This study is about representation of women in the African American Literature as written in Native son and The Colour purple. African-American literature has undergone a revolutionary change from Phillies Wheatley, the first African-American poet to publish her works, to Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Walter Mosley, Alice Walker, Gloria Naylor, and Paule Marshall, the contemporary top Black writers. Phillies Wheatley, who was sold as a slave child to America, “the child was a victim of the largest involuntary human migration in history” (Carretta, Phillies Wheatley Biography 1), and her works give an impetus to the beginning of Afro-American Literature. Other Afro-American early writers also helped the Afro-American Black writing move forward (Yee, 1992). Fredrick Douglass, American reformer, social orator, writer and statesman, is one of them. He escaped from slavery, and became the leader of the abolitionist movement, gaining note for his dazzling oratory and incisive antislavery writing.
Afro-American culture refers to the cultural contributions of African-Americans to the culture of the United States, whether as a distinct or dominant part of American culture. The distinctive identity of African American culture is based on the historical precepts of the African American people, including the slave trade to the Atlantic culture, despite its divisions, has enormous influence on the American population and literature. African-American literature can be regarded as set of writings or texts by people of African descent living in the United States. It is influenced by the oral traditions of African slaves in America. The slaves utilized tales the same way they utilized music as a social articulation to achieve freedom and stop racial segregations in America (Lacelle, 1979).
Throughout the nineteenth- and twentieth-centuries the black woman’s place in history and society has been problematized by racism, sexism, and in many cases classism. Though some black women have managed to surface to the forefront of certain political movements, stereotypes of immorality and inferiority have kept most on the fringe. The black woman, who found it difficult to ‘fit in’ society because of her unique experiences, encountered the same dilemma in her place in literature. Literature, called a mirror of society, often reflected societal restraints, leaving the black woman and her condition voiceless or only partially revealed. The existing genres of the nineteenth-century that black women occupied were the domestic/seductive genre of white women and the slave narrative genre of black men. These genres often had to be modified, expanded, or altered in some way to capture her life, experiences, and thoughts m writing (Crenshaw, 2001). Black women writers of the nineteenth-century, because of the parameters of these two genres, had to pave their own way.
Background to the study
This study came up as a result of the author’s interest to the African American literature as part of one of the courses done in the program. Just before World War II broke out, Richard Wright, born in Mississippi yet moved north to Chicago in adulthood, distributed Native Son (1940). The tale tended to the consequences of racial bias and isolation, recommending that lawful viciousness to singular rights at last could prompt homicide. The epic recounts the story of Bigger Thomas, a Black escort in Chicago, who murders the girl of his boss. In the Novel Women exist in relation to the male figures of authority that surround them, such as their boyfriends, husbands, sons, fathers and the Protagonist of the story Bigger Thomas. In the book Native son still states how black women were portrayed by the whites from their rights as women and the limitation of their intelligence being blacks. In the Native Son, it can be easily noticed a common negative feeling shared by Bigger Thomas towards the African American Women although he is also black. Some of the black women in Native Son are: Bigger’s mother, Bessie who was Bagger’s girlfriend and Vera the worker of the Daltons. The Novel Native Son also shows the negativity from blacks to another blacks and states how women are meaningless without men and that they cannot function as independent characters. In any case, the conditions are more convoluted than an insignificant plot outline, and the book at last recommends that the nation all in all might be in charge of such culpability.
In later decades in America, critical female voices have developed unequivocally on the artistic scene, for example, those of Alice Walker. In her mid-1980s epistolary novel The Colour Purple (1982), Alice Walker portrayed isolated presence in 1930s Georgia. And again, The Colour Purple, emphasis on how black women were portrayed as Slaves and sexual instruments to male needs. The Colour Purple Shows the Sex-division of labor which goes back historically when male strength was required for outdoor activities such as hunting; and women were seen as more fragile and assumed domestic responsibilities (Eagly, 1987).
Oppression did not end with the slavery in America, during the war and the post-emancipation period there was still a lot of sexual violence against African American girls and women. Black girls were used by white men as instruments to establish their power after they lost their privilege by the abolition of slavery. Alice Walker, focused on issues such as sexual assault also by African-American men to blacks that is, she states the representation of black female sexuality in literature and the way African-American women dealt with that issue.
