Chapter 1 Loss of Female Identity
1.1 A State of Submission as a Result of Physical Abuse
From the perspective of biology,it is clear that men are born with a strongerbody than women,which provides men with the advantage of physical force thatwomen do not have.Therefore,they think that women are weaker than them and thusthey can do whatever they want to women,including physical violence and spiritualabuse.As the victim of men’s power,women’s body becomes a tool at the mercy ofmen.Men can vent their spleen and anger on women at their disposal,or show theirmale power without any reason.Over time,this kind of continuous deprivation ofbody and freedom not only enforces a tragic life on women,but also throws womeninto a state of submission.
In the story of The Color Purple,our protagonist,Celie grows up in a largereconstituted family with her mother,stepfather,and other families.After hermarriage,she becomes the stepmother of four children and has a husband like herstepfather.In these two families,both Celie and other women surrounding her sharethe similar experiences of abuse by men.The enduring pain makes them submissiveand has no will to fight.They are a group of women who are deprived of human rights,and also lose their female identity.
1.2 A Sense of Inferiority Caused by Patriarchal System
Since men have controlled women’s body at the advantage of physical strength,they set up a whole patriarchal system to make sure that their superiority will not bechallenged.They regard themselves as the center,while women the edge.As Simonede Beauvoir stated:“History has shown that men have always held all the concretepowers;from patriarchy’s earliest times they have deemed it useful to keep woman ina state of dependence;their codes were set up against her;she was thus concretelyestablished as the Other.”(Beauvoir,1961:167)Instead of living as an independenthuman being,women become slaves who are subordinate to men,whose identities arebound up with patriarchy---daughters of fathers,wives of husbands and sisters ofbrothers.These men form a strong patriarchal system where men represent for thehighest superiority,and make rules that women have to obey.Under this circumstance,women’s awareness of female identity is stripped and replaced by inferiority.
At first,in a context where men rule over,women lose their right to free speech,which causes them being completely voiceless,unable to articulate their true state.The standard for a good woman in a patriarchal society is expected to be submissiveand remain silent.Men do not care about what women think about and women darenot speak out their ideas as well.Their long-term silence leads to the loss of discoursepower which will cause women’s loss of self-consciousness and identity.
Chapter 2 Exploration of Female Identity
2.1 Taking the Initiative of the Body
The oppression of women in the traditional patriarchal society is first manifestedas sexual exploitation and suppression.On the one hand,women’s bodies are alwaysregarded as tools for the needs of men’s sexual desire.As women,they do not havethe autonomy of their own bodies.And on the other hand,women should be ashamedof their own sexual desire.Under the restrictions of male values,women areconsidered to be innocent and not have strong sexual desires as men do.A goodwoman is separate from sex but has the capacity of reproduction,like the highlyrespected Virgin Mary who can have a baby but without having sex.Therefore,if awoman wants to save herself and launch a revolt against the patriarchal society thatoppresses her,she must take the first step by solving the problem of men’s sexualoppression on her.
In the novel,Celie’s liberation of sexuality makes contribution to let her insideamazing power come out and make her confront her body without any guilt or shame.“Starting from understanding the body,Celie,the protagonist of the novel,changesfrom passive to active,from a slave-like housewife to an independent entrepreneur,thus completing her salvation”.(Ma Chunli,2012:116)For a long time,Celie’s bodyhas always been a tool for men.The long-lasting sexual oppression on her makes herhate men both psychologically and physically.When she goes to church,she neverlooks at a man.And in her eyes,men are frogs.Therefore,it is not practical for Celie to develop a free and equal sexual relationship with a man.
