. May be it’s some place way off in de ocean where de black man is in power, but we don’t know nothin’ but what we see. So de white man throw down de load and tell de nigger man tuh pick it up. He pick it up because he have to, but don’t tote it. He hand it to his women folks. De nigger woman is de mule uh de world so fur as ah can see. (qtd. in Collins 52, emphasis original)
Zora Neale Hurston’s flaming passage indicates power and omnipotence of the white man who transfers his physical burden on to the Black man. The Black man then becomes the ‘beast of burden’. He is required to carry the load thrown down by the white man, but instead hands it over to the Black woman. The Black woman is then supposed to do the job left undone by man. While it is easy to find many other symbols in the novel – some on the surface, others concealed a bit deeper – it is still interesting to find how symbols of ecofeminism endeavour to convey new insights of feminism in relation to those of ecological concern.
The sensitive African-American writer Alice Walker paved voice for this deficit through their works. This paper is an attempt to analyze the exploitation and oppression of Black women and ecology along with culture by the white British imperialism and by the Black men of the African society in Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple. This novel intends to unravel the Ecofeministic perspectives through ecological destruction of the African tribal territory and the oppression of the African black female characters through patriarchal society.
The post-industrial phase of the modern era and the age of globalization saw too much ecological deprivation and catastrophe. The environment around us is getting threatened day by day due to human intervention and activities. We can see trees cutting down on a larger scale for modern development, for the building of larger roads and infrastructures in big cities. This we can see is infecting and injecting the rural areas too. This oppression and exploitation of the environment in various ways is affecting the whole ecosystem that may prove fatal to our future generations. This awareness became inevitable for man to think about its protection and conservation. Ecology is an inseparable aspect of human being, and man has always thought himself to be more powerful to the nature. It is his innate tendency to dominate and oppress the other living being according to his own will.
Women and ecology are being equally oppressed dominated and exploited by the patriarchal system. The feministic consciousness through the feministic movements and the ecological exploitation in the post industrial phase brought the awareness that there is interconnection between ecology and women. But Ecofeminism is a different thing that colligates the exploitation and oppression of women with that of ecology and argues that there is a bond between women and nature. Ecofeminism, a word itself gives the essence of the connection between ecological factors and feministic perspectives. This thought linked together the two major terms on a global stratum and came to be known as Ecofeminism.
The term is said to have been first coined by the French writer Francoise d’Eaubonne in her book, Le Feminisme Ou La Mort (1974). Ecofeminism focuses on the domination of ecological elements and its relationship with feministic consciousness. Their bondage shares a history of oppression by a patriarchal society. It is said that the western society treated women as inferior to men and nature inferior to culture. Human beings always thought nature and its elements as inferior to them and imposed power to oppress it.
The patriarchal society also imposed the same power for the domination of women. Hence, Ecofeminists finds them connected with nature as the cycles of the moon, comparing the naturalness of their menstruation cycle. They found the potential of the natures nurturing the land identical to the natural childbirth and nurturing their families. Ecofeminism bloomed in 1970s and created the awareness about environmental concerns and supported the environmental movement provoking the study of females connected to nature.
The American women novelists like Toni Morrison, Alice Walker showed their love for nature and reflected the depriving condition of woman and parallel led it to nature. During the 19th century the writings of women about nature changed into various forms. They emphasized the connection between human beings and natural environment and began to show their concerns for ordinary life, animals, plants and natural habitat. This explored question about black female characters in an epistolary form which has a series of 90 letters addressed to God by the poor black female protagonist Celie.
This shows that there is nobody to share her feelings except God. This spiritual connection helps to harmonize her from the external sufferings. That is why when she is raped at a tender age by her so called step father Alphonso and also becomes pregnant by him. He threats her not to tell to anybody and says, “You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mummy.” (T C P 1). He also snatches her babies and sells them. He marries her to an abusive husband. But Celie cannot protest and says that “It all I can do not to cry. I make myself wood. I say to myself, Celie, you a tree.” (T C P.23).This shows that the protagonist relates her grievances with the nature and directly calls herself as wood and tree.
It is through Celie that Walker compares her deplorable condition with nature, as nature is too helpless like her. Moreover she is beaten physically and abused sexually and socially. Hence, she finds no God in the man but in trees, birds and the surrounding nature. Here, Walker seems to show the delicateness of both the nature and women at the hands of the male society. This also shows her empathy for nature. Nettie was the younger sister of Celie. Even she was raped and was tried to marry to Mr. .. but she ran away from there and went to Africa to Mr. Sammuel and Corroine to take care of their adopted children and to preach and convert her brothers and sisters. She gets very happy to be with her people. Here Walker is of the view that a man gets the real happiness only ecological exploitation, domination and their oppression. The black women writers recognized themselves different during the feminist movement and represented themselves as ‘Black Feminists’.
