The Color Purple is a tale of the struggle of Celie, a poor uneducated black woman who finds her identity and independence as a black woman despite her hardships. In this story, it is a blues singer who makes a way for Celie to come out of a black hole and into a black whole. Shug represents the blues, and in this way, the blues are what deliver Celie from the black hole that she has been put in by nearly everyone else around her. At the beginning, and throughout most of the story, the reader has an image of Celie as an uneducated and passive black woman who is, although abused by her husband and society, somewhat content with her life.
If not content, she is unwilling or unmotivated to fight back against the world that is keeping her down. She is beaten by her husband and her step-father. She is not allowed to acquire an education. She is not allowed to have any kind of life of her own. She is stuck in a hole because of her color and sex, and it seems as though there is no way out. When Celie meets Shug Avery, Shug is rude to her. Celie nurses Shug back to health, and she becomes increasingly fascinated by her. She is fascinated by her because of who Shug is. Shug is a black woman who knows who she is.
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She does not let men have control of her life, and in fact, she is in pretty good control of Celie’s husband. Shug is representative of a black woman who has come out of the black hole into the black whole, and it is no coincidence that she is a blues singer. Shug shows Celie how to come out of the hole she is in. She opens her up to life’s pleasures, not only sexually, but through the example of her self-actualization. The reader sees Celie becoming less and less stuck. Shug helps Celie see that she does not have to be oppressed as a woman nor as an African American.
She comes to realize her spirituality differently and herself differently. She has emerged out of the black hole and is now able to do the most important thing she could for herself: fight back. alice walker womanist The world is too complex to be viewed from any single perspective. Only when the factors which influence an individual are taken into account can a philosophy be developed which defines point of view. African-American novelist Alice Walker has attempted through her body of work, to create a new and powerful voice which reflects the perspective of down-trodden women who struggle to lead their rather unfortunate lives. Her work consistently reflects her concern with racial, sexual, and political issues-particularly with black woman’s struggle for survival. “Womanist” is the term she has coined to describe this rich point of view and by examining The Color Purple, Possessing the Secret of Joy, and You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down a reader can begin to understand the full gamut of her views. Much of Walker’s fiction is informed by her Southern background. She was born in Eatonton, Georgia, a rural town where most blacks worked as tenant farmers.
At the age eight she was blinded in the right eye when an older brother accidentally shot her with a BB gun, after which she fell into somewhat of a depression. She secluded herself from the other children, and as she explained,”I no longer felt like the little girl I was. I felt old, Alice Walker’s womanist theory about black feminist identity and practice also contains a critique of white liberal feminism. This is the first in-depth study to examine issues of identity and difference within feminism by drawing on Walker’s notion of an essential black feminist consciousness.
Allan defines womanism as a “(r)evolutionary aesthetic that seeks to fully realize the feminist goal of resistance to patriarchal domination,” demonstrated most powerfully in The Color Purple. She also recognizes the complexities and ambiguities embedded in the concept, particularly the notion of a fixed and unitary black feminist identity, separate and distinct from its white counterpart. Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Drabble’s The Middle Ground, she argues, do not allay Walker’s concerns about white liberal feminist practice, but they reveal signs of struggle that complicate the womanist/feminist dichotomy.
Emecheta’s The Joys of Motherhood, an ostensibly womanist text, fails to fit the race-restrictive womanist paradigm, and Walker’s own aesthetic trajectory???before The Color Purple???places her outside womanist boundaries. Finally, Allan’s intertextual reading reveals significant commonalities and differences. In the current debate among competing feminisms, this critical appraisal of womanist theory underscores the need for new thinking about essentialism, identity, and difference, and also for creative cooperation in the struggle against domination.
Tuzyline Jita Allan, originally from Sierra Leone, West Africa, teaches in the English Department at Baruch College of the City University of New York. Feminism is broadly defined as the struggle for the liberation of women, and encompasses epistemologies, methodologies, theories, and modes of activism that seek to bring an end to the oppression and subordination of women by men. An individual person espousing feminism is referred to as a feminist, while collective mobilizations of women against the oppression of women are referred to as feminist movements wherever they occur.
