Monday, November 16, 2009

Collective Truth

Reading three articles which analyze to some extent Walker’s The Color Purple was especially interesting after already having a class discussion on the novel. It seems like the major complaint leveled against the novel was that it perpetuated myths about the black population, whether it be the stereotype of black male as sexual abuser, black churchgoers as hypocritical and generally unchristian, or of black woman’s inability to stand up to male dominance. The section that was most interesting to me came in Harris’ piece, where she talks about her classroom of students and the way in which they perceived the novel. She writes that “students did not conclude that this was a particular depiction of particular black people in a specific black community; rather, they concluded that this was a large and representative slice of black life, U.S.A.” (Harris 158). A direct contrast to Harris’ discussion with her class was the discussion our own class held last week, where it was generally understood that Walker’s novel was in no way representative of the black community, but was rather a specific story with parallels to the stories of any oppressed people, but in no way a generalization or stereotype. Regardless, Harris’ point has a certain truth to it: when thinking of my history of education from middle school until now, the majority of black women authors that have been assigned portray black men in very similar ways. Not to say that simply because they are black they should reject their identity as women, but it is rather the fact that it is only the black feminist authors that gain appreciation from the white community that may be troubling to the perception of the black community through white eyes. To this I have two responses: the first is illuminated in part by Collier’s response in Gates’ essay: “I believe that the longer we give one damn about how whites see us and portray us, the longer we will remain mentally enslaved” (Gates 321). In other words, the amount of critical acclaim whites give the book shouldn’t be an issue for the black community: the majority population will never quite understand or read black literature in quite the same way or for the same reasons that the black community will. However, Collier believes The Color Purple is a poor portrayal of blacks for the black community. To this, my second response has to come directly from Harris: “In classroom discussion, I discovered that The Color Purple is one of the most provocative works that can be offered to students” (158). Although Harris finds fault in this because the student’s understanding of the novel and of the black community is based on the teacher’s ability to teach the novel correctly, one might argue that it is exactly for this reason that the book should be read. Surely the book will be misunderstood, and surely some people will read the novel as representative of the entire black community, but it is a slice of Afro-American fiction and Feminist fiction that still needs to be heard. Every voice deserves a chance to be heard, because they make up a collective truth about society on the whole. In other words, one cannot read The Color Purple and call it the whole truth of the black community, but it is one side and one voice in a chorus of many voices of different pitch and tone that together make up the collective truth that is black literature.

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