Walker, Alice (Contemporary Literary Criticism)
The Color Purple Alice Walker
(Full name Alice Malsenior Walker) American novelist, essayist, poet, short story writer, editor, memoirist, and children's writer.
The following entry presents criticism on Walker's novel The Color Purple (1982) through 2001. For further information on her life and complete works, see CLC, Volumes 5, 6, 9, 19, 27, and 103.
The Color Purple is regarded as Walker's most successful and critically acclaimed work. Written in an epistolary style, the novel depicts the harsh life of a young African-American woman in the South in the early twentieth century. The Color Purple explores the individual identity of the African-American woman and how embracing that identity and bonding with other women affects the health of her community at large. Although some reviewers have taken issue with the novel's portrayal of Black men, the novel has largely been celebrated by critics and popular audiences alike, winning both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award in 1983. In 1985 filmmaker Stephen Spielberg directed the film adaptation of The Color Purple, which was nominated for eleven awards—including best picture—by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.
Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, in 1944, the eighth and last child of sharecroppers Willie Lee and Lou Grant Walker. When she was eight years old, her brother shot her with his BB gun, leaving her scarred and blind in one eye. This disfigurement made her shy and self-conscious, and she began to use writing as a means of expressing herself. The accident also had a permanent impact on her relationship with her father: his inability to obtain proper medical treatment for her forever affected her relationship with him, and they remained estranged for the rest of his life. Despite her disadvantaged childhood, Walker won the opportunity to continue her education with a scholarship to Spelman College. After attending Spelman for two years, she became disenchanted with what she considered a puritanical atmosphere there and transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, to complete her education. While at Sarah Lawrence, Walker wrote her first collection of poetry, entitled Once: Poems (1968), in reaction to a traumatic abortion. Walker shared the poems with one of her teachers, poet Muriel Rukeyser, whose agent found a publisher for Walker. After college, Walker moved to Mississippi to work as a teacher and a civil rights advocate. In 1967 she married Melvyn Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights attorney; they became the first legally married interracial couple to reside in Jackson, Mississippi. She and Leventhal had a daughter, Rebecca, but they divorced some years later. While working in Mississippi, Walker discovered the writings of Zora Neale Hurston, an author who would have great influence on her later work. Walker eventually edited a collection of Hurston's fiction called I Love Myself when I Am Laughing … and Then again when I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader (1979). In addition to poetry, Walker has written short stories, collected in In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973) and You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (1981), and several novels, most notably The Color Purple.
Plot and Major Characters
The Color Purple begins with fourteen-year-old Celie writing a letter to God, asking for a sign. Celie is a scared, poor, African-American girl living in the South. Her mother has become ill after the most recent of her numerous pregnancies, and the man Celie believes to be her father abuses Celie sexually. He tells her, “You better not never tell nobody but God. It'd kill your mammy.” Readers discover through subsequent letters that “Pa” fathers two children with Celie, but abducts them from her soon after each birth. Her mother dies during Celie's second pregnancy, and Celie is unable to confirm whether her children are living or dead. After her mother's death, Celie becomes responsible for the upkeep of the house and the rearing of her younger siblings, including her sister Nettie. Nettie is courted by a man her father's age, who asks to marry Nettie, but Pa refuses, and offers the older Celie as a wife instead. Celie marries the suitor, whom she calls Mr. ———. Nettie then becomes the object of Pa's sexual desires, causing her to move in with Celie and Mr. ———. Nettie is later forced to leave when she refuses Mr. ———'s sexual advances. Before Nettie flees, she promises Celie that she will write to her, but Celie never receives any of Nettie's letters. Celie's letters—which advance the narrative of the book—are now written to Nettie instead of God, and relate the physical, emotional, and sexual abuse that she endures in Mr. ———'s household. When Mr. ———'s son, Harpo, brings home Sophia—his prospective wife—Celie is exposed for the first time to a proud, strong female figure. Sophia is outspoken and refuses to conform to Harpo's and Mr. ———'s stereotypical model of an obedient spouse. After Harpo repeatedly beats her, Sophia leaves and is eventually arrested for assaulting a white man. A turning point in Celie's life occurs when Mr. ———'s mistress, Shug Avery, moves in to recuperate after an illness. Another strong-willed woman, Shug is a sexy, spirited blues singer, and Celie is obsessively attracted to her. After Celie nurses Shug, Shug begins to heal Celie, first as a mother figure, then as a lover. Through this relationship, Celie