American author research paper
Life is made by our choices and constructed by our words. Alice Walker is well aware of the meaning of the above statement and uses it to develop the tale on the hardships encountered by African American women. Alice walker coined the term ‘womanist’ to describe herself, by womanist she means one ‘who speaks out, speaks up, speaks against or in defense of something important – a woman who loves herself, her culture, and who is committed to survival” (Harris, 2001). Accordingly, Alice Walker’s work depicts the hardships she is faced with as an African American woman in the early 1950’s. Her bold and non-conformist character is well seen through her writings as she fights for women rights through out the world. Her work is full of metaphors and settings, which go along way in portraying the plight of women particularly those in a black society.
Alice Walker was born on February 9, 1944 to Willie and Millie Lou Walker. Her father was a sharecropper and her mother, a part-time maid. She is the eighth and last child of her parents. Growing up, her parents could not afford to give her siblings and herself much. When she was 8, a shot from her brother’s BB gun wounded her in the eye, and since the family did not own a car, she was only taken to hospital a week after the accident. By this time, disfigured scar tissue had formed over the eye that made her blind in that eye. The deformity made her shy and self-conscious and it is from this experience that she learnt to express herself through reading and writing poetry.
The award-winning author has a collection of over 30 novels, non-fiction books, poetry and short stories to her credit. The Color Purple is the author’s most acclaimed novel to date. It approaches issues such as sexism and racism in a serious and honest tone, typical of Alice Walker’s works. The novel discusses grave issues such as sexual abuse, poverty and hardship and oppression. The main character of the novel, Cellie, is used to represent Black women who have been oppressed and abused by their fathers and husbands and those around them. As the book progresses, the author brings about the theme of transformation when Cellie overcomes her difficult circumstances to become an empowered businesswoman (Walker, 1985).
In Everyday use, the author uses imagery and symbolism strongly to bring out the themes. The theme of this novel, as of many other novels by Alice White, is racism and cultural heritage. The quilt represents the discarded meaningless things which when put together forms a beautiful useful piece. Quilting is the actual process of transforming useless pieces of cloth into a beautiful quilt. This metaphor has been used to represent Black women’s lives. Their history dictated that they should be oppressed individuals but over time, by finding strength in each other, they have been transformed into useful members of the community. Her point of view is that African Americans should be proud of their traditional heritage. She is against the popularization of black culture, which she views as exploitation. This is shown by the way Dee Wangero is portrayed as a person who does not know much about her culture and only thinks of it as a fashion trend.
Possessing the secret of joy also carries Alice Walker’s recurrent them of female oppression, racism and eventual empowerment. Tashi, who has been used previously in The Color Purple and The temple of My Familiar, is introduced again in this novel as the main character. She is now a married woman living in the United States and has even changed her name to Evelyn to signify this change. However, the truth remains that in her ancestral home, she is still known as Olinka the girl who went through a circumcision ritual. This ritual was done, in Walker’s words, to make her feel like: “ A complete woman. A complete African. A complete Olinka” (Walker, 1993). In the end, Tashi is haunted by memories of her painful past, and unable to overcome her sadness becomes mad. Tashi becomes a victim of the role which women are expected to play.
In Black American literature, Trudier Harris argues that the Color Purple’s strong themes of racism only serve to reinforce racist stereotypes. The candid, raw manner through which Walker writes that the popularity of the book has attracted ‘spectator readers’ and this has been detrimental to the Black community because instead of bringing progress it has only taken people back to their old patterns of thinking about Black people and White people. He is also of the view that the novels’ story line is very cliché of Black female authors, and that it lacks originality and new content. Harris also questions the morality of the book, referring to the sexual abuse that Nettie and Cellie go through and the manner in which Pa treat them like property instead of humans. Harris argues that, Walker did not need to show these characters’ transformation using such sad and immoral events (Harris, 2001). He is of the opinion that the story-lie is fairy-tale like to an extent because of the sudden transformation of Cellie to a new independent empowered. Furthermore, Harris indicts Walker of planting IOUs throughout her whole novel because as Harris puts it “Walker felt it was time to repay” (Harris, 2001).
Nontasa Nakio, in her critique of Possessing the Secret of Joy, outlines the three typical strategies of Alice Walker’s writing. The first strategy, is where she highlights the hardships that Black women face; for example where Tashi says, “Why don’t they just steal our land, mine our gold, chop down our forests, pollute our rivers, enslave us to work on their farms, fuck us, devour our flesh and leave us alone?” (Walker, 1993). Her second typical strategy is integrating different alternatives to a problem into the readers mind. She does this by using several different voices in the story, all trying to solve the problem. The last strategy is where she shows the difference between an African woman and an American woman. In this novel for instance, Dee Wangero represents the American woman, who is intrigued by the African culture for its aesthetic value, whereas her sister Maggie represents the African woman who integrates African culture into her life.
In conclusion, Alice Walker’s work is centered on the plight of women and the hardships they are faced with as members of society. Evidently, women are perceived to be the weaker sex and are therefore not entitled to equal rights as their male counterparts. However, she views this as a misconception and believes that women have an equal role to play in society. For society, to function properly, this misguided notion, which has prevailed since time immemorial, must be banished at all cost.
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