Alice Walker’s novel “The Colour Purple” as a Manifesto of Womanism:
The psychological effects of slavery on the behaviors, mindsets and cultures of the oppressed people/race, are permanent and unavoidable. We find the scars of cursed colonialism and oppression on the face of American history as well but on the other hand the lessons that we learn from the struggle and activism of the oppressed and marginalized classes are quite optimistic. This unfortunate course makes their art and literature highly productive and meaningful at the range of universality.
American Literature being contrastively rich has been generating different voices against tyranny and injustice towards different segments of society such as African-American citizens, specifically women. The literature widely shows that among the deprived classes the most victimized has always been women-folk. Presenting a complete portrayal of the agony of millions of enslaved people, it not only shows how they lived their sorrows and broken dreams in an oppressive era but also how they lit the candles of hope and struggle for the rest of the world.
Friedrich Engels in his “Theory of The Origin of Patriarchy” comments that “slavery and every kind of oppression is the product of patriarchy.” Various forms of oppressions are generally deployed by the powerful and capitalist to prop up their rule in ancient civilizations and equally in middle ages. “Slavery was a legally recognized system in which people were legally considered property or chattel to another. A slave had few rights and could be bought or sold and made to work for the owner without any choice or pay.”
The crucial form of slavery was seen in America and Modern Europe during 17th and 18th centuries. Slavery in America began when the first African slaves were brought to the North American colony of Jamestown, Virginia in 1619, to aid in the production of such lucrative crops as tobacco. Slavery was practiced throughout the American colonies in 17th and 18th centuries, while the abolitionist movement played a role of “first great awakening” and provoked a great debate over slavery that was followed by a bloody American Civil War (1861-1865). In the meanwhile the activists and enlightened figures were producing works and raising their voices to achieve dignified life for their generations and for all human beings.
Though the Union Victory freed nation’s 4 million slaves, the legacy of slavery continued to influence American history, from the years of Reconstruction (1865-77) to the Civil Rights movement that emerged in the 1960s. There have been many colored women who had greatly contributed as writers and activists being members of Civil Rights Movement. One of those is Alice Walker who has been speaking highly of the rights of colored women and fighting for equality. She is a renowned poetess and a novelist. Her novel “the color purple” written in 1982, made her win National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
She in her novel “the colour purple” highlights the outcomes of slavery as psychological violence which frustrates the oppressed community or race and the behaviors that they acquire, ultimately lead to social and human destruction. The wounds of this calamity cannot be healed and scars can’t be washed till ages.
The novel extensively depicts how the enslaved communities avoid they are adopting/learning from their oppressors, and in that process what kind of inhumane and oppressive behaviors they develop in themselves. It’s seen that the enslaved man strives to be a master where he has some authority, at home for example. The oppressed man tortures his woman and children in an unconscious drive to satisfy his injured ego and to provide a channel to his frustration to release. The mental violence creates a huge gap between the oppressed men and women,
In his theory of “alienation and psychology of the oppressed” Frantz Fanon addressed the same issue, while discussing on Fanon’s particular theory, Adele Jinadu points out that “to a certain extent, psychological violence becomes a form of cultural imperialism in the context of the colonial situation.” While Fanon himself comments that “the alienation of the native may take the form of assimilation, the loss of cultural identity or its disruption, through which the social group or the oppressed race imitate the oppressor.” We find the same dimension in this novel when Walker shows the abusive and senseless nature of colored men who lack values and sensitivity at times. Their psychological drawback is shown boldly.
The Color Purple is a novel of contrast: sexual oppression and sexual liberation; violence and silent protest, it is written in the form of letters, Celie who feels unloved and nobody makes her feel valuable, writes to God and her letters disclose the growing wisdom and self esteem of Celie, she grows in experience and observation throughout. In the first few letters, Celie tells God that she has been raped by her stepfather and that she is pregnant for the second time with his child. Celie’s mother gets quite ill and dies after cursing Celie, leaves Celie alone to face her father. Celie then turns her attention to protecting her sister, Nettie, from her father’s sexual advances.
Alice Walker in a society of male dominance and fixed gender roles weaves an intricate mosaic of women joined by their love for each other, the men who abuse them and the children they care for. She tells us the story most prominently about the estrangement and violence which mark the relationship between Walker’s colored men and women and the conflict between them is beautifully highlighted. Mel Watkins in his review “Some Letters Went to God” writes:
“Although this subject had been raised in the fiction of earlier American writers, such as Zora Neale Hurston, and in comic caricatures of the Frankie and Johnny variety, it was largely ignored by most black writers until the early 1960’s; at that point, they strongly felt need for a more open scrutiny of black life led writers to challenge longstanding black middle-class proscriptions against dramatizing and thereby exposing anything that might reinforce damaging racial stereotypes.”
The Afro-American women survive as “slaves of slaves” as they don’t have to face only the racial oppression but have to fight and struggle with the different types of the intersectional forms of violence.
It’s seen that most vulnerable segments of society are always the women and the children, whether in the times of wars or oppressions, the women and children suffer more pathetically. And this alarming situation was noticed by the Afro-American feminists who held the position that the Western movement of feminism cannot address their issues wholly and colored women need to launch more focused movement that must recognize not only sexism but intersectional issues such as racism and classism, and the pioneer of this movement is our novelist Alice Walker herself who along with other Afro-American women activists initiated the movement of “Womanism” which validates and celebrates the identities of colored women without viewing them as a subset of men or white women.
The most wonderful aspect of the novel is women’s growth, how they elevate more sharply and intelligently in pain for being left with nothing to depend upon except a fighting spirit. In this way, they fight not only for their freedom but also, beyond sexual differences, for the freedom of the whole humanity. Seeking dignity is the basic human right and the stories like “The Color Purple” bring us closer to real life and its value on the Planet Earth. The strong femininity and ever-moving women characters who, in spite of harsh challenges and sordid grounds are inspirational, they not only achieve dignity but also train the men-folk around them about the values of relationship for a peaceful life. The over powering and growing spirit of Celie impresses us most who began life as a virtual slave, the victim of men, of traditional roles, of racism, and of innumerable social injustices. When the novel is finished, we see Celie grown up into a whole human being and into an enlightened woman.
The color purple is the symbol of feminist movement in United State which is intelligently used as a title and on the other hand purple color ensures the spiritual and emotional strength of inner self which shows that darkness provokes us chasing the dreams of golden dawn having dignity and equality for all human beings.
Alice Walker once told an interviewer, “The black woman is one of America’s greatest heroes. . . She has been oppressed beyond recognition.”