begins to feel loved and develops newfound feelings of self-worth. One day, when Shug gets the mail, she brings in a letter for Celie, postmarked from Africa. The letter is from Nettie, and, as Celie discovers, Nettie has been sending her letters for years. A search of the house reveals that all of Nettie's letters have been taken and hidden by Mr. ———. Celie puts the letters in chronological order and begins to read them, learning that Samuel and Corinne, a missionary couple in town, took in Nettie when she was forced to leave Mr. ———'s house. Samuel and Corrine had adopted two children and the two are Celie's lost offspring. Nettie traveled with them to Africa, where they tried to Christianize the people of the Olinka tribe. Nettie's letters also reveal that Celie's Pa is not her father, but is instead her stepfather. In a rage over the theft of these letters, Celie comes close to killing Mr. ———, but is stopped by Shug. Shug convinces Celie that it is better to create than to destroy, and Celie subsequently takes up sewing pants as a creative outlet. Celie leaves Mr. ———, whom she now calls by his given name, Albert, and travels to Memphis with Shug. After Pa dies, Celie inherits her childhood home, which also includes a dry goods store. She returns to her hometown and sets up a small business selling Folkspants—a line of pants of her own creation. Albert eventually returns to Celie as a transformed figure who now respects her, and the two work side by side, with Albert sewing matching shirts for her pants business. At the conclusion of the novel, Celie is reunited with sister Nettie and her own lost children, and she introduces Shug and Albert as her family.
The Color Purple dramatically underscores the oppression Black women have experienced throughout history in the rural South in America. Following the Civil War, most Black Americans remained disenfranchised and were typically viewed as less than human by many members of white society. Women were also regarded as less important than men—both Black and white—making Black women doubly disadvantaged. Black women of the era were often treated as slaves or as property, even by male members of their own families. In The Color Purple, Celie is passed on from Pa to Mr. ——— without any regard for her own desires. She constantly struggles to forge her own self-identity and to not accept the subservient role that society has ascribed to her. In the course of the novel, Sophia becomes Celie's first role model of a Black woman who does not allow the men surrounding her to limit her lifestyle. Additionally, the novel examines themes of sisterhood and methods of sharing among women in their quest for political, sexual, and racial equality. Celie is able to overcome her many hardships because of the love and solidarity she receives from women like Nettie, Sophia, and Shug Avery. By seeing herself as a member of a community, Celie develops a sense of identity and realizes new opportunities in her life. When Shug stops Celie from killing Mr. ———, Celie is inspired to find a new outlet for her passion and creativity. This leads to the creation of Celie's business, which offers her more personal and financial freedom. Spiritual fulfillment is also a recurring theme in The Color Purple. The novel opens with Celie writing to God, an anonymous all-knowing male creator figure. Celie keeps asking for a sign from God to reveal his presence and lift her many burdens, but no signs ever appear. As the story progresses, Celie stops writing to God and begins writing to her sister Nettie. Through her relationship with Nettie and with the other Black women in her life, Celie is able to see tangible signs of hope and spirituality. Walker portrays the typical archetype of the male Christian God as aloof and absent in The Color Purple, while Celie's community of friends and family is portrayed as caring and emotionally nourishing.
Walker has earned high praise for The Color Purple, particularly for her accurate rendering of folk idiom, her use of the oral storytelling tradition, and her characterization of Celie. Although critical response to the novel has been largely positive, there have been several widely-debated aspects of Walker's work. For example, many reviewers have criticized her portrayal of male African-American characters as archetypes of African-American men in modern society. Such commentators have condemned these portrayals as unnecessarily negative, citing the vile and unsympathetic male characters, such as Mr. ———, as evidence of enmity on Walker's part. Some critics have found fault with Walker's characterizations in general, opposing her tendency to refer to characters only with pronouns, thereby encouraging readers to consider the characters exemplary of anyone to whom that pronoun could apply. Reviewers have also noted temporal and logistic flaws in The Color Purple's narrative, but most scholars have excused these faults, commenting that such lapses are a necessary sacrifice for Walker's total narrative agenda. Walker has been highly praised by feminist critics for vividly portraying the brutality that women have faced throughout the years, but some have argued that the novel's happy ending makes light of the offenses suffered by the female protagonist and runs contrary to reality. Conversely, some reviewers have defended the novel's upbeat ending, claiming that it is not disloyal to feminist concerns, but rather furthers the idea that a woman—especially one surrounded by a community of nurturing women—can overcome adversity.
