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Alice Walker has spent her adult life writing about gender and race. Walker’s achievements include the Pulitzer Prize, the first African-American woman recipient of the National Book Award, and numerous other literary awards in her life (Walker, 2009). She has spent her life’s career engaging in activism and helping to improve race relations in the United States and abroad. Walker has openly admitted to being discriminated based on her color and gender. Many of her short stories and novels deal with how race and discrimination affect the everyday lives of women of color (Barnett, 2001).
Alice Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia in February of 1994. Walker, the youngest of eight children, grew up in poverty. Her parents, Willie Lee and Minnie Lou Walker, worked as a farmer and maid respectively. Their meager income was around three-hundred dollars a year (Walker, 2009). In Eatonton, life was hard for the Walkers. Minnie Lou was bombarded with racial discrimination while raising her children. The mentality of the South at that time was still one of people of color did not need an education.
African-American children were expected to work in the fields, not attend classes.
Minnie Lou was said to have told one property owner, “Don’t you ever come around here again talking about how my children don’t need to learn how to read and write” (Walker, 2009). Education was important to the Walker family. Alice enrolled in the first grade at the age of four. Throughout her childhood, Alice wrote privately. Walker attributes much of her writing to her memories of discrimination growing up (Walker, 2009).
She was subjected to the cruelties of other children because of her race and a childhood incident with a BB gun. In 1952, Alice was accidentally shot in the eye with her brothers BB gun (Walker, 2009).
Her parents, being low on money and no car, could not take their daughter to the hospital until a week later. At that point, Alice had become permanently blind in that eye. A scar developed that she thought to be unseemly. After the accident, Alice became a very shy person and began writing more and more about what it was like to struggle with prejudices (Barnett, 2001). At age fourteen, the scar would be removed and she has said that during the years with the scar she was able “to really see people and things, really to notice relationships and to learn to be patient enough to care about how they turned out” (Walker, 2009).
Alice, throughout the rest of her school years, would excel in her studies and would graduate valedictorian. While enrolled in Spelman College in 1961, Alice met Martin Luther King Jr. Walker was a part of the 1963 March on Washington. Alice cites meeting Mr. King as the moment in her life that she threw herself in to advocating for equal rights (Walker, 2009). Walker transferred from Spelman to Sarah Lawrence and graduated in 1965. Later that same year Alice met the man who would become her husband, Mel Leventhal. The couple married in 1967.
They soon moved to Jackson, Mississippi, becoming “the first legally married inter-racial couple in Mississippi” (White, 1997). Again, Alice would face discrimination and death threats based on her race. They had a daughter, Rebecca, in 1969. In 1976, the couple would divorce and Alice would never remarry (Walker, 2009). Throughout the rest of her adult life, Walker would write thirty-three pieces of fiction and non-fiction books. Among those, the most celebrated was the Pulitzer Prize winning The Color Purple in 1982. Read about achievements of Africa before European arrival
The novel dealt with a young African-American woman struggling to fight her way through a racist “white” culture and a male centered “black” culture. The book was later adapted into a movie in 1985 and is considered by many to be an American classic. Walker wrote another story with characters from The Color Purple, called Possessing the Secret of Joy, which did not have the same appeal as its predecessor (Moore, 2000). Mrs. Walker talks openly about her life in politics and her childhood. She talks about why she has chosen to write about race relations in America and what it means to her to be a woman of color with success in her life.
After examining a selection of her works, one can see the impact her race and gender have had on her life. I have sought to understand more fully the history and realities of the civil rights movement and equal rights for women while reading Walkers stories. Racial discrimination is the most prominent theme in her writings, thus asking the question. Why is racially equality and gender equality important to her? What in her writings gives us the reader a better grasp on discrimination? How has her writing influenced our decisions on equal rights?
