Best known for her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Color Purple, Alice Walker portrays black women struggling for sexual as well as racial equality and emerging as strong, creative individuals. Walker was born on February 9, 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia, the eighth child of Willie Lee and Minnie Grant Walker. When Walker was eight, her right eye was injured by one of her brothers, resulting in permanent damage to her eye and facial disfigurement that isolated her as a child. This is where her feminine point of view first emerged in a household where girls were forced to do the domestic chores unaided by the brothers.
Throughout her writing career, Alice Walker has been involved in the black movement and displays strong feelings towards the respect black women get. In 1961, Walker entered Spelman College, where she joined the Civil Rights Movement. Two years after graduating in 1965, she married Melvyn Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer; afterward, they worked together in Mississippi, registering blacks to vote. In the summer of 1968, she went to Mississippi to be in the heart of the civil-rights movement, helping people who had been thrown off farms or taken off welfare roles for registering to vote.
In New York, she worked as an editor at Ms. Magazine, and her husband worked for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. In 1970, Walker published her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, about the ravages of racism on a black sharecropping family. In Meridian, 1976, her second novel, she explored a woman s successful efforts to find her place in the Civil Rights Movement. She read much of Flannery O Conner’s work and greatly admired her. For one thing, O Conner practiced economy. According to Herbert Mitgang of the New York Times, She also knew that the question of race was really just the first question on a long list (1983).
Much of Walker s writings are very personal. For example, one of her first books once was written during a time in which she was pregnant and suicidal and it described how she had an abortion and dealt with all of its after effects. Unlike many other authors, she is not afraid to write about very personal experiences she has had. Since the beginning of her writing career, she has written sixteen books, including five novels, several collections of essays, short stories, children s books, and poems.
Charles Truehearth of The Washington Post writes, She has discussed such topics as spousal abuse, fear of death, female sexuality, and incest (1991). Walker is very much of a feminist, which is demonstrated by the previous quote. According to David Bradley of The New York Times, She coined the term womanist which she used to describe the Black women s issues that are at the heart of so much of her work (1984). One of the major themes that she had incorporated within several of her writings was the difference between black and white authors, along with the Women s Movement.
She contemplated the fact that black women had been suppressed for so long that they would never know what kind of great artists they may have lost during all the times while there was slavery. This is what the short story In Search of Our Mother s Gardens discusses. The title has a special meaning because Walker is referring to her own mother. In this work, she discusses all the talents of older black women writers such as Phyllis Wheatley and Zora Neal Hurston. What she is referring to in the title is her own mother s talent in art and gardening.
She talks about how well known her mother was for her gardening skills that even strangers would stop and admire her handiwork. She points out the fact that it was so beautiful that her childhood, which was filled with poverty and sadness, was made a little more bearable because of it. When she thinks back on it, all she remembers is the beautiful neighborhood, and has a talent for bringing beauty to the forefront. The fact is though she was never given the opportunity to explore it like she may have been had she been a white woman in America.
Walker expresses her view on women in the following way: Exquisite butterflies trapped in an evil honey, toiling away their lives in an era, a century, that did not acknowledge them, except as the mule of the world. They dreamed dreams that no one knew not even countryside crooning lullabies to ghosts, and drawing the mother of Christ in charcoal on courthouse walls (In Search of Mothers Gardens, Walker). This representation of the women during this time in the eighteenth and nineteenth century is so personal and so emotional to her that she devoted much of the rest of her life to writing about it and defending women s rights.
She was involved in the Black Nationalist movement in the 1960 s. This was a political and social movement in the 1960 s and early 1970 s. Maria Lauret writes in her book, Alice Walker, The Black Movement, with which she still identified, was split on questions of anti-Semitism, integration, class, region, religion, and increasingly, sex (1999). It sought to acquire economic success among members of the African American community and an eventual creation of an African American Nation. This was directly opposed to the assimilation of the blacks onto an American nation, which was predominately white.
The black nationalists also sought to maintain and promote separate identity as people of an African ancestry. According to Brittanica On-Line, Many of the slogans they still use are of pride among African Americans (Black Nationalism). Currently she is supportive of the black advancement in a white society; however, her feminist views are cross-cultural. This caused a lot of conflict within the black community when her third book The Color Purple was released. It was a great success which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983, and it made Walker a financially secure woman.
It has been translated into 22 languages and has sold over four million copies. The novel covers the period between the World Wars, telling the story of two sisters, one a missionary in Africa, the other a child-wife living in the South. They sustain each other, and themselves, through a series of letters. However, many critics have objected to its representation of black men. The main problem is its representation of the husband, who was extremely violent and abusive, which some think seemed to represent the whole of the Black American manhood.
Astrid Roemer, a journal writer believes that Many of the critics think that it hurt the black movement more than it helped because of how she depicted the black man (Journal of African-American and African Arts and Letters, p. 294). This interpreted his character as a composite of black men in general, but she was even more disappointed about the public s response to The Color Purple in that people said, this doesn t happen. What was really upsetting was the lack of empathy for the woman in Walker s story. However, womanism, in Alice Walker s definition, is not just different from feminism; it is better.
She believes that part of her tradition as a black woman is that they are universalists. Black children, yellow, red, or brown children, that is the black woman s normal, day-to-day relationship. In her family alone, they are about four different colors. According to the book Alice Walker by Winchell, Gates Jr. , and Appiah, When a black woman looks at the world, it is so different. When she looks at the people in Iran they look like kinfolk. When she looks at the people in Cuba, they look like her uncles and nieces (1993).
Overall, Walker has been a very influential author throughout the black community, and her audiences are very much interracial. Although many of the criticisms are controversial over her view of black men, through this research it is concluded that the depiction cannot be narrowed down to black men. She was merely describing the kind of man who had the potential and who was abusive. Not suprisingly, most of the controversy streams from the fact that there aren t other black male characters portrayed to counteract the depiction of the abuser.
This perceived imbalance however doesn t mean that she is focusing all her anger towards black males, she is merely trying to illustrate topics that people know are true yet perhaps unwilling to admit it. Another good argument is that it seems as though critics are trying to force her to choose between her support for the black community and her support for the feminist movement, and she won t do that for them. She is equally supportive of both, and that is a very admirable quality. Alice Walker was a very personal author who was not afraid to show or hide anything in the struggle against racism and support for black women.