How Alice Walker Created Womanism
The Color Purple is a novel that traces the suffering of black women from gender, racial domination in patriarchy society. This novel demonstrates the universally prevalent multiple injustices towards women: sexual violence and violation, sexism, political, economic and social domination. Male keeps women oppressed denying equal power. So, females have been prevented from enjoying their basic rights and are totally excluded from the social, political and economic life. The present study attempts to investigate how the color purple of Alice Walker visualizes the suffering and oppression of black women. Celie, a protagonist of The Color Purple shows strong act of resistance against structures of patriarchy and fights bravely for racial and class equality.
In the beginning, she silences by the patriarchal voice. She is threatened to remain silent about the sexual abuse by her own step father, but at the end of the story, she is capable to construct her own identity, kicking out patriarchal hegemony. She renders a voice to break down the silence created by male authority. While addressing the issue of violation and violence against African American women, scholars have explored the maleness of African American and witness of feminist studies and have expressed black women’s experience. Therefore, black women’s works and their contribution to cultural context assume importance as thy have been previously marginalized by the patriarchal society. Their works reconceptualize those contexts and a tradition in light of black women’s lived experience and achievements. Therefore, Hill Collins writes: “Races and gender may be analytically distinct, but in Black women’s everyday lives, they work together”. (2000:269)
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Patriarchal domination has its long root in history, as Phanindra K. Upadhyaya points: “even great Greek Philosophers like Aristotle, Socrates, Plato and the rest, in the golden era of western classical culture, couldn’t openly do away with their patriarchal upbringing” (41). It is a social structural phenomenon in which males of the society have the privilege of dominance character over innocent females. Women were presented as the oppressed classes, who have been viewed as lacking certain qualities. Even a great philosopher like Aristotle declared, “the female is female by virtue of certain lack of qualities” (qtd, in seldon 134), and so thy can’t be compared with men who inherently posies good qualities and St. Thomas Aquinas believed that women is an “imperfect man” (qtd in seldon 134). Women in our society, face great challenge to establish their identity outside patriarchal definition. They have been historically subjected to patriarchal dominance and they are struggling to liberate themselves from male domination and establish their identity.
While Celie as a woman gets tortured from patriarchal hegemony but as black woman, she also suffers from racism, as Mary Church Terrell points out, “Not only are colored women…handicapped on account of their sex, but thy are almost everywhere baffled and mocked because of their race. Not only because thy are women, but because thy are colored women” (292). The study investigates these dual discriminations of sexism and racism that black women not only suffer from the patriarchal hegemony in the black community but also suffer from racial oppression. The study addressed the questions such as what makes Black Women’s experience differ from the broad gender issues that white middle-class feminism deals with, how Alice Walker presents her protagonist, Celie, an illiterate southern black woman resist patriarchy and how she struggles against sexual and racialized gender oppression? How does Celie, eventually liberate herself from patriarchal domination to establish her independence and self-autonomy? The study deals with universal issue of women’s suffering with the purpose of investigating how the writer, Alice Walker empowers her black women to resist oppressions and dominance to celebrate female dignity and independence. The study focuses on the language that the black woman invents to express her private feelings and the black women’s community for the voice of liberation
Since the research deals with the feminine it employs feminist perspective to analyze the problems faced by the women. Black feminist approach as a theoretical perspective has been used to analyze black women’s experience as universal feminist yearning for personal freedom and independence, the novel The Color Purple traces the liberation of the African -American women and her reality. The novel deals with what it means to be poor, black and female in the rural south during the first half of the twentieth century, a period defined by the patriarchal society in which women were uneducated and kept oppressed by the male dominated society. It represents personal and historical transition for the black women and her community. A black feminist perspective values and focuses African-American women’s experiences and empowers African- American women with the light to interpret their reality and define their objectives. This approach allows analyzing the issue faced by the black women in a society where they suffer from patriarchal domination, racial oppression and gender discrimination.
Thus, the novel raises the voice for liberation of black women and eventually Celie gets self-actualized and struggles against the racial and sexual violence of the patriarchal and ultimately gains a new voice. Thijs research also discusses the issues faced by the black women all over the study deals with the issues that hinder them to live as free human beings: hegemonic masculinity, patriarchal hegemony, gender and racial oppression. Women have been considered as a sexual object and suffered under the patriarchal hegemony.
