A Womanist Criticism Of The Color Purple By Alice Walker

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

History displays major struggles and discrimination faced by black women in society. Womanist theory clearly illustrates and embodies sexism, racial oppression and the identity domination within the lives of black women. Alice Walker founded this term ‘Womanism’ in order to embody and accurately address the oppression of black women within humanity. Walker believes that femininity simply could not be separated from the culture and identity of an African American woman. “A womanist is a black feminist or a feminist of colour. Or Walker says, “Womanist is to a feminist is to feminist as to purple to lavender”. Walker’s novel The Colour Purple captures the inequalities faced by black women living in the early 19th century of Southern America. Set in the state of Georgia within this time period, societal behaviours and social values towards black woman allows comparison against the status of those living in modern society. Sexism has been identified by Walker as a key element of Womanism theory. The term womanism was formed as a strand of feminism specific to black women. The idea surrounding the oppression of woman on the basis of sex is shown prominently within The Color Purple. In order to demonstrate the feminist theory Walker employed techniques of symbolism, zoomorphism and diminution. Celie, the protagonist of the novel, begins her life being a victim of incest as her stepfather forces her to be involved with him sexually. He then sets her up into an arranged marriage where Celie is forced to fulfil his sexual needs and take care of the house. As her stepfather had raped her, impregnating her on two occasions, when she was married off he stated to her new husband, “She ain’t fresh though, but I specs you know that. She spoiled, twice. But don’t need a fresh no how.” This illustrates Celie as an object being sold, treated like less than human. Womanism theory allows the reader to recognise this extreme inferiority and defined roll of a woman during this time period. Throughout the novel Celie’s husband was referred to as Mr__. Walker has not used his name go give the impression Mr___ could be any man. He is satirised as a male dictator showing his power. ‘Mr.’ is followed by a dash to imply any man could fill this position of an abusive, powerful character. The idea that Celie couldn’t escape was engrained in her mind and she believed there was no other possibilities for her. This was until she met Shug. Shug is a strong African American woman who inspires Celie that she do what she wants. Walker has employed the use of symbolism to indicate Celie’s independence. Once Celie escapes the control of Mr__ she begins a pants making business. The pants provide her with economic independence as well as challenging typical gender rolls of women wearing feminine dresses and skirts.

The idiom “wearing the pants” is used to describe control within a relationship, when Celie begins wearing pants it is demonstrating the control she has regained over her life. By Celie regaining her independence Walker has created an inspiring message to women in today’s world. The reader is reminded to compare the status of women living in 19th century Southern America to those living in modern society. Mainstream feminism has been criticised for only applying to the white middle class women. By Walker forming this term ‘Womanism’ it provides women of colour with a platform to express their specific battle with oppression and separation on the basis of both sex and race. “The Color Purple offers a parable of change through the agency of poor Black women and so challenges the complicity of white feminism (past and present) with racism”. In todays society feminism has come a long way and the rights of women have become far more recognised, although we are still left to question weather the rights for black women are equal to the rights of white women. Oppression of black woman on the basis of race is an important element explored by the Womanist theory. Racism is an ongoing issue throughout history and society today. Southern America specifically has a large history of racial inequalities and discrimination against African Americans. “In The Color Purple, Walker’s solution is to create a feminist epistolary mode, adapted to Black women’s experience”. Alice Walker is a proud African American women herself and she has used her writing as a platform to contribute major social and racial issues. Within The Colour Purple all main characters in the novel are African American with the exception of the some townsfolk and the major. Celie’s father is a Negro store owner, his store is run by him and his two brothers. They do very well until the white people of the town complain that he is stealing their business. This makes him a victim of racial violence leading to ruining the social status of the family. Celie writes letters to her sister who she was separated from. These letters reflect the dialect of uneducated African American’s living in rural southern America. To contrast this, her sister’s letters display much better writing and grammar skills as she was permitted to attend school. This allows the reader to compare social customs of rural Southern America. The letters provide real emotional, honest insight into the life of a semi-literate African American woman. Sofia is another example of racial discrimination. She is known as a strong female character and stands up to her husband against domestic violence. She was jailed for ten years as she disrespected the white mayor. This highlights ideas that racial oppression and violence is still prominent within the novel. Although Sofia is strong enough to stand up to her husband, she is still discriminated against by the white people of the south.

The womanist lens allows the reader to identify this major social injustice that the black community faced during the time period in Southern America. Racism has been a prominent issue within the history of African American culture and Alice Walker has been able to raise this issue through the theory of womanism. Following controversial high profile police shooting of two black men in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis America a strong campaign has emerged called Black lives matter. It’s main focus and motivation is to create awareness and protest the disproportionate number of people of colour versus people of the white community being target by police. It has been developed to reach issues of black women, the LGBT community and black people living with disabilities. This reaches Alice Walker’s vision of the womanist theory allows the reader to contrast the awareness in society today versus in 19th century Southern America. Womanist theory provides emphasis on the importance of an African American woman culture’s. It highlights social identity and diversity within an entire community. Walker has founded all ideas surrounding womanism of the theory that “a woman’s love for herself that is integrated with her love of all living things”. To fully comprehend the womanist characters within the novel it is crucial to fully understand invaluable qualities seen throughout African American womens history. Throughout history these woman have been doubly oppressed on the basis of both sex and race. Walker emphasis womanist theory allows reader to understand that in order to become a womanist, the woman must love herself. This is crucial and obviously evident throughout history and is portrayed in the novel by Celie as we are able to follow her journey in search of self identity. She begins as a obedient character who struggles to stand up against the extreme oppression surrounding her; this is until she met Shug. Shug is a strong womanist character who embodies all major traits of a womanist. Celie grows as a woman and is able grow her self worth and overcome physiological and mental blocks put in her way by society. Shug assists her to become aware of her personality and highlights the idea that she is an individual. She is educated to the fact that she can fight and uses her inner voice. The woman surrounding her instal confidence in her and free her form the physiological trap put on her by society.

Walker has illiterates this inspiring story showing the black woman can develop the strength and confidence within oneself to break free of male authority and racial oppression. The title of the novel The Color Purple simply acknowledges this appreciated of all living things. It demonstrates understanding of small yet beautiful things within the world. Shug is a major mentor to Celie within the novel and provides her with the lens to look at the world with a womanist view. She explains to her, “I think it angers God if yo walk by the color purple in a field and don’t notice it.” Walker has employed this as a metaphor to see the individual traits in each person. This reinforces the womanist influence of portraying individuals and places emphasis on social identity. Alice Walker has been able to find a place to raise issues through the womanist lens on culture, racial and gender related issues through literature. African American culture has been shaped by major historical events such as slavery and the civil rights movements which have found a place within the work of African American writers such as Alice Walker. Through employing ideas of Womanism Alice Walker is able to put emphasis of challenges faced by African American women in early 19th century Southern America. Womanism allows us to analyse the culture and understand the identity of the women within the novel and therefore women in society today. Inspiring womanist characters allows young reader to understand the importance of self love and the search of individuality and identity. Walker has embodied her own particular view on the oppression of African American women forming the womanist lens. This allows us to deeply understand the idea of women of colour being oppressed of the basis of sex and race as well as putting emphasis on the importance of self love and identity.


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