Black Feminism Overview: Alice Walker's The Color Purple

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Feminism is mostly considered as a Movement. It helps to recover women’s rights in the society. In the eighteenth century, women had a lot of rules in society. According to the black people, men are always one step ahead of women and believe that they have various privileges. The main theme of feminism is based on women’s equality. Mainly, the feminist critic is often focused on gender, race, and sexuality in literature and other aspects of life.

Feminism is a term, derived from the Latin word Femina. Femina means ‘woman’. It was first used in WRM (Women’s Right Movement). Half of the women are fighting to free themselves from male oppression. They protests against the legal, social and economic restrictions. The Black people want their equal rights and basic rights. It depends upon their mind. It differs from each and every one. Simone de Behavior said:

One is not born, but rather becomes a woman. No biological, psychological or economic fate determines the figure that the human female presents in society; it is civilization as a whole that produces this creature, intermediate between male and eunuch, which is described as feminine.(Behavior, P.301)

Feministic Movement is influenced by a lot of thinkers and authors like Alice Walker, Judith Faltered, Michele Wallace, Kate Millett, and others. It is the platform of everywoman because she raises her voice against the male domination in the society.

Feminism is an aim of understanding women’s oppression like mind race, gender, class, and sexual preference. God shaped human beings and separated them into men and women. They have a basic difference in their body and mind. It is the drawback of every society.

Feminism explains the women’s oppression. In the Fifteenth Century, the famous poet, Vidyapati sang,

Let no one is born.

But if one must

Let no one be a girl.

If one must be a girl

Then may she never fall in love,

If she must fall in love,

Free her from her family.

They are protected by their father, husband. But the reality is not true. They are suppressed by their relationship. As a result, they want their rights. Feminism is an umbrella term. It is overview of the injustice against women. Feminists are primarily focused on women’s rights, liberation. Susan James said, Feminism is grounded on the belief that women are oppressed or disadvantaged by comparison with men, and that their oppression is in some way illegitimate or unjustified. Under the umbrella of this general characterization there are, however, many interpretations of women and their oppression, so that it is a mistake to think of feminism as a single philosophical doctrine, or as implying an agreed political program.(REP, 76)

The concept of gender has become a questionable problem in our society. Nowadays, the development is not only considered to be the welfare but also a different dimension. Elizabeth Bumiller said, …no woman is subject to any form of oppression simply because she is a woman; which forms of oppression she is subject to depend on what ‘kind’ of woman she is. (Bumiller, 19)

In a world in which a woman might be subject to racism, classism, homophobia, anti-Semitism if she is not so subject it is because of her race, class, religion, sexual orientation. So it can never be the case that the treatment of a woman has only to do with her gender and nothing to do with her class or race.

Feminist theory has emerged from Feminist Movement. It aims to realize the nature of sexual characteristics disparity by examining women’s social rules and lives experience. This theory gains a reputation for gender and race. Feminist writers battle for women’s rights such as in contract law, property and voting. It has to be changed the societies by achieving women’s suffrage, gender, reproduction of women’s right. Feminist have a great goal. They have to work to protect women and girls from violence and sexual oppression. They have also advocated for office rights, motherliness leave etc.. This theory gives a promotion of women’s rights and interests.Many people feel that feminism has not quite ended. It has nearly won the war the majority of the face by achieving for women equality with men like political, social and economical. Simone de Beauvoir writes,

The situation of woman is that she is a free and autonomous being like all human creatures nevertheless finds her living in a the world where men compel her to assume the status of the other.(T.S.S, 151)

Feminism is thought of women’s movement. Some men also accepted this movement. But the Feminist absolutely reject that because they are strongly suppressed the women before the movement. This movement explains that women are valuable one in society rather than men. They want their equal human value and reputation. The Post Modern feminist Alice Jardine said, word…poses some serious problems. Not that we would want to end up demanding a definition of what feminism is, and therefore, of what one must do, say, and be, if one is to acquire the epithet; dictionary meanings are suffocating, to say the least.(Jardine, 20)

The feminist theory reflects the power of women in those times. In the 1630s and ’50s, the influential English sects supported religion equality for women. In the nineteenth century and early twentieth century, it focused on basic political rights and liberation. In 1920-60, they know the history of the women’s rights when a sense of superiority prevailed. The Feminist writer follows some main characteristics such as:

Intersectionality: Intersectionality in feminism refers to the liberty of socially unlike women. Intersectionality is to recognize the struggle and oppression of women from social, political, financial and cultural backgrounds and conditions. It includes men’s rights like the idea of toxic masculinity is the major one in every culture.

