Alice Walker’s Struggle With Injustice Through Her Novels
Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple begins with, “You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy”. This quote sets forth the state of oppression Cecile is in. Celie is depicted as a submissive woman, that seems to be static in her passive behavior. Cecile’s current situation is not upon firm ground, and she must find a way out or she will succumb to her own sorrow. Walker makes an imperative point with the quote above, she displays only one example of how battered Celie has become throughout years of abuse. Cecile has been abused so much physically and emotionally, she feels like she can not talk to anybody but God without engaging in sin that could lead dire effects.
Psychology Today defines domestic abuse as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner”. This definition is very applicable to Cecile’s relationship with Mr. and Cecile’s relationship. Mr. repeatedly beats Cecile to make sure she understands that she is inferior to him, and that she will always be under his control. Babbel also states that “Similar to child abuse, domestic violence allows an abuser in a position of power to prey on the person in the relationship who has less power”. That fact that Cecile has been abused in adolescence and adulthood makes it very clear that she has always been the person with no voice or power. Feminist Jones from Times Magazine touches on domestic abuse and its stronger prevalence in African American women, “….for Black women, it’s an even bigger problem: Black women are almost three times as likely to experience death as a result of DV/IPV than White women. And while Black women only make up 8% of the population, 22% of homicides that result from DV/IPV happen to Black Women and 29% of all victimized women, making it one of the leading causes of death for Black women ages 15 to 35. Statistically, we experience sexual assault and DV/IPV at disproportionate rates and have the highest rates of intra-racial violence against us than any other group are also less likely to report or seek help when victimized. Cecile and many of the women around her like Sophia, Cecile’s daughter-in-law suffers from domestic violence. It took Cecile quite a bit of time to stand up to her abuser, as the likelihood of not reporting as stated in the article.
Through all the distress Cecile faced in The Color Purple, she was affected in the sense of lack of self respect, the forgotten meaning of love, and with its purpose. Her life was full of darkness, which lacked any light. However, Cecile met a woman name Shug Avery who gave Cecile the courage to fight for her happiness. Shug showed her how it felt to laugh and play, which changed Celie’s life entirely, and gave her a new perspective on life. Shug frequently reminded Celie to speak up if she felt something was not just. Shug said, ‘.. say whatever come to mind, forgot about polite’. Celie no longer let fear control her relationship with Mr. She stopped doing housework and left her horrible life to start her own business, ‘You a lowdown dog is what’s wrong. It’s time to leave you and enter into the Creation. And your dead body just the welcome mat I need’. Within this moment, Cecile finally realizes that women do not need men to support them because they possess the same abilities. Shug’s and Cecile’s relationship symbolizes women’s utmost love for one another and the two together personify sisterhood. With sisterhood, comes empowerment. As stated in the article, “5 Reasons Why Sisterhood Is Important and What We Can Learn From Wonder Woman”, “Sisterhood is empowering. A female must know, love, and honor herself before she can know, love, and honor you as her sister. Like attracts like and we can find each other to connect and share resources. When women are empowered, the entire community is empowered. Therefore, there is no community empowerment without women’s empowerment”.
Walker’s Everyday Use, is a story about a mother and two daughters’ clashing viewpoints about their heritage. Everyday Use is told through the perspective of Mama. Mama is a strong, large woman who has gained her strength from long days on the farm. She dreams of being a thin and smart like she believes her daughter, Dee, seems to want. When discussing her upbringing, Mama says, “Don’t ask me why: in 1927 colored asked fewer questions than they do now”. It is apparent to the reader that Mama’s school shut down in primary school, hindering her from furthering her education. Similar to Cecile in The Color Purple Mama’s, education was not in her hands. This quote also portrays the substantial inequality in Mama’s childhood and Dee’s childhood. Walker in a way suggests that African Americans living in the 1920s like those in Everyday Use are less accepting of the discrimination of African Americans than the generation before them, alluding to the Civil Right Movement that will soon to come. Dee and her husband exemplify the impact of Civil Rights Movement in their actions and relentless attitudes.
Dee is the first person in her family to be educated. The article “First Washington Post Black Female Reporter Speaks At Kapor Center” by the Bay City News Service brings Dorothy Butler Gilliam‘s story to the media. Gilliam was the first African American women to work at the Washington Newspaper. She is a seasoned journalist that has advised many aspiring journalist in the Bay Area and country. When asked about her feelings when she first arrived to the Washington Post in 1961, she reveals that race and gender were pressing issues in her work environment. Gilliam also gives specific details of the discrimination she faced. She also founded the Maryland Institute in 1970‘s. The Maryland Institute educates people of color so they can attain jobs in the media. Dee and Gilliam are similar in the sense that they both broke barriers. Both these women are black educated women, unlike the rest of their community, that were oppressed from education.
