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Women in Alice Walker's "Everyday Use" and "Color Purple"

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At the present time, the society can enjoy many literary works which were written by talented authors. There are many themes which any reader could choose from, such as fantasy, horror, romance, and many others. The literary works that are based on the experience of the author are also very popular.

Alice Walker is an author of several literary works that are based on her own experience, ideas and beliefs (Hedges and Wendt 29). This is the reason why her books are very popular in the society. It is obvious in her works that she comes from the South. There are a lot of critics who would refer to her as a “feminist.” However, Walker insists that she be considered as a “womanist.” Her books are all created to glorify and fight for women’s place in the society. In fact, Alice Walker has her own definition of being a woman. She believes that women in the world should love other women. This means that they share each other’s pain and victories all the time. A womanist also refers to someone who appreciates the woman’s culture, as well as the emotional aspect of being a woman. The individual must also admire and respect the strength and spirit of a woman. Most of all, a woman must love herself, no matter what the circumstances are.

The main theme of Alice Walker’s Everyday Use and Color Purple is all about the lives of black women. It is also about the struggle of women with the society for their equal political, economic, and sexual rights. In other words, Alice Walker depicts the struggle of women for equality and fairness, especially in race (Groba 7).

Women in “Everyday Use”

In the time that the tale was set, the late 60s and early 70s, the black American life and identity were undergoing an extreme modification. After battling the captivity, assault, and splendor that came with ultimate freedom, Africa’s people in America progressively obtained municipal rights in the 50s and 60s. A new generation surfaced, with some willing to break away from disasters of the past and others unable to revive from the threat of hardship and inequality. Everyday Use rests on the stress created when those two concepts are confronted with one another (Walker and Christian 5). In the tale, Walker investigates the extreme, serious, sometimes militant and overstated claims that recognized some variations of the rising black consciousness. But she gives her most extreme analysis of the often fragile ties among family members.

Mama is the narrator in Everyday Use. She is a strong and loving mother of two daughters, Dee and Maggie. We can see a mother’s unconditional love for her daughters. She is sometimes honest and critical of her two daughters (Burkhardt 81). She sees Marie as shy and weak because of her limitations. On the other hand, she feels unappreciated by her other daughter, Dee. She resents the education that Dee has attained, because Dee thinks she has become superior over other women. The most important fact about Mama is how she rejected the traditional gender role assigned to her by the society (Groba 27). In order to support her two daughters, she has to transform into a masculine persona. However, even if she does not want to be confined by tradition and the norms of the society, the story depicts Mama as having a narrow view of the world (Burkhardt 101).

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Maggie is a symbol of purity. Due to the traumas gotten in a house fire when she was young, she has a scarred and unappealing physical appearance. However, she has a kind and generous character. Because of her appearance, she stays at home, at time overprotected by Mama. One can say that she remains pure because she is untouched by the outside world’s corruptions. We can see that Maggie is a weak character in the story. She is always meek and awkward when it comes to dealing with other people. She is also jealous of the life of her sister, Dee. She thinks that Dee has an easy life. In the story, we can see that Maggie shoulders the burden of both herself and her sister.  Later in the story, we can see that Maggie does have a will of her own, however, it only shows when something valuable is about to be taken from her.

Dee is the object of tension among her family members. We can see that an approval from Dee seems significant to Mama and Maggie. However, she does not really make an effort to win the approval of the two. Dee is very confident with herself and with what she can do. Mama thinks that Dee’s desire for knowledge is an assertion of her superiority over her mother and sister. We can see that Dee is very condescending towards her mother and sister.

With the character of Dee, Walker provides a challenge to individuals who ignore or, worse, reject their heritage (Lewis 29).  There are other people who try to connect themselves with the idealized Africa, instead of reflecting on the harsh experiences they have had in America. Rather than giving honor and respect to her roots, it seems that Dee looks down on everyone and everything in her environment.

Women in Color Purple

The story deals with the struggle of women in America and Africa to be recognized and treated as individuals who are equal to men. As we can see, both societies are patriarchal. This domination of the male population can take various forms. One of its forms can be sexual aggression (Bloom 21). We can see that in the first letter, when Celie tells about her suffering from a man who she believes is her father. Mary Agnes is sexually abused by a white uncle when she asks for help in order to help Sofia in getting released from prison. We will also read that Mr. Albert tries to force Nettie before she leaves the house.

Celie has been abused while growing up. She has also been told that she is ugly. So, she has become silent about her sufferings and preferred to stay invisible. The only outlet that she has is her letters to God. Due to the abuse she has experienced, she has become passive as a woman. It was the character of Shug who has helped Celie gain back all that she has lost: confidence and voice. As her letters would depict, we can see that Celie slowly becomes more confident.  The self-actualization that Celie experiences makes her a happy and independent woman in the end. After having no chance to speak out her opinions, she is finally fulfilled.

The character of Shug Avery has become the mother figure for Celie. Shug has a bad reputation in their community; however, she reminds Celie of her mother. We can see a comparison of Shug and Celie’s mother throughout the novel. Celie’s mother is confined by the traditional gender roles of women. On the other hand, Shug does not want to be dominated by anyone or even by the norms of the society. Shug is the most constant friend of Celie all through the novel.

Nettie is the younger sister of Celie. However, even though she is younger, she often protects Celie. Nettie is intellectual and values education. From her letters to Celie, we can see that she is lonely with her life.  There are a lot of people who would compare the letters of Celie and Nettie and would always say that the letters of Celie come from the heart. On the other hand, the letters of Nettie seem boring. However, we can see the difference between the two characters in this area. Celie is an ordinary woman who experiences a lot of things in her life. Nettie is an intellectual woman who wants to uplift the black people in every place (Bloom 102).

The two books are about the oppression that women experience in their daily lives in addition to the discrimination they feel because of their race. It is all about women empowerment. In Everyday Use, we can see that the mothers and daughters view women empowerment differently. Mama thinks that even as a woman she can take on the position of a man in order to support their family. On the other hand, Dee thinks that being educated would make her powerful. However, Dee also feels that she is superior to others now that she is educated. In Color Purple, we can see the oppression experienced by the two sisters. The encounters of Nettie in Africa about oppression and conflict are somehow parallel to the abuses and sufferings experienced by her sister Celie in Georgia. The two stories are all about the struggle of women in the society to be treated as equal by all means. We can learn a lot with these two stories. Alice Walker is challenging every woman to stand up for their rights and for every man to recognize a woman as an equal human being.

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