Recognizing Patriarchy: The first step is to recognize that they live in a society that discriminates against women. Although they live in a society dominated by men, this system is called patriarchy. When they talk about men, they are talking about the idea that men should take care of managing the home and maintaining positions, being strong, emotional and angry and being afraid of being vulnerable. When they have a discussion about recognizing patriarchy, they have a discussion about recognizing gender roles, the violence women face in the hands of men: verbal, mental, sexual, emotional, and physical. Patriarchy is a social system that places men in a powerful position where they have social, legal, political, religious and economic authority.

Violence against Women: Violence against women is practiced in different ways in different cultures with different patriarchal connotations for them. They are present in the form of domestic violence, rape, sexual slavery, child marriage, forced marriage, murder on the grounds of honor, mutilation of women, mafia violence, female infanticide, violence as a dowry, prenatal selection of sex, etc. Feminists unite to fight all kinds of violence against women. The idea behind this is that gender is the main reason for abuse and violence.

Challenge status quo: One of the main characteristics of feminism challenges the status quo. It challenges the current social structure and values in a society that asserts gender roles, and the social, political, cultural, sexual and economic discrimination against women with gender is the main reason behind this. The status quo can be challenged in different ways in different cultures depending on the basis of sexism practiced in that respective culture. Every culture has a base on which male domination and discrimination against women are founded. The idea of challenging the status quo depends on this. In other words, challenging the status quo means challenging the patriarchal norms and fighting a war against male dominance.

Recognizing Men’s Rights: While there is a general consensus that women are the main victims of patriarchy and sexism in society, a new way of thinking is emerging that recognizes that men are also influenced by the patriarchal norms that lead them to face a trauma. emotional and mental. According to one study, it was said that middle-aged men are more likely to commit suicide because of the pressure to earn money for the family. Men and women grow up believing they are family heads of family, which leads many to discourage their wives from working, leading to problems at work and their interpersonal relationships. Feminism recognizes this pressure on men from society, the family, the social structure and values. Feminism recognizes the idea that men should be able to free themselves from toxic masculinity and the idea of ​​being strong, aggressive and dominant. Feminism believes that men and women should be free from social prejudices, use what they want to use and feel good if they are vulnerable, kind and educated.

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Religion: Feminism speaks of the role of religion in the imposition of misogyny and misogynist practices on women, and what role it has played in maintaining the status quo. Feminism sees religion very negatively when it comes to gender equality. To be a feminist, you should be able to recognize the sexism and misogyny that exist in your religion and in others and analyze them logically. Religious practices such as dowry, sati, female genital mutilation, forced marriages, polygamy, anti-abortion, etc. They helped keep male domination alive. These religious practices must be criticized and you must be able to put an end to these misogynistic religious practices to be feminist. Feminism wants men and women to be free from patriarchal norms that disturb their mental and emotional peace. And feminism has a lot of types. Liberal Feminism, Cultural Feminism, Radical Feminism and Black Feminism.

Liberal Feminism: It concentrates on the individual person. It focuses on women’s position to maintain their equality through their own action. It is a legal one to improve their rights. Liberal feminism argues against the societies thoughts like women’s are physically, mentally weaker than men. Liberal Feminist believes that ‘Female subordination is deep-rooted in a set of routine and legal constraints that block women’s entrance and success in the so-called public world’.

Radical Feminism: It is a perspective within feminism. Radical means eliminate the male supremacy in all social and economic contexts. It challenges the social and political process and also abolishes the patriarchy. It is a model for other feminism. Latterly cultural feminism derived from Racial Feminism.

Cultural Feminism: It developed from radical feminism. It is an ideology of ‘female nature’. This theory commands the difference of women from men. And also command the women nature. Its particularly command the positive aspects of female attitude or feminine personality. But contemporary feminist does not believe that idea. Men and women are never biologically different. They are equal in the world.

