7th February 2011
Alice Walker's Themes of Womanism, Community, and Regeneration Alice Walker is considered one of the most influential African American writers of the 20th century, because of her raw portrayal of African American struggles and the injustices towards black women. She was the first African American female novelist to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Color Purple. Her work is appealing and powerful because “Walker's novels can be read as an ongoing narrative of an African American woman's energence from the voiceless obscurity of poverty and racial and sexual victimization to become a reshaper of culture and tradition” (Gray 527). Through Celie’s experiences in The Color Purple, Alice Walker stresses the importance of womanism, the African American community as a whole, and the regeneration as an individual. By allowing Celie to find liberation and freedom from the men in her life, Walker conveys her support for womanism and the female-self. Alice Walker labels herself as a “womanist,” not a feminist, because “As a womanist, which is different from a feminist, she sees herself as someone who appreciates women's culture, emotions, and character” (Wilson 1586). She concentrates on the hardships and struggles of African American women which she separates into three categories: “the physically and psychologically abused black woman, a black woman who is torn by contrary, and the new black woman who re-creates herself...” (Bloom 52-53 1998). Celie, the main character of The Color
Purple, is used by Walker to convey these different types of women. She also criticizes the treatment and oppression of Celie by the African American men in her life, but does not condemn them. Two of the black men in the novel use women as property and use abuse, violence, and undermining to control their women as objects. But, Walker offers the possibility of liberation from victimization to show that female strength can overcome adversity. This use of potentiality exemplifies Walker's most significant theme: “the experience of the African American woman as both an oppressed and a liberated individual” (Bloom 54, 1998). She also makes use of strong female role models to aid Celie in obtaining liberation and comfort. Just as Alice Walker admires Zora Neale Hurston, who also wrote about African American experiences, Celie is given strong female companions like Sofia, Mary Agnes, Nettie, and Shug. These women set examples and influence Celie to strive for independence and happiness. As Bloom reveals, “In The Color Purple, the emphases are the oppression that black women experience in their relationships with black men and the sisterhood they must share with each other in order to liberate themselves” (52, 1998). The community of unyielding women aids Celie in realizing her own self-worth and importance, as well as the fact that she is better than what her husband, Albert, makes her. Her new subjectivity and positive sense of self mirrors the strength and knowledge that she gains from being a member of a female community. Walker's creation of a female community is “... a fantasy solution through which Walker builds a Utopia on contemporary feminist themes, affirming the folk traditions of black women while removing them from victimization” (Gray 529). These strong women in the novel further support Walker's theme of womanism and female independence. Another example of Walker's advocacy of womanism is that she allows the strong
females to ultimately produce a healing effect on the community. Her use of a female community not only saves Celie but men such as Albert and Harpo because Walker's womanist ideas embrace both men and women. She stresses the importance of alleviating problems of the community starting with individuals, so Walker's vision of womanism should be viewed as the...