In additional, women have been victimized by hegemonic masculinity. Hegemonic masculinity is a question of how particular groups of men inhabit positions of power and wealth and how they legitimate and reproduce the social relationships that generate their dominance. A fundamental element of hegemonic masculinity then is that women exist as potential sexual objects for men. Patriarchal hegemony is a common phenomenon in almost all the societies and male domination manifests in different modes. Women are also dominated by patriarchy. The history of patriarchy reveals multiple oppression to women. Patriarchy is a social structural phenomenon in which women have been dominated and considered as the oppressed class. Patriarchy views women in terms of a binary system that takes female as inferior and male as superior. Women are exploited as they perform their gender based upon patriarchal hegemony. A patriarchy maintains power by forcing the female body into powerlessness and demise the women’s abilities to shape their identity and autonomy. Therefore, women cannot construct their own identity until they move away from male centered locations to safe female spaces. Lynette D. myles in his book “Female subjectivity in African-American female’s narratives of Enslavement” illustrates the importance of such female centered locations for the transformation of black women:
To oppose the dominant ideology of black women, African-American women must move towards black female self- definition in places where a community of resistance is possible. Female self-definition is the conscious will on the part of a woman to define herself by her own terms and not by others’ values, beliefs and expectations. When she does, she creates female autonomy setting the condition by which she lives and experiences life. No longer comfortable looking at herself through the eyes of others, a black woman purposely at defiantly construct her own vision for self-knowledge and autonomy in sites with women, countering negative image of black women (Myles 55).
Similarly gender issue is also linked with patriarchal ideology that views women as lacking qualities that men inherently possess. Gender is socially constructed to justify the oppression domination of women. Judith Butler views gender in terms of its perforvative act. Women are exploited as they perform their gender bases upon patriarchal hegemony. Butler explores the relationship between performance and gender identity and she argues ….
Gender is entirely imitative, performative and actuated (Butler 900). She argues that the body becomes its gender through a series of acts which are renewed, revised and consolidated through time. In this sense, gender is an identity tenuously constituted in time; and identity stablished through a stylized repetition of acts (Butler 900).
Therefore, Butler compares gender to a performative act which constructs the behavior of the self and is made to comply with the social values of truthfulness and falseness. This not only contradicts its own performative fluidity, but serves as a social policy of gender regulation and control. Thus, the female oppression results as the women “perform” their genders passed upon the hegemonic constraints of patriarchy. Likewise, women are also victimized by racial oppression. Race is a defining construct in American society. It represents and associates with racial discrimination. Similar to gender, race is also constructed by society. It is the people in society who are responsible for race is on as they construct and perpetuate the differences in races.
Thus, the key element in racism and racial conflicts is the people with in that particular society. All the problems occurred in the society due to different races. Racial ideology is thus used to oppress and suppress the women in the patriarchal society, and it has been used as a legitimating ideological tool to suppress and exploit women and to deny them access to material and cultural resources and work. Black women doubly suffer from racism and sexism. Women are just as enslaved and victimized in the patriarchal and resist society where their rights to live as free human beings are deprived. Women are considered as silenced beings that are lacking voice to represent themselves. Over the past decade, a large body of work has explored the boundary of African-American feminist thought. Black women’s gender role attitudes are largely consistent with feminist ideology. Therefore, black women share, along with their experiences of racial oppression. The universal problem faced by women. They lose their identity in patriarchal society.
Simon De Beauvoir in her famous essay “The second Sex” illustrates how women lose their autonomy and liberation in a male dominated society
In women there is from the beginning a conflict between their autonomous existence and her objective self, her” being-the-other”; She is taught that to please she must try to please, she must make herself object; she should therefore renounce her autonomy. She is treated like a live doll and is refused liberty. Thus viscious circle is formed; for the less she exercise her freedom to understands, to grasp and discover the world about her, the less resources will she find with n herself, the less will she dare to affirm herself as subject (285).
Thu s women are objectified under the patriarchal and it is a great challenge for women writers to subvert the patriarchal culture and create a less oppressive climate. There they construct a discourse that is female centered and that revolves around the empowerment of the female in a patriarchal society through language and literature. Much of the feminist theory is concerned with inventing language to resist domination as Kaplan argues :
While it is certainly true that important tenants of feminist criticism and theory have developed from formulation of silence and repression, it is just as true that feminist theory has always been concerned with identifying the modes by which women writers have resisted domination ,have broken silence, have protested, have reinvented and transformed myth, traditions and forms have found means to express pleasure and desire as well as pain and constraint (349).