Black Feminism: It focuses on the Black people. It has the aim of understanding black women’s struggles women is a black feminist theory. It was coined by Alice Walker. She is the first person to use the word ‘Womenism’ in 1979. This thesis also focuses on the ‘Black Feminism’ in the great Black Feminist writer Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

Alice Walker is one of the most famous African-American writers in the twentieth century. She writes a lot of feministic work in her career. In her third novel ‘The Color Purple’ a considered as a great achievement of her lifetime. ‘The Color Purple’ clearly explore the feministic approach and the suffering of women in 19th and 20th century. In 1980s lot of women suffered from white people. It is not a different one, mainly explained the traditional women’s suffering, struggles etc..

M. Dubey states, Black women’s novel in the 70s does not simply oppose to contemporary nationalist talk on black identity. They imagine black feminist as an absence and draw attention to the textual effect of their absence.

The critics are considered as ‘Black Feminism is an innovative one. It is a new idea of women’s awareness. Basically, writings as a great awareness. In India, they had a lot of rules in ancient time. But writing gave a great awareness of every woman. Bharathi was one of the most famous writers to involve women rights as such as Alice Walker gives an important of women’s rights. Her works are mainly concentrated as Humanity. Humanity is a central theme of her novel. It is also an autobiographical one.

Alice Walker says, Indeed the magic of the color purple is that is so much a book of our time, imaginatively evoking the promise of a world in which one can have it all; a world in which sexual exploitation can be easily overcome a world of unlimited access to material well being; a world where evils of racism are tempered by the positive gestures of concerned and caring white folks; a world where sexual boundaries can be transgressed at will without negative consequences; a world where spiritual salvation is a lot of elect. This illusory magic is sustained by Walker and the literary technique and autobiographical narrative.(291)

It is written in epistolary form. At the beginning of the novel, Celie tells her own native tone. It is formed as suffering, struggle especially in Black people. In that century, they are suffering from physically and mentally. They are tortured by their husband, brother, father etc.. It is also called a Black century of all the African-American women. But they have tolerated them. Georgia is a favorite country of Alice Walker. It gives the traditional background of black people and how they are neglected by the white people. The color purple is written in many concepts. But Black Feminism is a major theme in her novel. It is particularly written to promote political and social changes. It deals with the sexuality, race gender and class. This is a platform of African writing in 1982.

Hazel Carby is one of the most familiar black feminist writers. She argues that novel written by black women should not be read as ‘passive representations of history: but rather as ‘active influence within history’ (carby, 958). She said that her novels are not merely a product of social and political conditions, but it shapes the social and cultural conditions. And also said, her narratives never reflect the mirror of society. It just gives the attempt awareness of society. Her novels clearly point out the African-American culture, political struggles and also social changes. Even though, her best novel The Color Purple also points out the society and then the ‘Black Feministic Theory’. It carries a lot of meaning in the ‘Black Feminism’.

Every scholar mostly points out the theory, because the late 20th century, the women want their rights and argued society. So, everyone has to take this theory. It gives not only awareness of the society but also the self-awareness of each and every woman. It has not only a theory but also a historical background of African-American society in the 19th and 20th century. This thesis not performs the theory of Black people but explain the situation of Black women like sexuality, oppression, and gender etc. The Black Feminist writers used some strategies in their writing. First, they concentrate the society. Second, they define the class, Third, they define race as an opportunity for dialogue.’Since race has contributed a discursive tool for both oppression and liberation.’ (Higginbotham, 252).

African-American writer Alice Walker explains the vision of Black feminism in her work The Color Purple. She always points out herself as a womanist. She also declared that she is not a feminist. She is the first person to coin the word Womanism in 1979. Womanism is also called the ‘Black Feminist Theory’. It is such 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. Black Feminist theory address the Feminist Movement simultaneously given the experience of the middle white class woman. Black women have been oppressed by the white people and their society also. They are easily portal the women like ‘as such about sexuality as it did about class’.