Feminist movements are defined by their relatively radical gender politics and located as a subgroup within the broader category of women’s movements. Analysts of African women’s movements have documented the mobilization of women by both military and civilian dictatorships (Abdullah; Mama) and by conservative and religious forces within civil society (Lazreg; Badran; Hale; Karam), thus contributing to the theorization of women’s movements by broadening it to include mobilizations of women that may not be liberatory in the sense of bringing an end to the oppression of women.
Even so, the term feminism covers a diverse array of politics centered around the pursuit of more equitable gender relations; this is true of feminism in Africa. However, proper documentation and analysis of the various manifestations of feminism, and the manner in which these have changed over time in different African contexts, is hampered by the lack of access to resources and the limited opportunities for debate, networking, and scholarship grounded in continental contexts. As a result the debate around African feminism and feminism in Africa remains highly contested and difficult to define.
Even in the era of nationalism, many African thinkers have rejected the word outright, considering it as “un-African” and derogating “feminists” as sexually unattractive and humorless manhaters, troublemakers, Westernized, and sexually disreputable women who pose a threat to traditional culture and society. Others have displayed varying degrees of acceptance and tolerance, generally around the emancipation and enfranchisement of women, and supporting the inclusion of women in hitherto male-dominated institutions and development.
African women have devoted much effort to the redefinition of feminism evident in the plethora of publications generated under the broad rubric of gender and women’s studies carried out in African contexts since the 1980s. Feminist thinkers have done much to excavate the histories of women’s movements in African societies, some even going so far as to argue that Western feminism has derived much of its inspiration from Africa. Since the 1970s, Western anthropological tudies of African women have often been invoked (and at times appropriated) to provide evidence that the gender divisions of patriarchal Western societies were neither universal nor immutable, but culturally and socially constructed and therefore changeable. The term womanist first appeared in Alice Walker’s In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983), in which the author attributed the word’s origin to the black folk expression of mothers to female children, ‘You acting womanish,’ i. . like a woman … usually referring to outrageous, audacious, courageous, or willful behavior. Wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered ‘good’ for one … [A womanist is also] a woman who loves other women sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture … and women’s strength … committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist … Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender. pp. xi’ xii) Although Walker states that a womanist is a black feminist or feminist of color, she insists that a black feminist as womanist talks back to feminism, brings new demands and different perspectives to feminism, and compels the expansion of feminist horizons in theory and practice. The introduction of “womanism” in the feminist lexicon in the early 1980s marks a historic moment in feminist engagement in the United States.
The late 1970s and the 1980s witnessed an internal insurgency in feminism led by women of color who participated in fighting vigorously against sexual politics of the previous decade only to be confronted by the feminist politics of exclusion a decade later. Excluded from and alienated by feminist theorizing and thinking, women of color insisted that feminism must account for different subjectivities and locations in its analysis of women, thus bringing into focus the issue of difference, particularly with regard to race and class.
If feminism were not able to fully account for the experiences of black women, it would be necessary, then, to find other terminologies that could carry the weight of those experiences. It is in this regard that Alice Walker’s “womanism” intervenes to make an important contribution. As Walker noted in the New York Times Magazine in 1984, “I don’t choose womanism because it is ‘better’ than feminism … I choose it because I prefer the sound, the feel, the fit of it; because I cherish the spirit of the omen (like Sojourner) the word calls to mind, and because I share the old ethnic-American habit of offering society a new word when the old word it is using fails to describe behavior and change that only a new word can help it more fully see” (p. 94). In other words, feminism needed a new word that would capture its complexity and fullness. Despite Walker’s claims to the contrary, she suggests in her definitions of womanism (e. g. , “womanist is to feminism as purple is to lavender”) that the womanist/black woman is stronger and superior to the feminist/white woman.
