America was in its prime in the 1920’s. A time of many drastic changes, 1920’s Americans enjoyed a booming economy, a prosperous and wealthy upper-class society, and general international and national peace. For African Americans; however, the 1920’s meant facing economic struggle, racial prejudices, and gender stereotypes. In Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, the main character Celie experiences many boundaries within the workforce, domestics, and society of the 1920’s. Through many attempts to better her lifestyle and display her individuality, Celie finds life extremely difficult in the prejudiced, 1920’s South. Alice Walker did not experience the same discrimination Celie fights against, but, Walker portrays her familial bonds and childhood lessons through Celie’s personal struggles, aspirations, and accomplishments. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple explores the negative stereotypes of the 1920’s against women and blacks, detailing Celie’s mental and physical fight for happiness and freedom while learning to please herself without regard for others’ opinions of her, instilling in Celie a strong sense of self-confidence and self-determination.
From the late nineteenth century to the early twentieth century, the United States went through two dramatic time periods: the Progressive Era and the Roaring Twenties. During the Progressive Era, (1895-1918,) the status of blacks worsened. Expecting to come home from World War One (1914-1918) as national heroes equal to whites, blacks found less job opportunities, encountered stronger racial prejudices than in previous years, and saw an incline in a white superiority mentality. Similar to the blacks returned from war, women - specifically black women – fought for gender equality even harder once returned men and soldiers took the women’s leading positions in the economy, politics, and business (Whitley). Despite the short amount of time the war allowed women to expand their roles in the work force; however, by the 1920’s “most middle-class women expected to spend their lives as homemakers and mothers” (“Women at Home”). Females usually worked as teachers, nurses, clerks, or in the domestic services; it was very unusual for a woman to cross into the world of business or finance (“Women in the Labor Force”). In Walker’s The Color Purple, Celie refuses to accept the status quo of women staying home to raise the family, care for the house, and please the husband. Outlining the struggles of women in the early twentieth century, many call Walker’s The Color Purple a feminist novel. Contrary to the much-annihilated use of the word “feminist;” however, Walker describes her novel as “‘womanist’, not ‘feminist’. A womanist is a woman who…prefers woman’s culture… emotional flexibility…and…strength” (Contemporary Literary Criticism 422). The “womanist” culture of The Color Purple is not meant to undermine the strength of men, nor deny the positive aspects of a co-gender lifestyle and society. Walker focuses on the women’s struggles in her novel; however, to emphasize the importance of a woman’s self-love, strength, and independence. George Stade also notes the novel “does not argue the equality of the sexes; it dramatizes, rather, the virtues of women and the vices of men” (Stade 429). As Stade describes, The Color Purple is not a sexist novel against males; Walker purely details the lives of a select few women, and in particular of Celie, who struggle against gender-prejudiced men in their lives while the women fight to prove their autonomy and virtue. Celie desires more from life than homemaking, and dreams of leaving her small-town lifestyle behind. Torn between her dreams and reality, Celie questions her fate compared to “Nettie, dead. She fight, she run away. What good it do? I don’t fight, I stay where I’m told. But I’m alive” (Walker 21). Celie does not know if it is worth the pain to fight for what she believes in while getting hurt by others, or, if she should...
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National Association for the Advanced Placement Exam. “Women at Home.” U.S. History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement System. Print.
National Association for the Advanced Placement Exam. “Women in the Labor Force.” U.S. History: Preparing for the Advanced Placement System. Print.
Stade, George. “Alice Walker.” Contemporary Literary Criticism. vol. 46. Detroit: Gale, 1987. 429. Print.
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Whitley, Peggy. “Progressive Era: 1895-WWI.” American Cultural History – The Twentieth Century 1910-1919. Lonestar College Kingwood Library. Nov. 2008. Web. 3 Mar. 2010.
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