This Thesis also explains the detail about the oppression of women in African-American society. In an Interview, Walker said that ‘as young men middle-aged men, they were… brutal. Once grandfather knocked my grandmother out of the window. He beats one of his children so severely that the child had epilepsy. Just a horrible horrible man.’ Walker explains the male characters and then how the black families were affected in society. In The Color Purple, Celie, the protagonist of the novel, her father always dominate his wife and children. They were suppressed in every second because of the male-dominated society. Walker belongs to the 18th and 19th and 20th-century women’s life. And their characters are different from other characters, everyone has a history of black women domination. Black women are always called ‘suspended women’ by Walker because they were ill-treated every minute. They were poor in economically, politically, ideologically. First, they are economically backward people. They are working as labor like housekeeping, cleaner etc… In The Color Purple clearly explain the Economical Oppression. Sophia is the main character of the novel. She is forced to work for the Mayor. The Mayor’s wife asked to work as a maid, but she rejected to working as a maiden. Finally, the Mayor is torturing to working as a maiden. So, she deals with her life as maiden for ten years. After that only she overcome their oppression whatever she wants to do at that time.

Celie is the protagonist of the novel. She is an economically poor girl. In her childhood, she depends upon her stepfather. After the marriage, she depends on her husband. So they had a lot of depression oppression in their lives. It just an example character of this society. But Shug Avery is never ill-treated by the white people because she is rejected by the rules of the 19th century. And also she looked like white people.

The second one is called Political Oppression. Political Oppression points out the level of women in society. Celie is a young black girl. But she rejects to study in the school. She does not receive a school level education. This is the first and basic one for every men and woman. So the important factor of a school level education is rejected by society. At the same time, every young child is treated like an animal after the long years Nettie gives the education level of the reading and writing to her sister Celie.

Celie’s father plans to rape her but the society also accepted the child violence. They do not act violently against the children. Because it is not a common one. Every family in society, every young girl children have this problem. But they do not get any solution. And then the marriage also a depressed one because they marry a man, it is a male-dominated society. So, the husband and father are not different. Both of them are the same. Celie married violent men, she always calls him as a Mr.___. He is also a married man after the death of his wife he married Celie. So everyman wants to marry a lot of women in their lives. They do not have any restriction. Because they are ‘Men’.

The third one is called ideological oppression. It is an essential one and also called an image of black women in African society. They are like a doll. A key is a man. They do not act whatever they like. they are ideologically suppressed by their husbands, father brother, and their society. For example, in this novel, Sophia and Hope are married but Hope is a man so he treats her like a servant. He always says, it is women’s work. But she is a courageous person. So she rejected his ideas, but it clearly explains what society needs them. And then Celie also does not have to act whatever she likes. First, her father tortured her and then her husband also tortured her. She does not do anything against her husband and father. So she never thinks about her lives.

First, the Black people are oppressed by physically, finally, they are oppressed by mentally. They struggle against the oppression that American women have lived in their homes, at work, and in their communities. Contemporary black American feminists have identified the central issues in black feminism, as evidenced in more than a century of struggle in the United States of America. These include the presentation of an alternative social construct for the present and the future based on the life experiences of African-American women, a commitment to combat race and gender inequalities through differences in class, age, sexual orientation, and gender. ethnicity, recognition of the legacy of black women fighting, promoting the empowerment of black women through the voice, visibility, and self-definition, and the belief in the interdependence between thought and action. The black feminist movement grows in response to the black liberation movement and the feminist movement; because African women feel they are racially oppressed in the Women’s Movement and sexually oppressed in the Black Liberation Movement.

The aim of African feminism is to address the way in which ethnicity, gender, and class influence their lives and act to stop racist, sexist and class discrimination. African women have faced sexism in the black liberation movement, such as the civil rights movement, black nationalism, the black panthers, the non-violent student coordination committee and others. Black women were an invisible group and their existence and necessity were ignored. There was contempt for humanity and the equality of black women. Black women became prey to perpetuate patriarchy within the black community. Black women who participated in the feminist movement during the 1960s met racism. Even well-known black women were often treated as chips and, as their writings represented the experience of black, they were never criticized or ignored. The white feminists did not want to admit their racism. Black feminist writings have developed a theory that addresses the simultaneity of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and classism in their lives. For Black authors, identity is very important and they use the theme ‘I’ in most of their works. Black feminist membership included Black women of all class levels; Well-educated and middle-class women have worked together with women with little education in social care to address issues that affect them all.