Once: Poems (poetry) 1968
The Third Life of Grange Copeland (novel) 1970
In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (short stories) 1973
Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems (poetry) 1973
*Langston Hughes: American Poet [illustrations by Don Miller] (juvenilia) 1974
Meridian (novel) 1976
Good Night, Willie Lee, I'll See You in the Morning (poetry) 1979
I Love Myself when I Am Laughing … and Then again when I Am Looking Mean and Impressive: A Zora Neale Hurston Reader [editor] (prose) 1979
You Can't Keep a Good Woman Down (short stories) 1981
The Color Purple (novel) 1982
In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens: Womanist Prose (essays) 1983
Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful: Poems (poetry) 1984
Living by the Word: Selected Writings, 1973-1987 (essays) 1988
To Hell with Dying [illustrations by Catherine Deeter] (juvenilia) 1988
The Temple of My Familiar (novel) 1989
Finding the Green Stone [illustrations by Catherine Deeter] (juvenilia) 1991
Her Blue Body Everything We Know: Earthling Poems, 1965-1990 Complete (poetry) 1991
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SOURCE: Tavormina, M. Teresa. “Dressing the Spirit: Clothworking and Language in The Color Purple.” Journal of Narrative Technique 16, no. 3 (fall 1986): 220-30.
[In the following essay, Tavormina analyzes the parallels between clothing and the perception of the characters in The Color Purple, noting how Walker's characters use sewing to create a sense of accomplishment and freedom of expression.]
When a message has no clothes on How can it be spoken?
Language is the clothing of thought, the skin of the soul. The mysterious entity of self is first expressed internally, in thoughts and feelings of various degrees of clarity; yet to give that self external expression, it must be “uttered”—made outward by being dressed in language. Just as clothing protects, adorns, interprets, and helps create the first impression of the body, the outer self, so language displays the inner self, giving shape to thought and feeling, defining yet covering them, significantly influencing others' perceptions of that self. Like a membrane, like skin, language simultaneously connects and divides self to and from others. The familiar metaphors of spinning yarns and weaving words, of text as textile, suggest the purpose of language as well as the intricate manner of its making.
Thus it is not surprising to find...
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SOURCE: Ross, Daniel W. “Celie in the Looking Glass: The Desire for Selfhood in The Color Purple.” Modern Fiction Studies 34, no. 1 (spring 1988): 69-84.
[In the following essay, Ross employs psychoanalytic methods to analyze Celie's delayed emotional growth in The Color Purple and examines the catalysts that shape and encourage her progress toward self-realization and self-acceptance.]
For many readers the turning point of Alice Walker's The Color Purple occurs when Celie, the principal character, asserts her freedom from her husband and proclaims her right to exist: “I'm pore, I'm black, I may be ugly, and can't cook. … But I'm here” (187). Celie's claim is startling because throughout her life she has been subjected to a cruel form of male dominance grounded in control over speech. The novel's very first words alert us to the prohibition against speech served on Celie by her father: “You'd better not never tell nobody but God. It'd kill your mammy.” Thus, Celie writes, addressing her letters to God because she has no one else to write to and because she knows she must never tell no “body.” But even then Celie addresses her letters to the orthodox Christian God, another version of the father. In short, Celie's language exists through much of the book without a body or audience, just as she exists without a self or identity.
Finding the courage to...
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SOURCE: Wall, Wendy. “Lettered Bodies and Corporeal Texts in The Color Purple.” Studies in American Fiction 16, no. 1 (spring 1988): 83-97.
[In the following essay, Wall examines the epistolary format of The Color Purple, arguing that the protagonist Celie becomes stronger by using writing as an outlet, yet hinders her emotional growth by creating private discourses instead of verbalizing her fears and needs to others.]
In Gyn/Ecology, Mary Daly describes how one ideological group establishes power by imprinting its traces on the bodies of other people. Imprinting, she explains, often involves invading, cutting, impressing, and fragmenting.1 In its depiction of rape, wife-beating, genital mutilation, and facial scarification, The Color Purple abounds with instances in which the human body is made to submit to and to register the forces of authority. In the text, a patriarchy maintains power by forcing the female body into a position of powerlessness, thus denying the woman's ability to shape an identity. During the course of the novel, however, Celie learns to reshape those forces of oppression and to define herself through her letters; these letters act as a “second body” that mediates her relationship to the power structure in such a way as to give her a voice. Writing becomes a means for her to define herself against the patriarchy and thus allow her to...
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SOURCE: Weisenburger, Steven C. “Errant Narrative and The Color Purple.” Journal of Narrative Technique 19, no. 3 (fall 1989): 257-75.