The Color Purple follows Celie, a poor and uneducated black woman in Georgia during the 1930’s and beyond. Celie is raped and impregnated by her Pa twice before the age of fourteen. Her Pa sends her children away and marries Celie off to Mr. Johnson. Celie is thus separated from her sister Nettie. Celie is taken to the home of Mr. where she is expected to care for his children and home. Nettie arrives at the Johnson home after having been raped by Pa as well. Mr. soon develops a sexual interest in Nettie, which is later rebuffed to the anger of Mr. , who sends Nettie away.
We are introduced at this point to other members of the Johnson family. Harpo, Mr. ’s son, marries a strong-willed woman named Sofia. Both Harpo and Mr. attempt to diminish Sofia into a weaker woman, they are unable to do so. After a few years of fighting, Sofia leaves Harpo. Shug Avery, a jazz singer and Mr. ’s mistress, arrives to stay with the Johnsons. Despite hostility in the beginning, Celie eventually comes to like Shug. A friendship grows and Celie begins to feel empowered about being loved and respected by Shug. Shug eventually helps Celie discover her sexuality.
Celie leaves Mr. after years of abuse and disrespect. Celie learns that both her sister, Nettie, and her children have survived and are living in Africa. The rest of the novel deals with Celie trying to get her family home to her. In the end, Celie is reunited with her kin and Celie discovers the beauty of her life and of those around her. The Color Purple has been Walkers most praised and respected work (Selzer, 1995). The central theme in the story is gender and race. In 1930’s Georgia, racism was a huge part of everyday life for African-Americans.
Slavery was still a recent memory. The characters in the story feel they are destined to encounter racial prejudices. Sofia is one of the few characters who attempt to change that idea. Gender roles also have a great deal to do with the story. The men constantly try to overpower the women. They do so by beating their women and verbally and emotionally abusing them. This inequality in the story echoes the inequality associated with race at the time. Meridian, written in 1976, deals with a student, Meridian Hill, at Saxon College, who becomes active in the Civil Rights movement.
She becomes involved with Truman Held, another activist. Truman impregnates Meridian. They have a difficult and tumultuous relationship that lasts off and on. Meridian has an abortion. Truman soon finds himself feeling more attached to Meridian and proposes marriage. Meridian declines his hand. Truman becomes involved with another woman, Lynne Rabinowitz, who is also a Civil Rights activist. The rest of the story deals with Truman attempting to achieve financial and personal success while Meridian continues to be involved with the Civil Rights movement and fighting for issues that she is passionate.
Walkers’ personal life seems to be infused throughout the story. Alice’s own husband, a Jewish activist, has spent many of his years trying to achieve the same success that Truman attempts. Walker herself seems to be the central character. Both attended college and went off to join the civil rights movement. Meridian is a tough, powerful woman who had to deal with many personal struggles associated with her race and career goals. Again, as in the Color Purple, Meridian sets racism and gender discrimination at the forefront of the story.
Walker conveys the struggles of women and the obstacles they must overcome to make a better life for themselves in a “male-centered” world (Duck, 2008). The same could be said of race. Walker has achieved the same thing with race in this story. She utilizes the Civil Rights movement as a way to accentuate racial discrimination. In Possessing the Secret of Joy, Walker continues the story began in the Color Purple. The story follows Tashi, the wife of Celie’s son Adam from Purple. Tashi was born in Olinka, the fictional town in Africa where Nettie and Celie’s children were brought.
The villagers of Olinka practice female genital mutilation. Tashi’s sister, Dura had undergone the circumcision before Tashi left for America. Dura had bled to death in front of Tashi, causing years of emotional damage. After arriving in America with her husband, Tashi becomes torn between her two cultures, both American and Olinkan. Eventually she chooses to have the circumcision. After the procedure, she sees several therapists because of the trauma she has endured and seen. She eventually finds the strength to overcome her circumstances and lead a life filled with inner peace over her sister’s death. Read about achievements of Africa before European arrival
This story, like the previous two mentioned, deals greatly with the empowerment that a woman, specifically an African-American woman, can achieve when obstacles such as discrimination are overcome. Another interesting plotline is female genital mutilation, a highly controversial topic even today. Walker has been quoted that “torture isn’t culture” (Moore, 2000). Walker has strong views about the discrimination of women. In Africa, where female circumcision is still practiced, Walker has attempted to advocate for the young who cannot advocate for themselves with this novel.