Alice Walker the American Black woman novelist loves nature and has high concern for the protection of ecology. She sees God everywhere and in all things, even in nature, trees, plants and animals. Being a Black woman she has also faced sufferings at the hands of male dominated patriarchal society. Her novels reflect the deplorable condition of black women in African American society along with the exploiting condition of the nature.
In one of her interview with J. O? Brien, she said openly that she is alive and did not commit suicide only due to the love and cause for nature and for Black Women, she said, “I realized how much I loved it, and how hard it would be not to see the sunrise every morning, the snow, the sky, the trees, the rocks, the faces of people, all so different” (cit. in O?Brien, 1994: 58).Her love and concern for nature is reflected in her poetries, essays, short stories and her novels. She is of the view that in the name of modernization, capitalism, industrialization, the human being is destroying the environment and as a whole is disturbing its harmony with mother Earth.
It seems that she is very close to nature and considers herself as worshipper of nature. She not only depicts the oppression of black women by the white race or white people for racial discrimination but also dual oppression by the black male society. The Color Purple (1982) by Alice Walker is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel. On the 10th anniversary edition of The Color Purple, she stated that the color Purple is everywhere in the nature and associates it with gender and nature. The Color purple is the story of physical and sexual assault of the uneducated black girl Celie and other when he goes towards his roots.
Eventually we come know that their father was a white, business man. Celie befriends Shug Avery her husband’s and further develops sexual relationship with her. In this way she is reflected as having bisexual character, which she thinks is very close to nature. She also has a sisterhood relation with her as she teaches her to embrace her body and imparts in herself confidence and awareness of life’s view. Shug Avery, herself is a very strong and independent woman. She helps Celie to build herself strong financially, sexually and even psychologically. She is the one who tells her that God is not he or she but it, as nobody has seen God. In the novels last letter Celie portrays Shug’s reformation having deep empathy for mother Earth as “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God.” (T C P 292). This shows her spiritual transformation and her worshipping of the nature as God.
Sofia Butler wife of Harpo, is a very strong woman and would never be subservient to the domination of any white male. She was sentenced to jail for 12 years for defying the Mayor. But it was culminated into 12 years of labor to him as his maid. Her punishment was due to her reciprocation to the Mayor. Hence, the women in this novel are oppressed either by the black males of their own society or crushed by the white males.It is through Nettie’s letters to Celie that we get acquainted with the African Olivian tribe and their oppression by the white missionaries. The Olivian tribes worshipped the roof leaf and they considered it as their life protector. It was very auspicious to them. They told a story about its consequence and how when the village chief instead of planting the roof leaf he planted crops, cassava, millet and groundnuts that cursed him into a huge storm for the village and every house got roofless.
Thereafter it took many months for it to grow and the village houses remained roofless and many died due to storm. Through this story Walker tries to convince that how the disrespect of nature ruins human being and makes us realize the ultimate strength of nature. Thus, this novel depicts the domination of women as well as the ecological deprivation of the Olivian tribes, in Africaby the white missionaries. The domination of the White officials and their inclusion in the Olinka Village and finally capturing it shows their imperialism and colonization. Nettie writes “tarmac road running straight through the middle of it (village),” which now “seems gutted” (T C P175).We find the cutting of the tress for the sake of building roads and plantation of such plants which cannot be eaten by the human beings. The rubber plantation and the destruction of their crops by the white traders actually ruined their farms, leveled their homes and the news that their land belonged to the white traders of England i.e. the rubber manufacturers ruined not only their identity but also their souls.
They eventually rout out the Olinka people from their territory for their own material gains and progress. The Olinka villagers bereft for the loss of their territory “The women spend all their time in the fields, tending their crops and praying. They sing to the Earth and to the sky and to their cassava and groundnuts. Songs of love and farewell” (C P179). This shows the grim effects of the British imperialism and their invasion on a natural virgin land of Olinka and how this territory was being raped by them. Walker speculates the African?s nature boundedness. The exploitation of the Olivian tribe and their expulsion from their own land by the White authorities is very sorrowful.
Hence, we can say that ecological destruction and the deprivation of the Black women reflects the similar mess in The Color Purple, as both are powerless and feeble and suffer the same deformation at the hands of the male authority. Alice Walker tries to focus on how nature is getting destructed and exploited at the hands of man and at the same time how black women are oppressed by the white men and the Black male society. Similarly she also tries to educate that how the nature element plays a significant role and shows it is wrath and curse by destroying mankind due to man’s unnatural behavior, through the story of the Olinka tribes. This seems that she endeavors to create consciousness about ecological concerns and create honor for both women and environment.
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