[In the following essay, Weisenburger examines the temporal inconsistencies in The Color Purple, noting the popular and critical reception of the novel's errors and themes.]
What would be required in developing a poetics of narrative error? Moreover, why has none been developed? Its foundation certainly exists, in the comprehensive accounts of narrative poetics that followed the paradigm shift to structural semiotics. Indeed, colleagues in composition pedagogy have already taken up “the phenomenology of error” while narratologists have yet to frame the comparable questions: What happens when the elemental techniques of narration go astray? What interpretive potentials might analyses of error set free? In particular, what can errors disclose about the socio-cultural horizon of a narrative fiction?1
Some examples. How did it happen that the omniscient narrator of Frank Norris's The Octopus relates a moment of gunplay between Annixter and Delaney, concluding with the proleptic claim that “for years he [Annixter] could reconstruct the scene” whenever “reminiscences began to circulate” among seated groups of men (186-7), while that narrator will also relate Annixter's death after...
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SOURCE: Walton, Priscilla L. “‘What She Got to Sing About?’: Comedy and The Color Purple.” ARIEL 21, no. 2 (April 1990): 59-74.
[In the following essay, Walton defines comic theory and classifies The Color Purple as a comedic novel based on examples from the work.]
[Laughter] is a froth with a saline base. Like froth it sparkles. It is gaiety itself. But the philosopher who gathers a handful to taste may find that the substance is scanty and the aftertaste bitter.
This observation, written in 1900 by Henri Bergson, in the conclusion to his essay “Laughter,” ironically anticipates the changes that occur in the comic mode of the succeeding century when laughter's “froth” virtually disappears and its “bitter aftertaste” comes to predominate. After 1900, literature—comedy in particular—becomes more acrimonious and discordant, perhaps better to represent life in our century of “disorder and irrationalism” (Sypher 201). The comic novel ceases to ring with the “silvery laughter” that George Meredith applauds; rather it reverberates to the maniacal, paranoid laughter in which Thomas Pynchon revels. In short, comedy enters the realm of the absurd and begins to reflect the individual's disorientation in a “senseless, chaotic” world.
Yet even within this context,...
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SOURCE: Proudfit, Charles L. “Celie's Search for Identity: A Psychoanalytic Developmental Reading of Alice Walker's The Color Purple.” Contemporary Literature 32, no. 1 (spring 1991): 12-37.
[In the following essay, Proudfit refutes the critical opinion that Celie's emotional development and actions in The Color Purple are unlikely literary contrivances, and uses psychoanalytic theory to argue that Celie's personal growth is realistically constructed, given her horrific childhood and adolescence.]
It is my belief and my faith that whenever you are trying to convey a sense of a common reality to people, they will want to read and hear about it.
—Alice Walker, “The Eighties and Me”
Since the publication of Alice Walker's The Color Purple, both novel and author continue to elicit a wide range of praise and censure from an increasing number of black and white, female and male reviewers, literary critics, and general readers. At one extreme are those who find the work “an American novel of permanent importance” (Prescott 67); who place the author “in the company of Faulkner” (Smith 183); and who praise Walker for her creation of the unique voice of her protagonist, Celie, a “poor, ugly, uneducated [black girl] … [from] rural Georgia,” for “the universality of the themes of redemptive love,...
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SOURCE: Abbandonato, Linda. “‘A View from “Elsewhere”’: Subversive Sexuality and the Rewriting of the Heroine's Story in The Color Purple.” PMLA 106, no. 5 (October 1991): 1106-115.
[In the following essay, Abbandonato explores Walker's denouncement of the caucasian, patriarchal order in The Color Purple by displaying Celie's claiming of an identity and sexuality outside of traditionally accepted parameters.]
Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple begins with a paternal injunction of silence:
You better not never tell nobody but God. It'd kill your mammy.
Celie's story is told within the context of this threat: the narrative is about breaking silences, and, appropriately, its formal structure creates the illusion that it is filled with unmediated “voices.” Trapped in a gridlock of racist, sexist, and heterosexist oppressions, Celie struggles toward linguistic self-definition. She is an “invisible woman,” a character traditionally silenced and effaced in fiction; and by centering on her, Walker replots the heroine's text. I want to show how Celie's story—the story of that most marginalized of heroines the black lesbian—challenges patriarchal constructions of female subjectivity and sexuality and thus makes representation itself a compelling issue for all women,...
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SOURCE: Hall, James C. “Towards a Map of Mis(sed) Reading: The Presence of Absence in The Color Purple.” African American Review 26, no. 1 (spring 1992): 89-97.
