The Fight For Female Independence As Portrayed In Alice Walker’S “The Color Purple”
This paper discusses early american feminism in the 1910s as portrayed in Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”. The novel draws strong parallels to Virginia Woolf’s theories and introduces the true meaning of the feminist notion. As stated in Woolf’s critical essay “A room of one’s own”, social and economic independence are the founding pillars of female advancement in a patriarchal society. This essay is an exploration of the female struggle and fight for independence. Keywords: Female Independence, Early feminism, Social freedom, Economic freedom. Introduction Virginia Woolf writes “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. ” (Woolf, Virginia. A room of one’s own. 1929) This is possibly one the most famous lines from her critical essay “A room of one’s own” in which she argues that women need economic and social freedom in order to advance in society as equal counterparts to men.
She refers to freedom and independence as a metaphorical room in which women have the space and time necessary to grow. The often-preconceived notion that the female contribution to science and literature is inferior, is relative to their circumstances. As the author proposes “It would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare. ” (Woolf, Virginia. A room of one’s own. 1929)1. Being stripped of rooms of their own, women have little to no opportunity to participate as equals in society. Women are habitually denied opportunities and forced into the duties of a wife and mother. They are routinely instructed to submit to, condescend and rely on the patriarchal figures in their life. The importance of economic freedom and its ability to aid in feminist development is emphasized throughout the entirety of the essay. Virginia Woolf states that “Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. ” (Woolf, Virginia.
A room of one’s own. 1929)1 Without money, the author implies, women will continue to remain in second place, overshadowed by the “more capable sex”. In other words, women must be able to afford their education and space to truly become independent. However, Woolf also hints that this equality of opportunity does not directly result in the melting away of differences between male and female. Discussion Throughout the entirety of Alice Walker’s novel “The Color Purple”, the reader experiences the violence and agony the protagonist, Celie, faces. She is obliged to trade the little independence she has, both economic and social, for a life of abuse and submission at an early age. As seen in the quote below, Celie’s desperation is prominent as she gradually becomes numb and accepts the harm she is exposed to. “I’m poor, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook. (. . . ) But I’m here. ” (Walker, Alice. The Color Purple, 1929)Walkers original character truly portrays the female oppression in a male dominated society. Women like Celie were expected to marry, raise children and run the household without receiving support from their male counterparts. These rigid rules and norms deprived most women of education meaning, they could never achieve one of Woolf’s most emphasized necessities, economic independence.
The novel also highlights women showing the complete antithesis of Celie’s characteristics. The revolutionary figure, Shug Avery, is introduced early in the novel and portrays all aspects of independence as defined by Virginia Woolf. Unlike Celie, Shug Avery works as a singer and earns money giving her the sought-after economic independence. This allows for her to live out of wedlock which, in turn gives her social independence. “Good thing I ain’t your damn wife. ”(Walker, Alice. The Color Purple, 1929:47)2The quote above shows Shug Avery’s response to Celie’s husband in regards to how he treats his own wife. Shug Avery has “a room of her own” and fulfills the two requirements Woolf deems most important. Due to this, she is able to freely express herself in a more outspoken manor without any restraints. Celie is initially thrown aback and intrigued by Shug’s attitude which, indicates the rarity of independence amongst females during the 1910s. However, being independant comes at great cost for Shug Avery. She is routinely judged and disliked by many due to her profession and social standing. This adds a layer to the hardships women had to face in terms of becoming autonomous.
Examples of this can be seen in the way Celie tells her son in law to treat his “disobedient” wife. The quote below shows the ironic situation in which, women themselves encourage female abuse, either it be jealousy or fear. “Wives is like children. You have to let ‘em know who got the upper hand. Nothing can do that better than a good sound beating. ”(Walker, Alice. The Color Purple, 1929)2Shug Avery may be economically and socially independent but she will never be truly as free as any man. As Virginia Woolf herself states, equality of opportunity does not directly result in the melting away of differences between male and female. In a patriarchal society these changes happen slowly over extended periods of time. Shug Avery’s character portrays the beginning of the feminist movement which, eventually will spread and reach even the most oppressed women. ConclusionHistory and literature have taught us that economic and social independence are two prerequisites for the improvement of female rights. Through the years, the feminist movement has helped create a stronger social support for women and fought for female freedom. However, before equality between the sexes can truly be claimed, most customs and norms must become a memory of the past.
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Abstract This paper discusses early american feminism in the 1910s as portrayed in Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”. The novel draws strong parallels to Virginia Woolf’s theories and introduces the […]