Compare and Contrast the ways in which the Doyle and Walker present and explore domestic violence within relationships in 'The Woman Who Walked Into Doors' and the 'The Color Purple'.

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Martin Bailey 13s – March 2007

Compare and Contrast the ways in which the Doyle and Walker present and explore domestic violence within relationships in ‘The Woman Who Walked Into Doors’ and the ‘The Color Purple’.

No one knows what happens behind closed doors. Within the confines of a relationship cruelty can thrive and domestic violence become the means of communication and authority. Yet, in spite of this evidently widespread behaviour, in remains a taboo subject in our society. Roddy Doyle and Alice Walker give voice to the women who suffer in silence in damaged relationships away from prying eyes. Their stories connect with their readers on a very deep level as they are invited to engage with the struggles of their heroines to protect themselves and those around them.

Doyle confidently steps into the shoes of a woman in The Woman Who Walked Into Doors. From the early stages of the text, Doyle introduces us to the dynamics of Paula’s relationship with Charlo. This opening is symbolic by having its own chapter just nine lines long. The blunt statement “– You fell, he said” comes quickly into the text leaving the reader asking more questions about their relationship because it is said with no fore or post explanation. Throughout the text there are constant hints of problems but it is not until much further into the book that Paula, the narrator, the woman who walked into doors, relays what actually happened. By contrast, Walker opens with Celie’s memory of her stepfather’s command that she stay quiet about his abuse of her. The abrupt release of information at the start of The Color Purple leaves the reader a lot more affected by the abuse than Doyle’s processes, which is a lot more easing on the reader but ultimately does not affect the reader as strongly as Walker does. Talking to God, Celie uses the words "titties," "pussy," and "his thing" without any sense of embarrassment. These words are the only words that Celie knows for these terms.

The opening line is an enigmatic yet troubling line because of its ambiguity. The reason why Celie writes to God is that she would like to tell her mother what happened, but Celie's father has warned her not to, to tell "nobody but God," especially not Celie's mother because, according to him, "It'd kill your mammy." Whilst we go on to know it is Alphonso her stepfather (who Celie believes to be her father until many years later) telling her this as he forces himself upon her, it could however, also symbolise every man that does wrong against her. She begins to write letters to God asking for “a sign” because she cannot understand what has just happened to her. This is the first time she has been raped, and by opening the book at this moment, Walker lets the reader know that this is just the first of many. The abuse is significant motif throughout the text which gives it a more mysterious quality about it, because for a while this causes the reader to ask questions, and reveals a brief glimpse into the mind of an abused woman, searching and asking questions, but not ever knowing the full truth. The epistolary form in which the text takes shape gives it a quasi-confessional quality about the writings.

To look at the effects domestic violence has had on these women we must look at their history. Doyle is very good at giving a detailed insight into the life of Paula before marrying Charlo. By recollections of her school time stories as she “wanked a boy in the back of the room”, her naivety shows through as she declares “I didn’t masturbate him: I wanked him. There’s a difference, I think.” Critics reading this have suggested that what she did to boys at such a young age, she rightly deserved to be called “a bike” and so too deserved what she had coming to her in later life after gaining such a reputation. Yet if we read on, we learn she did not do it because she wanted to, she did not do it because it was in her nature, she did it because she had to. Celie on the other hand has had no such earlier sexual experiences, and before she befriends Shug Avery she had not had even orgasmed, and so therefore Shug still thinks of her as a virgin. To Celie sex was a duty, but she never calls it sex or making love but simply describes the movements of Albert as if no more than a robotic command. “What is it to like?” she announces, “He git up on you, heist your nightgown round your waist, plunge in….Just do his business, get off, go to sleep” she talks like it has been done to her so many times now, like she is not even there. Celie has come to accept that “getting beat” is a way of life, it does not matter what she does do, or does not do. This bluntness of language has a strong effect on the reader we understand an implied sense of passivity from both characters. They were objectified by sex. Paula has no choice she has to “make a name” for herself. Neither wants the sexual contact but each feel obliged and restricted of choice because of their social status. The Color Purple is set in a highly religious time and The Bible says sex is meant to be a pleasure between man and wife in a loving relationship. So because there is no love in their relationship, there is no pleasure in sex.

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The Color Purple opens at the start of the 1900’s, there still remains a lot of memories of slavery and whilst black people were “freed” almost forty years previous, many are still oppressed by those same memories and attitudes. People both black and white who were born either into slavery or whose parents were slaves, are still alive, and so a lot of slave mentality still exists within the people yet we hear little about the struggle black women faced just to have equality with the black man. Walker calls herself a “womanist” and a favourite definition of mine ...

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