Gender and race are essential ones in America because Africans are working as slaves. They are totally different from race, sex, and class. They are described as a ‘master statuses’ (Rosenblum and Travis, 1). These ‘statuses’ point out the individual’s life and one’s identity. Double discrimination is catalyzed through the dissimilar categories that have been existed in society. As Rosenblum and Travis say that individuals are not pigeonholed only one to socially constructed status, but can instead occupy multiple (1). An individual cannot separate their social status; If they combined, the gender and race create a specific type of label, inequity, and domination. Kimberle Crenshaw analyses double discrimination in terms of women of colour. She explains the gender, race, and another identity. They are treated as ‘intrinsically negative frameworks in which social power works to exclude or marginalize those who are different’. In other words, identity categories do have a profound impact on the individuals occupying them: ‘the concept of political intersectionality highlights the fact that women of color are situated within at least two subordinated groups that frequently pursue conflicting political agendas’.

African-American literature has some formal and routine characteristics. Their languages are rhythmic, dramatic, and evocative. Mostly, the African-American writers used to refer the color in their writings. It represents racism and also represents the images, vocabularies, and metaphors. This Thesis The Color Purple also classifies the importance of family and how the black people ill-treated their society. Walker describes the protagonist ‘Celie as a girl, but she ill-treated by her father. And then only she identifies her spiritual identity and takes over her journey. This incidents do not happen in Celie’s lives but also happens in every black women’s lives. Walker explains the impact of gender and race in African-American society. It is full of representing violence. This violence determines black women’s society. They can do anything but cannot do. Juliet Mitchell said that, “Patriarchy is a universal feature of human societies through which women are oppressed in their very psychologies of feminists (Jackson, 9.11)”.

Celie’s step-father Pa, as a patriarch, so, he oppressed his daughter. And he determines the man’s expectation of women in very clearly. He is a great example of this novel. He gives more importance into gender, race, and sex. She is raped by her father. Celie said, ‘He beat me for looking trampy but he does it to me anyways’. This line represents how she lost her identity. Simultaneously, Celie’s father offering her up to any man that comes asking for a wife. And then she pushed to marry an ugly person Mr.___. Mr.__ came and talk to her father about taking one of his daughters, he says, Mr.____ want another look at you.’

In that time every African-American woman treated as an object. Celie said, ‘Mr. _ marry me to take care of his children. I marry him care my deadly made me. I don’t love Mr._ and he doesn’t love me’. She is abused by her relations. She does not talk about anything in society. The society said, ‘A girl is nothing to herself, only her husband can she become something’

Particularly, women’s took care of their house and their children. It represents the oppression and sufferings of African women. Sofia says, ‘A girl child ain’t safe in a family of a man’. Sofia who acts as one of the strongest characters in the novel. She clearly knows how to fight with others and society. Because she has experience in her childhood days. But Celie does not fight anyone. She does not have any strength physically and mentally. She said, ‘But I don’t cry. I lay there thinking about Nettie, While he lay on top of me, wondering if she safe W.12)and then she explains: ‘I don’t know how to fight. All I know how to do it stay alive'(17). The other important character of the novel Sofia. She is working as a maidservant in the mayor’s wife. She has five year old children but she does not allow to meet him. Once she meets her child she said, ‘I am slaving away cleaning that big post they got down at the bottom of the stair(Walker 102).’ Sofia son says, ‘Don’t say slaving, Moma'(103). She harshly exposes her oppression in the source of her gender and race.

The Color Purple speaks about the issue of gender and race. Walker gives more importance to these issues and particularly how the African-women oppressed by the white people in their society. The women do not express their rights in society. They are separated. This epistolary format directly express the African-American women’s oppression.

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Black Feminism Overview: Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. (2021, September 15). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 27, 2022, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/black-feminism-overview-alice-walkers-the-color-purple/
“Black Feminism Overview: Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.” Edubirdie, 15 Sept. 2021, edubirdie.com/examples/black-feminism-overview-alice-walkers-the-color-purple/
Black Feminism Overview: Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. [online]. Available at: <https://edubirdie.com/examples/black-feminism-overview-alice-walkers-the-color-purple/> [Accessed 27 May 2022].
Black Feminism Overview: Alice Walker’s The Color Purple [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2021 Sept 15 [cited 2022 May 27]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/black-feminism-overview-alice-walkers-the-color-purple/
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