Women can construct their identity through appropriation of language. Middle class white women suffer from gender oppression. African- American women suffer from the duel oppressions: sexism and racism. Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple dramatize Black women’s resistance to such oppressions and explores the search for the self and liberation through the acquisition of individual voice as well as through integration into community. Their fight against such multiple oppressions due to lack of individual voice. Therefore, breaking the silence imposed on the women and the sense of community that manifests in the female bonding is a very important phenomenon in the struggle for their self-identity. This brings a new sense of sense of self and awareness that eventually leads to liberation from the sufferings that the black women are facing too much.
In the Color Purple, the female characters are rendered voiceless under the treat of patriarchal domination. The black women have to fight and struggle to establish the language of their own. Walker renders a voice to these voiceless women. The patriarchal threats to silence the woman appears in the very beginning of the novel The Color Purple. It begins with the parental threat to Celie, to remain silence on whatever has happened to her. This suggests Celie cannot gain her personal identity until she constructs the language of her own. Charles Proudfit notes that “Celie’s text is born when she is raped and silenced” (83). Thus self- expression against the prohibition of speech is the first step in Celie’s searches for her self’s identity and self- definition which is important for the liberation of suppressed women. Celie resists and subverts the dominant patriarchal discourse and gains her self’s expression. She does this by participation in the oral culture and learns to be one of her people, Walker employs the black vernacular in a series of letters that Celie write first to the unseen God and then to her sister Nettie. This ” Oral expression” is a large part of Celie’s writing and though she records her experience in writing form, she renders it in an oral manner. The spelling, syntax and grammatical construction all evoke the way Celie sounds.
The novel combines Celie’s development and transforms the status of narrative from the characteristics of Black vernacular to the more enduring textuality. The series of letters that Celie writes are her text that is the outcome of Pa’s threat to remain silence. She has in the process written her own text and liberates herself from the male discourse. This epistolary structure not only challenges male discourse and the western literary tradition but also reconstructs the black feminist literary tradition. This transformation is truly the first feminist critique of the fiction of the authority of the male voice and its sexism in the Afro-American tradition. Similarly, Linda Abbandonato views that in The Color Purple, Walker protests the exclusion of Black Women writers from feminist revision of literary history. Celie’s letters are her own text that represents how the Black women can resist class, racial, sexual oppressions and constructs the female identity.
In the Color Purple she shows her heroine trapped in the whole range of possible oppressions Celie’s struggle to create self through language to break from the network of class’ racial’ sexual and gender ideologies to which she is represented as the women’s story in an innovative way. The color purple symbolically suggests in its physical size the position power of womanist text within the canon: dominated by the weigh, prolixity and authority of masculine accounts of female subjectivity (1107)
Celie gains linguistic competence by participating in the oral culture the Black to resist the dominant positions over blacks and written discourse over oral expression. However, Celie learns to master the written word with the help of her sister, Nettie. Both Celie and Nettie know linguistic competence is the way out of their oppression world. The text, Celie creates not only break the silence imposed on her by male discourse but also herps her to expand her limited world and transform herself into a stronger self. The letters Celie receives from Nettie widens the perspective of Celie’s Africa. In this way, Celie understands herself and the world very nearly and also helps her to assert selfhood and a quest for personal freedom within the cultural legacy.
The Color Purple establishes an identity for Celie as a writer, the creator of her text through her language. Celie uses her black vernacular as an act of protest against the patriarchal discourse. The letters she writes help her to grow from a voiceless into an independent woman who controls her life when woman gain linguistic control, they can gain self-liberation from the hegemonic patriarchal discourse. In fact, Celie has found in writing a place on her own through which she can express herself without the white masculine trace. There is inherent black women identification in the black female literary tradition. Walker always focuses the importance of sisterhood in black women’s emancipation.
She sees the possibility of empowerment of black women if they create a community of sisters. Black women can’t construct female identity until they enter into the community and share their common sufferings. Celie enters into the women community that gives her physical, spiritual and mental strength to resist gender and racial oppression. Her struggle against patriarchal domination becomes meaningful only when she integrates into the female bonding with other black women: Nettie, Sofia and Shug Avery. This female community is a woman centered space where black women resist patriarchal discourse that defines them. Celie gains knowledge and awareness through the sisterly bond with other black women which helps to construct herself definition and liberation. Thus, the influence from various women helps Celie to achieve an emotional maturity and her sense of identity and self-definition. It is the female bonding that enables her to come out from patriarchal domination and step on new life.
