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Alice Walker's novel "The Third Life of Grange Copeland" - review

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Published in 1970, Alice Walker's novel "The Third Life of Grange Copeland" explores the relationship between three generations of poor, rural black people in Georgia from the 1920''s, through to the beginnings of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's. Walker was and still is active in the Civil Rights Movement, but due to her portrayal of black men and the relationship between black men and women, her work has not always enjoyed an intense following among nationalist reviewers and critics. Malcolm Bradbury has however, described Walker as "dominant, ... at least in terms of popularity and visibility". (I: Pg101). Alice Walker is often referred to as a feminist writer. F.J Griffin concludes that "...her text participates in the black feminist literary movement of the seventies and eighties." (VI: Pg43), while Walker herself maintains, that she is a 'womanist' rather than a feminist and that she is "committed to the survival and wholeness of the whole people - male and female." (III: Pg107). For her novel "The Third Life of Grange Copeland", Walker states that she is "... committed to exploring the oppressions, the insanities, the loyalties, and the triumphs of black women.". It is therefore necessary to examine these claims for the novel and to determine whether her work does substantiate the statement she makes on behalf of the black women of twentieth century America. Alice Walker's novel "The Third Life of Grange Copeland" relates the trials and tribulations of a poor, rural, black family in Georgia from the 1920's through to the 1960's. 'Grange Copeland' and his wife 'Margaret' live and work on an estate owned by a white landlord. As his life proceeds 'Grange' realises that there is no escape from the poverty and degradation that he has been subjected to. His dream is to escape to the north of America where there are supposedly riches for everyone. Grange's frustrations with his life and his subservience to the white masters lead him to ignore and mentally brutalise his wife and oldest child, 'Brownfield'. ...read more.


Brownfield either wastes the opportunities or rejects her input into matters concerning the family, which he sees as being his sole responsibility and domain. Brownfield makes a successful attempt at sabotaging Mem's dream of a better life. He has no command over his own life or actions and is therefore unwilling to relinquish the control and dominance that he has over his family. This is in his view, a natural progression and order; although Mem shows that she is far more capable than he is. In America in the first half of the twentieth century, coloured people were expected to know their place and adhere to it. Any attempt by a coloured man to break free from the social and economic restrictions that they faced, was met not only with derision and anger from the whites, but also from the blacks as well. As " ... the underclass of the underclass...", (XII: Pg126), a black woman's attempts to alter her designated place in society was far more difficult than that of a man's, as it was fraught with violence and intimidation from black men as well as from members of the white population. Perhaps one of the most important paragraphs in the novel highlights the social structure that is embedded in both races. Brownfield recognises that it is the colour of his skin that causes him to face severe disadvantages in his life. His reaction is to impart this knowledge to the one person who he deems to be his subordinate and inferior and to make her realise her own true place in society. Brownfield tells Mem to "...remember..." that "...she ain't white...", and his recognition of the importance of skin colour is compounded further as "He liked to sling the perfection of white women at her because color was something she could not change and as his own colored skin annoyed him he meant for hers to humble her." ...read more.


Walker goes to great lengths to show that Mem is defeated by the scheming of Brownfield and not through any lack of skill or know-how on her part. Ruth is the most successful and liberated of all the women in the novel. Through her experiences with her father and grandfather, Ruth is now able to determine the effects of the intransigence and brutality of black men towards black women and alternatively the caring and warmth of a male figure in her life. It is Ruth who is the ultimate triumph of the novel and is perhaps in Walker's view the black woman of the future. She is compassionate, determined, educated and experienced, capable of exploring the world and making her own judgements as to what she finds there.(V: Pg47) In 'The Third Life of Grange Copeland', Alice Walker does indeed explore the "...oppressions, the insanities, the loyalties and the triumphs of black women." The women are portrayed throughout the novel as being an underclass lower than that of the black population as a whole. That the women succeed in certain respects is shown by Walker as a testament to their own skill and endeavour. Although the successes are eventually obliterated by the disasters and tragedies of the women's situation, this does not diminish the fact that Walker shows that it is possible for black women to achieve independence and equality through their own efforts. Alice Walker, amongst other authors has been accused of stereotyping her characters and the roles they play. (X: Pg 298) The type of novel where black boy meets black girl, black boy beats black girl, has been construed by some critics, as unhelpful in the struggle for the overall emancipation and equality that the black people of America desire.(III: Pg1) But Walker manages to show, through her portrayal of black men and women, that her 'womanist' theory does hold true. If black men and women are to obtain equality then they need to work together and not against each other. ...read more.

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