Walker’s construction of womanism and the different meanings she invests in it is an attempt to situate the black woman in history and culture and at the same time rescue her from the negative and inaccurate stereotypes that mask her in American society. First, Walker inscribes the black woman as a knowing/thinking subject who is always in pursuit of knowledge, “wanting to know more and in greater depth than is considered ‘good’ for one,” thus, interrogating the epistemological exclusions she endures in intellectual life in general and feminist scholarship in particular.
Second, she highlights the black woman’s agency, strength, capability, and independence. Opposed to the gender separatism that bedevils feminism, womanism presents an alternative for black women by framing their survival in the context of the survival of their community where the fate of women and that of men are inextricably linked. As Patricia Hill Collins aptly notes, “many black women view feminism as a movement that at best, is exclusively for women, and, at worst, dedicated to attacking or eliminating men … Womanism seemingly supplies a way for black women to address gender-oppression without attacking black men” (p. 1). In 1993 the word womanism with the meanings Alice Walker bestowed on it was added to The American Heritage Dictionary. The concept has had a profound influence in the formulation of theories and analytical frameworks in women/gender studies, religious studies, black studies, and literary studies. Because of the linking of black women and spirituality in Walker’s project, many African-American female theologians have incorporated womanist perspectives in their work.
Drawing on African-American history in general and the black church in particular, black womanist theologians interrogate the subordination of women and assume a leadership role in reconstructing knowledge about women. Prominent black womanist theologians and scholars of religion???such as Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, Katie Geneva Cannon, Delores S. Williams, Emilie Maureen Townes, and Marcia Y.
Riggs???bring womanist perspectives to bear on their black church, canon formation, social equality, black women’s club movement of the nineteenth century, race, gender, class, and social justice. The impact of womanism goes beyond the United States to Africa where many women scholars and literary critics (Chikwenye Okonjo Ogunyemi, Tuzyline Jita Allan, and Mary Modupe Kolawole, in particular) have embraced it as an analytical tool. Alice Walker’s womanism has also generated debates and controversies.
Prominent among those who challenge the terminology’s appropriateness for framing and explaining the lives of women of African descent is Clenora Hudson-Weems, who proposes an alternative terminology???Africana womanism???that is different from Black feminism, African feminism, and Walker’s womanism. Many of the debates and controversies about womanism focus on the differences and tension between womanism and black feminism. Patricia Hill Collins offers an excellent critique of both womanism and black feminism.
Hill Collins notes that the debate about whether to label black women’s standpoint womanist or black feminist is indicative of the diversity among black women. According to Hill Collins, “Walker’s definition thus manages to invoke three important yet contradictory philosophies that frame black social and political thought, namely, black nationalism via her claims of black women’s moral and epistemological superiority via suffering under racial and gender oppression, pluralism via cultural integrity provided by the metaphor of the garden, and integration/assimilation via her claims that black women are ‘traditionally universalist'” (p. 1). While weaving the separatism and black moral superiority of the black nationalist philosophy, the pluralism of the black empowerment variant, and the interrogation of white feminism, womanism seeks to give a voice, a standpoint to black women but fails to adequately take into account the heterogeneity of women of African descent with their different histories and realities.
Walker’s strength as a writer lies in her ability to write about topics that are generally taboo, to construct characters, themes and plots that are often untouchable for mainstream writers and audiences, and to continue to raise topics whose popularity fizzles while the issues continue. Walker has consistently received criticism for her woman centered writing, often accused of being anti-male — and particularly anti- African American male.
While Walker’s work proves that it is not anti-male, but is pro-female, she is clear about the oppressive relationships between women and men in this society, and in African and African American communities. She writes of the oppressions of women, for instance, in all comunities, without being reluctant to name their oppressors. Despite the negative criticism, Walker continues to write from the perspectives of the oppressed. She also points out the impact of oppressions on all members of societies which are constructed through oppressive practices.