[In the following essay, Hall examines Walker's portrayal of female repression in society and religion in The Color Purple, commenting that Celie's emotional growth depends largely on her gradual rejection of the caucasian, male God figurehead.]
[Some] receive the news of the death of God and the questionableness of authority with great enthusiasm. Like servants released from bondage to a harsh master or children unbound from the rule of a domineering father, such individuals feel free to become themselves.
The Color Purple, Alice Walker's novel of black feminist awakening, is also a model for the reconstruction of a black feminist literary tradition. If the existence of such a tradition had previously been marked by the “white page” and historical silence, Walker subverts the space by embracing the absence. By attacking patriarchy (and patriarchal culture) at its Christian foundation, Walker celebrates the emptiness which is and has always been full. Working within and expanding the gaps, her work suggests new possibilities for the “sacred” as a tool in literary reconstruction. Her novel is at once “holy,” a...
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SOURCE: Taylor, Carole Anne. “Humor, Subjectivity, Resistance: The Case of Laughter in The Color Purple.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language 36, no. 4 (winter 1994): 462-82.
[In the following essay, Taylor evaluates Walker's use of laughter in The Color Purple, asserting that the novel employs laughter as a shared acknowledgment of pain and camaraderie, rather than lighthearted banter.]
They crush and crush your heart; your humor escapes.
—Alice Walker, “Ndebele”
Postmodernism for postmodernism, politics for politics, I'd rather be an ironist than a terrorist.
—Susan Suleiman, Subversive Intent
Indeed, irony in the face of actual torture is arguably less worthwhile than terrorism in the face of a text. And we don't, in any event, always get to choose our contexts or our adversaries.
—Lillian Robinson, “At Play in the Mind-fields”
Perhaps no text more dramatically demonstrates how differently diverse communities of readers construct literary meaning than does The Color Purple, the locus of ongoing debate about interlocking systems of oppression and their representation in literature. Even among generally appreciative critics, some have found a clear model for the organized...
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SOURCE: Selzer, Linda. “Race and Domesticity in The Color Purple.” African American Review 29, no. 1 (spring 1995): 67-82.
[In the following essay, Selzer discusses Walker's confrontation of race relations and class distinctions through the underlying text in The Color Purple.]
An important juncture in Alice Walker's The Color Purple is reached when Celie first recovers the missing letters from her long-lost sister Nettie. This discovery not only signals the introduction of a new narrator to this epistolary novel but also begins the transformation of Celie from writer to reader. Indeed, the passage in which Celie struggles to puzzle out the markings on her first envelope from Nettie provides a concrete illustration of both Celie's particular horizon of interpretation and Walker's chosen approach to the epistolary form:
Saturday morning Shug put Nettie letter in my lap. Little fat queen of England stamps on it, plus stamps that got peanuts, coconuts, rubber trees and say Africa. I don't know where England at. Don't know where Africa at either. So I still don't know where Nettie at.
Revealing Celie's ignorance of even the most rudimentary outlines of the larger world, this passage clearly defines the “domestic” site she occupies as the novel's main narrator.1 In particular, the...
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SOURCE: Hankinson, Stacie Lynn. “From Monotheism to Pantheism: Liberation from Patriarchy in Alice Walker's The Color Purple.” Midwest Quarterly 38, no. 3 (spring 1997): 320-28.
[In the following essay, Hankinson discusses how the development of Celie's religious beliefs in The Color Purple are instrumental in and indicative of her spiritual growth.]
Alice Walker's The Color Purple, in spite of its overwhelming success, has been criticized for possessing a rather superficial, fairy tale-styled ending. T. W. Lewis, for example, avows that the work appears “not as a realistic chronicle of human events but as fable” (485), and, similarly, Trudier Harris notes that “the issues are worked out at the price of realism” (6). These are valid critiques, as it is difficult to imagine any character, despite the approximately forty-year time span, arising from such utter oppression into such a state of bliss and restoration, as does Celie. Yet if we as readers can accept this ending—simply overcome our prejudice that such a conclusion is improbable—we can then ask what functions as the impetus for such change. Much critical attention has been focused on the Shug/Celie relationship as the influencing factor in the latter's growth. For instance, Margaret Walsh, who refers to Shug as Celie's “magic helper,” declares that through Ms. Avery, “the love inside Celie comes forth,...
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SOURCE: Heglar, Charles J. “Named and Nameless: Alice Walker's Pattern of Surnames in The Color Purple.” ANQ 13, no. 1 (winter 2000): 38-41.
