“Alice Walker’s depiction of female characters in ‘The Color Purple’ is intended to act as a stark contrast to how many female characters have been portrayed throughout literature” Discuss this statement with reference to the critical anthology
Throughout literature there has been an array of female portrayals, most prominently those in 19th century fiction, who didn’t work unless driven to it by necessity. Instead, the focus of interest was on the heroine’s choice of marriage partner, which would decide her ultimate social position and exclusively determine her happiness and fulfilment in life, or her lack thereof. However, when Walker published her novel The Color Purple, she rejected the traditional stance of the woman in literature and opted to create a novel that would empower black women who felt like they were rejected from the mainstream publications. When looking at a novel which is so focused on women we must ask ourselves, what sort of roles do the women play and are they associated with particular themes because of how they are portrayed. Rather than simply write in a manner which is a reflection of her environment, Walker intends to speak out against it through creating characters who in no way conform to the traditional constrains that are presented in female characters throughout literature. By doing so she (as do her characters) is speaking out against a patriarchal society which has put pressure on women to conform to society’s expectations of what women should be. Through her writing Walker presents a divide between traditional literature and her novel, something which is most prominently shown through her use of black American vernacular (BAV). Through giving Celie a voice through this form of non-standard English, Walker makes Celie seem like more of a real person more so than a character who is narrating a series of events throughout the novel as we are able to hear Celie’s voice when reading, something which juxtaposes the fact that this voice she has is marginalised by the men around her who act as her oppressors. Through having Celie write in BAV and non-standard English, Walker is making a political statement; as if to say that BAV is just as valid in literature as standard forms of English are which were created by white, middle class males aiming to force it upon those who aren’t white, middle class males. Through her novel, Walker is rejecting the norms of society and not only giving a voice to the black race, but more specifically giving a voice and credibility to black women, one which is marginalised not only in this novel, but in society as a whole. The first line of the novel, and Celie’s letters, begins not with Celie’s voice, but with the man she erroneously believes to be her father saying: “ You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy”. Through opening the novel in this way Walker highlights the power that men, particularly Fonzo holds over Celie at the beginning of the novel. This sense of fear is then continued into the next line of her letter which begins, ‘I am fourteen years old. I am I have always been a good girl.’ The fact that Celie corrects herself indicates to the reader a lack of belief that Celie holds in herself, as well as her yearning for an education which she has been denied by Fonzo. The forcefulness of Fonzo’s character has meant that Celie has had to grow up far beyond her years despite the fact mentally she is still young as shown in her lack of understanding of the rape to which she is subjected to: “then he stick his thing inside…and now I feel sick”. One key theme that is introduced in the novel is that of the sexual politics. This idea of sexual politics is something which runs throughout the whole novel as it magnifies the fact that there a patriarchal systems put in place to demoralise the women and make them feel like they are second class citizens within their own homes and lives. This idea of women being seen as second class...
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