Alice Walker's Themes of Womanism, Community, and Regeneration Alice Walker is considered one of the most influential African American writers of the 20th century, because of her raw portrayal of African American struggles and the injustices towards black women. She was the first African American female novelist to win both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for The Color Purple.
Her work is appealing and powerful because “Walker's novels can be read as an ongoing narrative of an African American woman's energence from the voiceless obscurity of poverty and racial and sexual victimization to become a reshaper of culture and tradition” (Gray 527). Through Celie’s experiences in The Color Purple, Alice Walker stresses the importance of womanism, the African American community as a whole, and the regeneration as an individual. By allowing Celie to find liberation and freedom from the men in her life, Walker conveys her support for womanism and the female-self.
Alice Walker labels herself as a “womanist,” not a feminist, because “As a womanist, which is different from a feminist, she sees herself as someone who appreciates women's culture, emotions, and character” (Wilson 1586). She concentrates on the hardships and struggles of African American women which she separates into three categories: “the physically and psychologically abused black woman, a black woman who is torn by contrary, and the new black woman who re-creates herself... ” (Bloom 52-53 1998). Celie, the main character of The Color Li 2 Purple, is used by Walker to convey these different types of women.
She also criticizes the treatment and oppression of Celie by the African American men in her life, but does not condemn them. Two of the black men in the novel use women as property and use abuse, violence, and undermining to control their women as objects. But, Walker offers the possibility of liberation from victimization to show that female strength can overcome adversity. This use of potentiality exemplifies Walker's most significant theme: “the experience of the African American woman as both an oppressed and a liberated individual” (Bloom 54, 1998).
She also makes use of strong female role models to aid Celie in obtaining liberation and comfort. Just as Alice Walker admires Zora Neale Hurston, who also wrote about African American experiences, Celie is given strong female companions like Sofia, Mary Agnes, Nettie, and Shug. These women set examples and influence Celie to strive for independence and happiness. As Bloom reveals, “In The Color Purple, the emphases are the oppression that black women experience in their relationships with black men and the sisterhood they must share with each other in order to liberate themselves” (52, 1998).
The community of unyielding women aids Celie in realizing her own self-worth and importance, as well as the fact that she is better than what her husband, Albert, makes her. Her new subjectivity and positive sense of self mirrors the strength and knowledge that she gains from being a member of a female community. Walker's creation of a female community is “... a fantasy solution through which Walker builds a Utopia on contemporary feminist themes, affirming the folk traditions of black women while removing them from victimization” (Gray 529). These strong women in the novel further support Walker's theme of womanism and female independence.
Another example of Walker's advocacy of womanism is that she allows the strong Li 3 females to ultimately produce a healing effect on the community. Her use of a female community not only saves Celie but men such as Albert and Harpo because Walker's womanist ideas embrace both men and women. She stresses the importance of alleviating problems of the community starting with individuals, so Walker's vision of womanism should be viewed as the confirmation of self-hood, because “despite her concentration on the brutal treatment of black women, she supports the power of the individual, and ultimately the group” (Bloom 2000).
The female community also heals Celie, whos newly acquired freedom effects both the men and women. Walker also advocates spirituality in her theme of womanism. According to Bloom, “Walker's spiritual beliefs are dependent on her womanist philosophy, and vise versa. Her womanist philosophy is a type of spirituality, one that arises from her movement away from the traditional Christianity in which she was raised” (64, 2000). Shug becomes a medium that Walker uses to depict her growing connection to spirituality and a way for Celie to build a relationship with nature, earth, and herself.
Furthermore, Celie's letters are based on Walker's idea that writing is a spiritual practice for females to find peace and reflect their thoughts in a racist and sexist society. Bloom goes on to suggest that “ Walker's womanist and spiritual concerns would not exist without her belief that her writing is an individual and communal intervention into a racist and sexist fabric she sees in American culture” (66, 2000). Because women were not allowed to have a voice, Walker writes the novel in the form of letters, where Celie can reveal everything.
Lastly, Walker shows her criticism of the injustices shown towards African American women by both blacks and whites. In the novel, “the men are generally pathetic, weak and stupid when they are not heartlessly cruel” (Wilson 1587), which made The Color Li 4 Purple very controversial. But, Walker was merely depicting the truth of African American society, through the novel's antagonist, Mr. _______ , who abuses and controls Celie, a helpless and weak woman enslaved by the men in her life.