[In the following essay, Heglar examines Walker's withholding of surnames and use of blank lines for the names of male characters in The Color Purple, and studies her use of surnames for three of the novel's atypical female characters.]
In her 1982 novel The Color Purple, Alice Walker skillfully erases, withholds, or supplies surnames for her characters in order to develop an alternative perspective that challenges, overturns, and regenerates the patriarchal society of the novel. Walker's erasure or withholding of surnames draws attention to her examination of male dominance; on the other hand, in the few cases when she supplies a surname for a character, Walker indicates an alternative to such domination. Namelessness and naming become a significant pattern as the novel unfolds.
Molly Hite has given an insightful reading of the most obvious instance of namelessness through erasure when she notes that “the most important agent of suffering is also a (relatively) powerful male figure, Celie's husband Mr. ———, whose unarticulated name, in the manner of epistolary fictions since Richardson's Pamela, suggests fearful effacement of an identity too dangerous to reveal, and whose transformation is signaled by a...
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SOURCE: Cutter, Martha J. “Philomela Speaks: Alice Walker's Revisioning of Rape Archetypes in The Color Purple.” MELUS 25, nos. 3-4 (fall-winter 2000): 161-80.
[In the following essay, Cutter compares and contrasts the character of Celie from The Color Purple with the character of Philomela from Ovid's Metamorphoses, noting the similarities between the women's repeated rapes and their rapists' attempts to silence them.]
The ancient story of Philomela has resonated in the imaginations of women writers for several thousand years. The presence of this myth in contemporary texts by African American women writers marks the persistence of a powerful archetypal narrative explicitly connecting rape (a violent inscription of the female body), silencing, and the complete erasure of feminine subjectivity.1 For in most versions of this myth Philomela is not only raped—she is also silenced. In Ovid's recounting, for example, Philomela is raped by her brother-in-law, Tereus, who then tears out her tongue. Philomela is finally transformed into a nightingale, doomed to chirp out the name of her rapist for eternity: tereu, tereu. The mythic narrative of Philomela therefore explicitly intertwines rape, silencing, and the destruction of feminine subjectivity.
Contemporary African American women's fiction contains allusions to this archetypal rape narrative. In...
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SOURCE: Warhol, Robyn R. “How Narration Produces Gender: Femininity as Affect and Effect in Alice Walker's The Color Purple.” Narrative 9, no. 2 (May 2001): 182-87.
[In the following essay, Warhol explores the sentimentality of the themes and narrative in The Color Purple, and analyzes the reasons for a feminine gender designation to sentimental and emotional stories.]
Having a good cry is a feminine thing to do. In British and American mainstream culture of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, weeping openly and emotionally—whether for grief, anger, frustration, sympathy, relief, joy, triumph, or gratitude—is an activity associated with girls and women, considered appropriate to their female frames and feminine feelings. Men cry, too, of course: if they are gay men, their tears are understood as part of the penchant they are supposed to share with feminine women for “making a spectacle” of their feelings;1 if they are straight, they must be perceived as shedding “manly tears” or run the risk of compromising their masculinity. To have a good cry, though, is to indulge in one of the perquisites of this culture's version of femininity, whether the person doing the crying is male or female.
In this essay I will focus on the narrative strategies that produce the good cry in narrative fiction, using as my illustrative example Alice Walker's...
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Berlant, Lauren. “Race, Gender, and Nation in The Color Purple.” Critical Inquiry 14, no. 4 (summer 1988): 831-59.
Berlant presents an in-depth study of the political, racial, and gender-based agendas in The Color Purple.
Chambers, Kimberly R. “Right on Time: History and Religion in Alice Walker's The Color Purple.” CLA Journal 31, no. 1 (September 1987): 44-62.
Chambers explores the effects that African-American folklore and traditions have on the temporal and religious aspects of The Color Purple.
Christophe, Marc A. “The Color Purple: An Existential Novel.” CLA Journal 36, no. 3 (March 1993): 280-90.
Christophe discusses the adversities Celie faces in The Color Purple and the various coping mechanisms she employs during her development.
Dole, Carol M. “The Return of the Father in Spielberg's The Color Purple.” Literature/Film Quarterly 24, no. 1 (1996): 12-16.
Dole explores the differences between the novel and the film version of The Color Purple.
Early, Gerald. “The Color Purple as Everybody's Protest Art.” Antioch Review 50, nos. 1-2 (winter 1992): 399-412.
Early offers a negative assessment of both the novel and film The...
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