Black Feminism in Alice Walkers "The Color Purple".

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            BLACK FEMINISM IN   Alice Walker’s  The Color Purple

  Alice Walker is an Afro-American female writer, who was born in 1944. The Color Purple was written in 1982, won Pulitzer prize in 1983. She was born in a sharecropper’s family in the South, Georgia, U.S.A as the eighth child in Eatonton, small town with two streets only. She grew up in a world of poverty and hardship. The Walker’s white landowner said that the Walker’s children needed not to attend school and demanded of every child of the Walker’s to work in his field. But it was her mother, Minnie, who fought for the right of education for her children. Thus, the author feels that her success as an informed writer goes greatly to her mother’s devotion to education and liberation.

Alice Walker was blessed with a love of learning, and upon graduating at the head of her high school class in 1961, she received a scholarship to Spelman College in nearby Atlanta, Georgia, U.S.A. There, at the heart of the civil rights movement, she took part in student protests against racial discrimination. After two years at Spelman, Walker transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she developed into a highly gifted writer. Her literary reputation rose with the publication of Once (1968) followed by many other works but nothing prepared her readers for the success of The Color Purple (1982) which became a monumental best-seller and won a Pulitzer Prize. Her underlying message is that every soul is to be cherished, that every flower is to bloom. The Color Purple is written in order to pass on her history as a human record. Walker is very proud of her black heritage, the solidarity spirit of sharing one’s burden in community as well as the richness of creativity by both genders, expressed in quilting, sewing, etc. Walker wants to redeem the lives of the past with a new identity, dignity and happiness in The Color Purple. She wants to liberate them from the injustices inflicted upon them by the most rigid, sexual, social and racial gender roles perpetrated in the white dominant patriarchal society.

This paper seeks to analyse Alice Walker as an author who embodies her own particular vision of black feminism in a work that transcends ideology by using the novel The Color Purple. Additionally, we will analyse the literary features/ style as presented in the novel.


          In an attempt to embody her own particular vision of Black Feminism and to name her philosophy, Alice Walker describes herself as a "Womanist" rather than a feminist because Womanism is better than Feminism. Walker was the first person to coin and use the word Womanism in 1979. Womanism is a Black Feminist Theory. Black Feminism is a type of Feminism which can be defined as a school of thought that states sexism, class oppression, gender identity and racism are inextricably bound together (Hill, C.P., 1990). Black Feminism existed because the racism that black women experienced was not adequately addressed by the mainstream Feminist Movement which was led by white middle-class women.

According to Phillips, L. (2006), Womanism is a theory based on discovery of the Second Wave Feminism Movements in regards to history and experiences of black women and other marginalized groups. Womanist Theory further holds at its core that both feminity and culture are equally important to woman's existence; therefore, femininity cannot be stripped from the culture it exists. Alice Walker coined the term "womanist" into a feminist vocabulary to depict her idealistic point on the issue of gender. She had become a major articulator of black feminism through her teaching, speeches, political action and literary work. Still, she felt the inherent tension in the term "black feminism” in that it represented sexism and racism as if they were two entirely separate phenomena, a fact that did not reflect her people's history or her experience (Monarch Notes, 1987). Therefore, for Alice Walker the term" feminism" evoked western feminism with its history of privilege, while the term "black feminism" was imprecise and to her, was awkward-sounding enough to be a name of a "fly spray"(Monarch Notes, 1987). She wanted a word that evoked the strength, passion, grace of black women's history of creativity and struggle. To her the word woman, a word traditionally used with respect among black folk, communicated these qualities more than femme, the root of the word, feminism.

The term Womanism represents Alice Walker's growth from her first book Once to her recent works and it also indicates her pivotal position in the evolution of the Women's Movement of eighties. In defining womanism, Walker combines critical elements of her work: the importance of black folk history and the centrality of female creativity and competence in that history as symbolized by quilt; her belief in oneness of life and the sacredness of Nature so often embodied in her work by the image of the tree; the fusion of the sensual and spiritual as inseparable from the demand for justice. Walker defines a womanist as follows:

“Womanist is from womanish (opposite of girlish). A black feminist or a feminist of color...usually refers to outrageous, audacious, courageous or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and greater depth than is considered ‘good’ for one...Responsible. In charge. Serious” (Walker, A., 1983).

Womanism exposes the predicament of racism, sexism, and gender identity and class oppression in the lived experiences of the African-American community. It also enhances women's cultural and social identity, diversity and inclusiveness which in turn improves the general standing of the entire community. Therefore, a womanist is devoted to struggling against sexual, racial, heterosexual violence, subjugation among others the way black feminism struggles to liberate the black women from vicious domination of the society. Walker's definition of a womanist highlights qualities that many people may not associate with feminism. At its core is a woman's love for herself that is integrated with her love for all living things (Monarch Notes, 1987).

Walker stresses that a womanist is not a separatist, that she makes connections where they exist. For example, the womanist sees the relationship between her preference for women's culture and the survival of an entire people, women and men. She says that a womanist loves other women sexually and/or nonsexually, but that sexual preference is not an essential part of her definition. Instead, what is essential is what she loves herself. Therefore, it is the love of self that is the impetus of her commitment to women and men and to struggles for justice. In In the Search of Our Mother's Gardens, Alice Walker ends her definition with a chant in which the word love is predominant. A womanist, she chants: “Loves music, loved dance, loves the moon, loves the spirit. Loves love and food and roundness, loves herself Regardless.” (Walker, A., 1983)

It is noteworthy that a womanist “loves struggle”, a quality that is evident in The Color Purple through the protagonist Celie who has the capacity to ask questions that are uncomfortable, even subversive as a route to truth. Through Celie's trust for her experience, tempered by the depth that history gives, she is able to love herself. For Walker, this is an invaluable quality, so evident in Afro-American women's history. Without it, they could not have held onto their creative spark. Feminism as economic self-sufficiency or equality with men is incomplete without the qualities of honesty, willfulness, which are self- love. The other pivotal quality in Alice Walker's definition of womanist according to Monarch Notes (1987) is eroticism, a quality that at first seems at odds with feminism, which so often is defined puritanically. But for Walker and most contemporary Afro-American writers, eroticism is one's right to fulfillment, of which sexuality is only one, however essential ingredient. The right to self-fulfillment for women has often been trivialized in the West. But for Afro-American women writers like Alice Walker, eroticism is inseparable from spirituality, the body and the spirit are one.

For Walker, when we feel the quality of deep satisfaction in our lives, it becomes the will in us, as it does in Celie of The Color Purple, to change that which denies us freedom, so that we might continue to experience that fulfillment. Personal fulfillment cannot be maintained if those around us lack it, therefore, like Celie once we achieve it for ourselves, we will struggle to achieve it for those around us. Alice Walker's vision of Black Feminism in The Color Purple can therefore be seen through Walker's use of Womanism with instances in the novel and advanced interpretations of womanism from her other works such as 1983's essay In the Search of Our Mother's Gardens: Womanist Prose which portray what was in Alice Walker's mind on womanism. To start with, Womanism in The Color Purple is evident through characterization.

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The characters in The Color Purple have womanist traits. Through Celie, Shug Avery, Sofia and Nettie who are major characters  in the novel, Walker suggests that women can get an upper hand at some point by challenging the authority of their husbands and oppressors, and dare to overcome their odds. These women also have great love for their people and culture of their community, love women and men sexually and non-sexually and in search for their self , the women become audacious, outrageous and courageous to show willful behavior. While dealing with the womanist nature of these women characters, Walker focuses ...

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