Statement of the problem
As literature keeps depicting black women in various negative or stereotypical ways, it affects the way black women see themselves and also the way they create their identity. In Berry & Duke (2011), various black women and young black girls opened up to how they feel about this representation. The documentary explored the deep-rooted preconception and attitudes about skin colour, particularly dark-skinned women, outside of and within the Black American culture. It is disheartening black women feel depressed and cowardly about themselves, this is why this study has to clear the air by looking deep into the ways African American women were portrayed in Colour purple and the Native Son. Black people from the same community discriminate among each other, over skin colours. African American women feel insecure and always want to find a way to feel better about themselves. If literature doesn’t frequently show African American women the way they do, will people see them that way? Hence, this study is focused on the representation of African American women in Native son and the Colour Purple, and also revealing the hiding messages or symbols that African American women are been represented with.
Delimitation of the Study
This study is limited to the representation of African American women in Native son and the colour purple. Although there is a representation of all the gender in the African American literature, the study is limited the portrayals both black and white women on their representation in the “Native Son” and “The Colour Purple”. The research data will be generated from the /discourse of the primary text.
The study will adopt a phenomenological research design where deep inductive, qualitative methods are used in framing up the research methods. Phenomenology is research that produces and analyses descriptive data, such as written or spoken words and observational behaviour of people (Taylor and Bogdan, 1984). This research method refers to a method of research interested in the meaning and observation of a social phenomenon in a natural environment. It deals with data that are difficult to quantify. It does not reject numbers or statistics but just does not give them first place. The researcher is interested in knowing the factors conditioning a certain aspect of the behaviour of the social actor put in contact with a reality. It uses an interpretive model where the focus is on the processes that develop within the actors (here, we are interested in the meanings that the actor attributes to his environment as well as to these interpretations). Life history collections have been gaining interest in the social sciences since the 1970s. It can be defined according to Chalifoux (1992) as a narrative that tells the story of a person’s life experience. It’s actually a personal work and autobiographical.
The method that will be used for this study is historical and literary analysis in articles, books (The native by Richard Wright and The Colour Purple) and journals that describe the case of Representation of women in the African-American Literature. For this review the researcher intend to analyse 30 articles including books through a two-step analysis, combining concept matrices. The researcher will be able to also perform theoretical analysis into the black feminism theory, and a study of the themes of gender, regulatory offence of black ladies by the whites, the intersectionality of race, class, gender and, oppression of black ladies.
Definitions of Key Terms
Representation: The shorter oxford English Dictionary suggests two relevant meanings for the word: to represent something is to describe or depict it, to call it up in the mind by description or portrayal or imagination; to place the likeness of it before us in our minds or in the senses. As for example in these sentences; “this picture represents the murder of Abel by Cain (Hall, 1997).
African American literature: body of literature written by Americans of African descent. Beginning in the pre-Revolutionary War period, African American writers have engaged in a creative, if often contentious, dialogue with American letters. The result is a literature rich in expressive subtlety and social insight, offering illuminating assessments of American identities and history. Although since 1970 African American writers, led by Toni Morrison, have earned widespread critical acclaim, this literature has been recognized internationally as well as nationally since its inception in the late 18th century (Encyclopaedia Britannica).
- Portrayal: the other word to mean Representation.
- Character: a person who play a certain role in the novel.
- Women: both the Marriam- Webster and the Oxford Living dictionaries defined a woman as “An adult human female”.
- Native son: According to the dictionary.com, Native Son is a person born in a particular place. In the context of this research, Native Son (1940) it refers to the novel by African-American author Richard Wright about a young black man whose life is destroyed by poverty and racism.
The Colour Purple is the most powerful wavelength of the rainbow. In the context of the research it refers to the 1982 epistolary novel by an American female author Alice Walker portraying the of African-American women in the Southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture.
The introductory chapter lays down the background of the study, justification, and the research objectives, outlining the research questions and assumptions, and then defining terms as applied in the study. The importance of the chapter is that it draws a road-map for the research and it defines the course of the entire research project. The next chapter reviews the literature on women representations in the African American literature and it will address ideas from different scholars co