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Since the transatlantic slave trade dating to the early fifteenth century, African Americans have suffered through prejudice. In 1970, African American author Alice Walker opens the discussion of feminine power within her community. In The Third Life of Grange Copeland, Alice Walker explores the ideology of womanism through controversial diction, varying point of views, and a dismal atmosphere.
Walker opens her novel with the usage of provocative diction that provides an in-depth image of oppression and its effect on women throughout the United States during the early 1900’s.
The oppression of African American women inspires the movement of womanism, an idea similar to feminism. Walker utilizes word choice to reveal the power that the female characters possess. In the novel, Brownfield’s mother screams “… her f***ing him!” (Walker 20). Rather than portraying the abused as only victims to their husbands, Walker gives them a voice. Their actions come across as rebellious, as Brownfield’s mother uses profanity in the presence of her child.
The strong word choice calls attention to the feminine power. Considering the lack of control in their families and relationships with their husbands, they dominate what they have power over. In contrast, Walker exhibits the immense power that men held during this time. Men often took control of families to an overwhelming extent. Throughout the novel, husbands abused their wives to display their abilities: “… commanding their uninhibited attention” (Walker 40). Society during this era gave men a sense of authority over women. Walker uses provocative diction with the description of their actions.
In this context, males command the attention of their female counterparts. When considering the idea of womanism and feminism, this word choice illustrates the hierarchy of genders with males at the top.
Through a third person viewpoint, Walker focuses on representation of African American women in society. With the initial perspective of a young Brownfield, the author provides an image of women that follow the standards of the sharecropping society. To set the scene, Walker provides male characters with demeaning thoughts of women. Brownfield’s thoughts are described as, “he thought his mother was like their dog in some ways. She didn’t have a thing to say that did not in some way show her submission to his father” (Walker 5). Through the eyes of the son, the silence is a result of her defeat. This view of a male contributes to the sexism in this society. These characters represent the male centered society of when this novel was released. However, Walker utilizes this subsequently to show the power in the female’s defiant thoughts and actions. Rather than falling victim to these principles, they retaliate with their own personal developments: “It seemed to Brownfield that one day she was as he had always known her; kind, submissive, smelling faintly of milk; and the next day she was a wild woman looking for frivolous things, her heart’s good times, in the transient embraces of strangers” (Walker 24). With the betterment of themselves, they challenge the submissive stereotype. In response to their abuse, Walker creates strong characters who celebrate their natural contribution in society. The author’s use of third person narration allows the audience to understand the overarching meaning of their actions.
The realistic imagery engulfs the audience into a portrayal of the environments. This literary device paints the image of the female responsibility in society. Rather than focusing on only the abuse of from their husbands and their victimization to society, Walker gives them a higher purpose: “His mother left him each morning with a hasty hug and a sugartit, on which he sucked through wet weather and dry, across the dusty clearing or miry, until she returned. She worked all day pulling baits for money. Her legs were always clean when she left home and always coated with mud and slime of baits when she came back” (Walker 6). Through strong description, this woman is portrayed as both a caring mother and a provider for the family. The mud coated on her legs provides an image of the hard work she put into her job. Walker executed the extra descriptor words to immerse the reader into the novel and its meaning. One of the most memorable scenes of the novel wraps together the idea of womanism: “What Ruth remembered now with nausea and a feeling of cold dying, was Mem lying faceless among a scattering of gravel in a pool of blood, in which were scattered all around her head like a halo, a dozen bright yellow oranges that glistened on one side from the light. … They were looking at the oranges and at the peppermint sticks and at everything. It occured to Ruth sadly that there really was no Santa Clause. She was Santa Clause. Mem” (Walker 161). The narration uses the senses to describe the scene of the murder victim.
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