Each of the critics we read for today— duCille, Harris, and Gates—found fault with Alice Walker’s prolific novel, The Color Purple. Yet, as Kelly rightly pointed out, they all posses quite narrow scopes—something that I agree leads them to incomplete pictures of Walker’s text and intent. Harris’s critique of The Color Purple as necessarily bad for the “Black” image struck me not only as inherently racist, but also willfully ignorant and contrary to the common assertion in Gates’s piece that in any work, truth is paramount.
Of the first things to strike me as off-putting in Harris’s critique is the assertion that black women were unable to write successful criticism on The Color Purple because it was so beloved by white women. She writes that “the greatest irony of [Celie’s powerful voice] is that, while it makes Celie articulate, it has simultaneously encouraged silence from black women,” a comment which I find unfair. Can it really be said that Walker’s use of voice in this novel, an oppressed [black, southern] woman’s voice, has muffled response from other black women? Would it be better if Walker stifled her concept of the truth so as to better incorporate the typical black woman’s experience?
Additionally, I did not find Harris’s accusation that The Color Purple “captured in racist literature that suggested that black people have no morality when it comes to sexuality, that black family structure is weak if existent at all, that black men abuse black women, and that black women who may appear to be churchgoers are really lewd and lascivious,” at all accurate. I don’t know if it is just my reading, but this comment seems to suggest that white people are incapable, in general, of separating fact from fiction and part from whole. Walker’s novel, to me, is just an artist’s interpretation of a truth—not the “Black” truth, not women’s truth, but the truth her grandmother—her admitted inspiration— experienced. I am able to read The Color Purple, as well as many other period/ethnic pieces and discern that they are not entirely fact—like most readers, I’m inclined to believe. (Though it could be said that someone wanting to enforce their racist notions could point to Walker’s novel as “proof”; this, however, would be an extremely rare case, and an improper use of this piece.)
Even her minor points for disliking The Color Purple struck me as unusual. For instance, Harris was very critical that a woman (Celie) staying with her abusive husband, with whom she has no biological children, is not believable. This is grossly inaccurate; Celie’s situation offered her few alternatives and had by and large gotten her accustomed to the cycle of abuse that she was experiencing. Though this was not a central point in Harris’s critique, I had just learned about reasons why women stay with their abusers; it just served as another point against Harris, to be honest.
I also wanted to mention, briefly, that Harris’s view does not seem to go along with the idea that is generally agreed upon by the contributors in Gates’s piece, that truth, above all else, is essential for an author’s success. They seem to agree that betraying their view of the truth is somehow reprehensible. I personally agree with this sentiment, and I think that most readers would, as well. This brings up a question in my mind about the Harris piece—does she believe that Walker’s representation of the truth is false, or could it be that she simply does not like the truth she’s reading?