Sunday, November 15, 2009

Literary Critics Miss the Mark

When I read the series of critiques for The Color Purple that were assigned for Monday's class, I was frustrated at how much emphasis was placed on the race of the characters in the book. I personally had interpreted Alice Walker's novel as a story of woman's pain, growth, and her proclamation of freedom. To me, The Color Purple is a tale of a woman's perils, not specifically a tale of a black woman's perils.

Ann DuCille claims that The Color Purple is a "false history of tortuous gender relations." Upon reading this statement, I became angered by her ignorance. Is she claiming that the experiences of the women in this book do not really happen? Is she trying to say that the friction between men and women does not exist? It seems to me that, as a woman, she would understand the difficulties Celie faced throughout the novel, and, on some level, be able to relate to them; however, she does not. She cannot see past Celie's race. She is unable to appreicate the story for what it truly is.

Henry Louis Gates Jr. argues that a writer should focus on being honest, not what kind of writing sells the best. He also claims that books such as The Color Purple put "artistic freedom" at odds with "social responsibility," and so he admits that it is difficult to draw the line between what is a form of expression, and what is an honest work. Gates Jr. is right in saying that a writer must communicate some kind of truth through his or her writing, whether it be stated or implicit, but I disagree that the relations between men and women in The Color Purple does not contain an element of truth. Women do experience brutality and abuse by the hands of men. To deny that as truth is either a result of a man's denial or shame.

Trudier Harris, another critic, also seems to miss the mark in my opinion. She says that The Color Purple received "excessive media attention" and "reinforced racist stereotypes." Personally, I don't believe that this book was about race at all, or maybe it would have been called "The Color Something Else." I think that it is truly a statement about women, and an encouragement to break free from mysogynism. I believe that Alice Walker wanted to inspire women everywhere to bond over their femininity, and to help one another to develop into a stronger force; not to ostracize men as being ferocious or bestial.

There are men who are portrayed in a positive light, for example, Samuel and Jack, who are depicted as being sweet and helpful people. They are not abusive and self-serving like Mr. ________ and Celie's stepfather. Although the pain Celie endures throughout the novel is typically by the hands of men, I believe that this was artistically a device for the empowerment of women. The Color Purple is a more of a statement on the strength that can be associated with womanhood, and the ability to overcome painful situtions in one's life. The critics that we read for Monday's class seem to have missed the mark, and it pains me to see that they are unable to get beyond Celie's race to admire the beauty of her transformation.

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