She takes a very anti-circumcision stance throughout the story, despite the central character proceeding with the operation. In Lest We Forget, Walker writes an article to the young African-American women poised to take over the next activist generation. She opens describing her childhood and enrolling in college. She moves onto meeting Martin Luther King and what that experience has had on her life. She encourages young women to take a stance on issues that pertain to them. She then moves onto discussing the election process of President Obama.
She tells her audience that Obama has taken his rightful place in history, not just for him, but also for all African-American peoples. She continues her article, imploring women of all ages to pick up activism in their daily lives. In the closing paragraphs, she says that racism and gender inequality will only be overcome when all women can stand united and firmly rise above their discriminators. The letter, which first appeared on TheRoot. com, enabled many young women to learn about Walker in her own words (Walker, 2009). Walker describes the reasons that have lead to her passionate activism with race.
Walker highlights many personal stories from her youth, her marriage, and her failed relationships since her divorce. She encourages the White House to continue to advocate and pass more laws that would allow for more provisions that would allow low-income African-Americans to rise out of poverty and take an equal place in society (Walker, 2009). The stories and Alice Walker’s life has shown her passion for making a better America and a better World. Throughout all of her writings, it is clear that she has a view that Women’s rights and Civil rights need to be improved.
She allows the reader to understand the internal monologue of an individual experiencing discrimination and relate it to the reader. In all of her writings, she attempts to attempts to highlight the affirmative power of love and family. “If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for? ” (Walker, 2009). I have read the Color Purple three times in my life. The first time I read the story, I was in high school. I had chosen the story to read because I had seen the film. It was astonishing to see how good the story was. I read the novel in less han a week, completely engrossed with the protagonist Celie. The exploration of race and what it meant to be in the South in the 1930s and beyond was something I had never read before. At first glance, the antagonist in the story would appear to be Pa and Mister. After reading the novel again in my twenties, I discovered the antagonist of the novel is not just those men, but racial discrimination and gender inequality. Celie, throughout the story is persecuted by being both a woman and being African-American. She struggles to find an identity in her world.
In Meridian, I was fascinated how honest Walkers’ character of Meridian was flawed. She has a presence and a powerful will, at the same time being perceived as overbearing and demanding. She manages to write Meridian as a caring person, seeking love and acceptance, while still maintaining a strong feminine peace of mind. I found this novel to be more of an autobiography of Walkers life than a separate piece of fictional work. Many details echoed Walkers own life for the reader not be able to make a connection to the two. Again, as in her other stories, race plays an important role.
The main difference between the Color Purple and Meridian when it comes to race is the periods in time in which they were based. If you were to read the two stories, back to back, as I have done, you would be studying the history of the reasons for the Civil Rights movement through the present sentiment in America surrounding equal rights for all. In Lest We Forget, she attempts to conclude her history of race relations in the 20th century and 21st century with her thoughts on where this country needs to go, and what a young woman can do to achieve that end.
Possessing the Secret of Joy allows the reader a vision of our present if equal rights are not given more freely to all. I cannot imagine the horrific nature of genital cutting. I live in a culture that condemns the practice, however, I understand that many cultures do not share this countries view. For anyone pondering whether it has more emotional repercussions that resonate throughout adulthood would be wise to read this story. Walker makes a very firm political statement against the issue, showing us a protagonist who will forever bear the scars, both physical and emotional of her circumcision.
In a world where racism and sexism are still around and many people are still dealing with discrimination, writers like Walker have established an outlet for women, especially younger African-American girls struggling to find an identity in this country. She has been a model for activism. She has incorporated racial tensions and sexism into all of her writings. She has demonstrated how far a woman can succeed in her career. After growing up in poverty, mired in discrimination, she followed her dreams and realized the potential of her voice in her writing. She has used this voice to advocate for women and we, the readers are better for it.
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