Mama enjoys her monotonous farming life in the country because it suits her well. Her home is small, encompassed by a clay yard in a cow pasture. Soon Mama’s daughter Maggie will be married and live a similar life to her mother. Dee, who constantly makes her family aware she is resentful of their chosen lifestyle, and her mother imagines being reunited with her daughter only because of a forced effort. Maggie, who does not possess a bright mind is even more insecure around her educated sister. Later, Dee begins to rummage through a trunk of Mama’s, only to discover two quilts were arranged by Dee’s mother, aunt, and grandmother. The quilts contain small pieces of garments worn by relatives all the way back to the Civil War. Dee asks her mother for the quilts. Mama suggests that Dee take other quilts, but Dee insists on wanting the ones hand-stitched by her grandmother. Mama has already promised Maggie the quilts, but Dee argues that Maggie isn’t intelligent enough to understand the history behind the quilts. When in fact, Maggie knows how to quilt and can make more.
Impulsively, Dee hugs Maggie, takes her into the room, and gives her the quilts. Mama tells Dee to take one or two of the other quilts. As Dee and her husband leave, Dee finally admits she herself does not even fully understand her own heritage. Greeting Maggie goodbye, Dee tells Maggie’s that it’s a new day for black Americans. Everyday Use emphasizes the significantly different values of the women, but also the unity of sisterhood, even in times of disagreeance. Even though, knowledge and education separates the sisters, they understand the importance of sisterhood and family in the end. The female characters created in Alice Walker’s stories possess the characteristics of the strong, progressive women that are greatly influenced through the era of the Civil Rights Movement. The will for racial reform to move ahead by black women with lower-ranking, regional, and ideological identities to create a national club movement dedicated to racial advancement cake to fruition. As a result of these efforts, the National Association of Colored Women (NACW), through its regional, state, and city federations, developed institutions to serve the race for generations. Walker’s main character in Meridian will be apart of this organization. Motherhood along with sisterhood is a major theme in Alice Walker’s contemporary women’s literature, which is presented as a divine, compelling, and spiritual part of women’s life, that symbolizes a coming of age. Walker often chooses Southern black women as her protagonists in her novels because of her own background, but also she had discovered, they unitedly experienced oppression head-on and understand its significance in the community.
In Walker’s novel Meridian a well-developed character named Meridian is a women that is passionate about the fight for black equality. Meridian’s hope for entirety and her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement originates from her lack of confidence succeeding in the harsh standards of black motherhood. Meridian gives up her son because she believes she will impede in his success, and she has her tubes tied after an abortion. The article “Getting Sick While Black” by Erika Stallings addresses the discrimination in health services for black women. The article states that the study of “Journal of Clinical Oncology” also shows the connection between racial segregation and the quality of care a patient receives. This specific form of discrimination is present within the novel when Meridian attempts to have an abortion, but is forced to wait after other white females and is turned away by many doctors because they believe it to be morally incorrect. And when Meridian is finally able to get an abortion, it is by the hands of a school doctor that later gets her kicked out of school. “Women Realized There Wasn’t A Space For Black Women Within Group Travel So They Made One” by Alicia Barnes captures her real-life and current experiences as a black women in society. Barnes seems to be held back due to hindrances from societal bias and prejudice. Barnes‘s article is centered around her specific desire to travel. She asserts that the desire to explore is reserved and promoted to upper-class white women, which is supported through statistics from research. Like Meridian when seeking an abortion and Barnes wanting to travel, their desires are only promoted to white women.
Walker explored the idea of an African-American motherhood, whiling developing the protagonist, Meridian, who doubts her abilities to take on the pressures and responsibilities of motherhood. Walker merges the two polar concepts of motherhood, with an attempt to meet in the middle. So that Meridian would be able to survive. Within Meridian some extreme feminists perceived motherhood as a waist in women’s lives and it had no benefit. And of course, some feminists viewed it as one of the most precious things in a woman’s life. But, Walker’s perception and study of the matter had more depth: Motherhood itself was not confining as some believed it to be. But it was confining in the sense that the little value society places on children, especially black children, on mothers, and black mothers, is what is confining. In the novel, Walker asserts that a mother in this society is often ‘buried”.
In addition to sisterhood and motherhood, the issues faced by African-American women are thoroughly analyzed throughout the novel Meridian, specifically through the narration of Meridian. Meridian and many of the women she protest with are frequently objectified by men, sexually harassed, and raped. Men with higher status in their lives abuse their positions to take advantage of young, naive girls. Meridian not only never has a positive sexual experience, but also has many traumatic experiences with men. As strange as it may sound, the women in this novel bond over their traumatic experiences. Many of the do not have support system, so they have created a sisterhood. The article “Status of Black Women in The United States” by the National Domestic Alliance analyzes the the inferior status of many African Americans in the United States. It states, “Black women are fundamental to the prospect of their families, communities and the country. Through their work of, entrepreneurship, caregiving, political participation, and more, Black women are creating juncture for themselves, their loved ones, and improving our economy and society. African American women have such a significant role in society” (National Domestic Alliance). Yet, African American women are looked down upon and dismissed in society.
Alice Walker made it her life duty to end discrimination and to spread acceptance and positivity. Through her poems and novels, her strong character became very prevalent to the world. Her work has encouraged, inspired, and taught the world many important things, one of those being acceptance. As Walker famously said, “The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.” Walker’s powerful words should never be forgotten, as she struggled with injustice to pave the way for many African American women today.
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