The IUP Journal of English Studies
Alice Walker's The Color Purple: A Formidable Journey in Search of Self

Article Details
Pub. Date : March, 2020
Product Name : The IUP Journal of English Studies
Product Type : Article
Product Code : IJES32003
Author Name : Jinka Jyotsna, R Srinivasan
Availability : YES
Subject/Domain : Arts & Humanities
Download Format : PDF Format
No. of Pages : 06

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Abstract

This paper attempts to comprehend and describe the pains of the alienated women characters in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, an epistolary novel that hinges on the trials, tribulations, and the final triumph of Celie, who represents the oppressed black women. Search for self and quest for identity is a dominant theme in African American women's literature. Against this backdrop, the novel poignantly delineates Celie's efforts at identifying and asserting her "self" in the midst of various tormenting experiences she encounters. Her experiences as a helpless daughter, a powerless wife, and a voiceless mother poignantly impact her outlook on life, and these experiences force her to evolve as a determined and responsible woman. Her character advances from stoical submission to personal responsibility and formidable assertiveness. She exploits the power of letter writing to look within and rightfully express her concerns. In the course of time, her letters become an instrument of self-realization and self-mastery, and she deftly uses the letters to define her life's mission and emerge as a holistic individual. Through Celie, Walker hints that oppression of black women can be conquered by introspection rather than searching for external solutions. The novel highlights the importance of discovering one's self and realizing one's identity in an alien soil and culture.


Introduction

A major theme in African American women's writing is the quest for identity and the ultimate development of identity in oppressed people, especially in black women. The Africans who migrated from their native soil find themselves uprooted from their rich traditions and cultures and replanted in a strange and hostile soil in the midst of an alien Western value system that is in conflict with their traditions and customs. On their arrival in a foreign nation, the African citizens, who had enjoyed bliss and freedom in their land, are labeled as "niggers," and they eventually suffer the pangs of oppression, alienation, and estrangement. Conditions of slavery, dependence on the ruling class, extreme poverty, and subjugation of their value systems result in "loss of self" for the Africans who migrate to Western societies in search of opportunities. Though the harrowing experiences of loss of identity and alienation are common for men and women, the black women are in a more pathetic condition than their male counterparts because they are victims of both racial and gender oppression. Alienation and Loss of Self, the Painful Strands of Human Existence At every stage of their lives, human beings are influenced by the conditions into which they are born or by the circumstances in which they grow up. In short, human beings are products of "existential alienation." This sense of alienation is lucidly described by Swain and Das (2007, 89) who quote David Riesman's treatise, The Lonely Crowd, where "individuals are estranged from one another, so that the links become handcuffs, and estrangement and hostility replace communication and understanding." They further delve deep into the concept of alienation and highlight that "individuals become 'alienated' not only from others but also from their own 'selves.'" Swain and Das (2007, 89) quote Geyer and Schweitzer to illustrate how alienation leads to helplessness in individuals: "The loss of identity is alienation . . . it leads to powerlessness, the lack of control over various aspects of existence." Emphasizing the impact of alienation on one's psyche, Eric Fromm (Swain and Das 2007, 89) describes it powerfully thus: "The alienated person does not experience himself as the center of his world, as the creator of his own acts, but his acts and their consequences have become his masters." The American Society can be seen as that which comprises three circles of reality. The circles in this context represent the "degrees of power and powerlessness" in the citizens. The largest circle represents the power and influence that the whites wield, while the smaller middle circle includes the powerlessness of the blacks. Within this middle circle lies the tiniest, yet harrowing circle which encompasses the agony and ordeal of the black women (Gayles 1984, 3-4). This highlights the fact that black women are subjected to pain and torture because they are "women" and on top of that, they are "black." It is, therefore, no wonder that being a "black woman" is the extreme state of oppression and misery that a human being can be subjected to in the American society. Hence, it is a natural corollary that the black women who belong to this tiny circle of powerlessness are tormented by alienation and loss of identity.


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