Through Sofia's strong will and vigor, Walker is able to show her support for resistance from oppression. Sofia's husband Harpo is constantly trying to overpower her with violence because he is taught that men have that right, but Sofia fights back and never fails to give up her dignity and individuality. Also, Walker portrays injustice towards African Americans through Sofia's unfair jailing because of her refusal to work for the Mayor's wife. Even after being sent to jail and being treated like garbage, Sofia is still forced to work for the woman.
Another wrong that was encountered by African Americans was the appropriation of African land. The Olinkan traditions and treasured resources were destroyed as Whites rummaged their land. Through these unjust experiences of African Americans, Walker is able to attempt in repairing the damages done by unreflective people who do not realize that their actions can cause consequences and effect all the members in a community, family, race, or society. Another point Walker proves is the importance of community through conveying perseverance and traditional values in The Color Purple.
She uses a rural community to show its importance and role in Celie's oppression and her search for independence. Bloom claims that “Walker's use of black and rural communities become emblems for her creation of familial and social generations underscoring her themes of identity and community” (25, 1998). This rustic environment and isolation is responsible for Celie's inability to oppose male authority. She is contrasted by her sister Nettie, who was exposed to education at an early age, which is responsible for her foreign connection and
Li 5 free spirit. By using these differences, Walker is able to make her point that exposure and isolation defines how a person thinks and behaves. Also, the introduction of a female community effects Celie's consciousness and arouses her personal desires. Walker sucessfully “articulates the importance of a highly complex and interdependent female community” (Bloom 119, 2000) because the arrival and presence of strong women teaches Celie about life outside her home, slowly developing her urge to deviate from the conventional female role.
Moreover, Nettie's experiences in Africa reflect Walker's encouragement for unity and continuity. The Olinkan imperialism and loss of natural substantial resources convey the value of working and staying together through hardships. From Nettie's letters, it is revealed that racism and injustice is encountered by blacks everywhere, and their resistance to colonization from whites further promotes defiance, survival, freedom, and power.
The Olinkan community stays together to preserve their culture and home, while Adam's marriage to Tashi and their tribal tattoos show Walker's encouragement of continuity and tradition. Celie's children are “symbols of preservation, of culture, and the continuity of generations” (Bloom 36, 2000). Their return from Africa with Adam's African American name Omatangu and his wife celebrates the importance of community and culture. Lastly, Walker shows the possibility of redemption and regeneration as an individual through Celie and Albert.
After a life of fear and abuse, Celie achieves freedom, self-rule, and a sense of self worth. Celie's consciousness of the injustice around her allows her to grow out of her own past. Her quilting and pants making as creative expression and traditional bonding becomes a form of liberation and freedom from Albert. Through this, she finds independence and self-esteem, from success that emerged from her own Li 6 capable hands. Also, Walker conveys the potentiality of redemption through Albert's improvement as a husband and as an individual.
Reparation or redemption may be undertaken by a single individual in whom Walker vests the responsibility for survival, because it is the action of a single individual that has caused the breakdown of experience or identity in private lives, and ultimately in the public or social life of the group (Bloom, 28, 1998). Through Celie's growth and salvation, Albert learns the importance of female presence and transforms his destructive emotional and physical ways into reflective and positive practices, such as house-work and quilting with Celie.
Walker portrays Albert with a seemingly anti-male bias, but this is actually a portrayal of her teaching of the truth from a specific perspective that is aware of man's weaknesses which they cover up with violence to other African Americans, especially their women and children. By showing that Albert shows responsibility, accepts his mistakes, and realizes the importance of Celie, Walker is able to prove that although there are corrupt relationships between black men and women, there can also be respectful ones.
Alice Walker effectively connects her themes of womanism, community, and regeneration in The Color Purple. Her works have influenced many feminists and activists with the exposition of naked truths in the suffering of African American women. Through her endeavors in revealing the reality of female hardship and oppression, Walker is able to create characters in the novel that grow and develop as their consciousness of these brutalities allow them to gain control over their lives. These highly complex characters reflect the progression that Walker hopes the world will achieve from reading The Color Purple.