The Color Purple is a breakthrough in black literature as it dramatizes how the black women have been brutally oppressed by black men as well as white patriarchy. The consciousness, knowledge and self-awareness are important to change themselves. It comes from the women centered spaces where a black woman constructs herself autonomy. Celie counters the negative image. Where “self is not defined as the increased autonomy gained by separating oneself from others, instead self is found in the context of family and community” (Collins 113). Celie’s struggle for self-liberation becomes more meaningful. The individual voice and the sense of community empower them to resist gender and racial oppression and to construct their identity and liberation.
The novel thus retraces the inter-connecting lives of the black women as each evolves from victims’ survivor into self-actualized woman. Celie represents a suffering black woman in a racial and patriarchal society and therefore her attempt is as struggle against the racial and sexual violence of the patriarchy but she transcends all the barriers put by the patriarchal society and ultimately gains a new voice. Celie’s individual voice and the sense of community bring her freedom and liberation as dramatized by Walker in The Color Purple.
Alice Walker points out about finding ways and places to escape, resist and oppose dominant discourses and its practices of oppression and subjugation. She shows places to resist dominant ideologies the see African-American women as “others” that is critical for the novel’s black female characters’ own self-definition. The story in this case is not only about finding locations of recreantly and redefining the black females, it is also about the progression towards the black female self-definition and female autonomy in which Celie is engaged. Walker attempts to redefine and explain black women cultural dynamics trough their shared culture. She has not only explored the Black female ere experience but she has also identified concrete locations of social relations where Afro-American women construct self-definitions. This helps them in resisting the multiple oppression, they experience in race, class and gender. Black women share with each other forming a black community is very meaningful as the power and influence emanating from the African-American women aren’t meant to provide a respite from the oppression of any individual alone, but to nuture the individual black women in order to confront multiple oppressions.
The feminist issue of double marginalization conceptualized by Simon De Beauvoir, Showalter, Luce Irigaray and Judith Butler and others are brought to make the thesis proves as an umbrella term for any movement that seeks to highlight the liberation of women. Feminism fundamentally posits that western society is dominantly patriarchal and they write for the liberation of women. The works of Luce Ingary, Julia Kristeva and Judith Butler not only greatly contribute to feminist scholarship but also reconceptualize feminist thought i n increasingly theoretical terms.
The limitation of this research is that it won’t touch the debate of other aspects a part from the feminism but the delimitation of the research is that it sticks upon the notion of gender equality and feminism. I have not found any thesis done upon the novel till now and my works will be great help for the researchers and literary text from point of view of feminism. It will be useful for those future researchers to analyze of interpret nay literacy text.
The novel also raises the questions like how the protagonist struggle against the oppression how she abused and marginalized, how she suffered and responded, how her sister Nettie help her to learn and how she gains victory at last? These are the some of the questions the research raises to solve showing the miserable condition that the females undergo in contemporary society.
The issue of how the characters are wandering in order to sustain themselves in front of almighty power and what sort of challenges they have to cope in order to proceed themselves for existence. The limitation of this research is that it won’t touch the debate of other aspects apart from the race, class and gender discrimination. The issue of how the patriarchy or male chauvinism made women suffer torture and discriminate physically and psychologically in the society. Especially the bird eye view of gender and racial exploitation is used to make the thesis prove the hypothesis. The incidents of the novel mirror the truth about the race, class and gender discrimination which is the basic concern of the research. But the delimitation of he research is that it sticks upon the notion of dislocation, Marxism, feminism, and so on. But my research will focus on double marginalization of African-American women.
The research ponders how women in our society are treated. They are really victimized and tortured in course of patriarchal society. Females are deprived of their basic human rights for no other reasons than their gender. As per tradition females have been treated inferior to male and this deeply engraved in the mind of the females too. Due to this inferior treatment, the females fail to understand their rights. So, to prove how the feminine existence is always silenced in term of the opportunities and rights are the objectives of this research. Since the drama of equality is kept at a corner of house with the absolute power, that the male practice towards the female race. The study uses theoretical tool in making the application of the stories from the view point of double marginalization. The different extract of story has taken to prove the hypothesis.
This thesis has been divided into three chapters. In fact, first chapter, the researcher introduces the writer, elaborates the hypothesis and quotes different critics view regarding to the text with the title “Alice Walker: A Feminist”. In the same chapter, “Race and Gender Oppression in The Color Purple, the researcher makes a throughout analysis of the text by applying the tool of Black feminism. The last chapter, “Struggle for Self-Liberation” is discussion or interpretation of the study and lists major findings of the project.