2.2 Seeking Equality Against the Control of Men
According to Rich,homosexuality among women will indeed“help women gaina source of knowledge and power”and allow them to“share a rich inner life and uniteagainst male tyrants”.(1989:39)And womanists advocate spiritual comfort amongwomen,whose mutual love and concern act as a bridge to the womanist concept ofacting grown up and being grown up.Women concern and support each other,sharingtheir pain and sorrow mutually,which eventually lead to their liberation from theyoke of male dominance.Under the influence of female bonding,especially with thehelp of Sofia,Shug and Nettie,Celie gets rid of the control of her stepfather,the falseGod and her husband.She not only gets her voice be heard,but also forms a firmbelief on herself.Changing from an inferior mule to an independent woman,Celiewalks out from the patriarchal family and tries to live equally as men.
The first man whom Celie needs to get rid of is Pa.As stated earlier,Celie feelsso guilty after being raped that she makes confession in the letter:“I am I have alwaysbeen a good girl.”(Walker,2003:1)The reason why she uses“I have been”instead of“I am”is that she thinks that she does something wrong and this turns her into a badgirl,although she does not know what is happening to her.But from what otherpeople’s reaction to her,especially the words of her Pa and mother,she believes thatshe is a sinner to God now.
Chapter 3 Attainment of Female Identity................................54
3.1 Realization of Self-value Through Economic Independence.........................55
3.2 Achievement of Self-contentment with Emotional Maturity.........................60
3.3 Obtainment of Self-affirmation by Mutual Understanding with Men...........65
Chapter 3 Attainment of Female Identity
3.1 Realization of Self-value Through Economic Independence
For thousands of years,women’s talents and rights have been overwhelmed bysecular prejudices.The religious rules,laws and regulations which are set up bypatriarchal society and limited economic conditions have been a stumbling block tothe development of women’s full abilities.Society used to be men’s area.And womenwere constrained at home,where all the work by women is forced and for the benefitsof men.Therefore,women have no space to display their talents.Once women walkinto the society and get rid of the bondage of men,they would not be constrained tohousehold labor,but have the opportunity to open their eyes to a wider world andfully realize their potential.In fact,if women are given the right space andopportunities,they can make a career as successful as men with the maximum use oftheir intelligence.They still work,but not for men,but for themselves and the peoplethey love.They can make a living all by themselves without relying on anypatriarchal support,which contributes a lot for women to realize their value and formtheir confidence about their female identity.
After her awakening,Celie gets rid of marriage and family bondage and runsaway from home,but how can such a woman live by herself in this male-dominatedsociety?Like Nora who also runs out of her husband’s house without any preparation,she“has only two options:to fall into degradation or to return home...She would stillneed something more substantial that could go in her purse;to be blunt,she wouldneed money...money(or to put it more elegantly,economic means)is crucial”.(LuXun,1924:1219)Therefore,money,or material things,is imperative for a woman tostart a new life.Similarly,Virginia Woolf,the feminist pioneer,wisely pointed outthat in order to become a writer,it was essential for a woman to own“a room of herown and five hundred a year”.(Woolf,1989:102)That is to say,if a woman wants tolive with dignity and self-determination in society,the first thing that she has to dealwith is to find a way to meet her physical needs.
According to Mary Helen Washington(1979,145),“the true sympathy AliceWalker has for the oppressed women comes through in all her writing.Raising an ax,crying out in childbirth or abortion,surrendering to a man who is oblivious to her realname---there are the kinds of images which must appear in Ms.Walker’s ownwriting.”In other words,Walker,through her whole life,pays close attention to blackwomen’s plight and their struggle for freedom,and makes great contribution to theawakening and fulfillment of black women’s identity which proves to be an crucialpart of their liberation.
Initiated by Alice Walker,womanism theory has exerted great influence inliterary criticism.Closely concerned with colored women’s plight and aiming to helpthem obtain their freedom and equality,womanism lays much emphasis on femalebonding which plays a crucial part in colored women’s identity construction in apatriarchal and racist society.More importantly,different from radical feminism andblack feminism,womanism does not regard men as women’s enemy and endeavors toconstruct a harmonious gender relationship between men and women.Walker comesup with an ideal world where men and women are no longer in opposite camps butlive in a harmonious world with no oppression,exploitation,and miseries.That iswhat Alice Walker aims to achieve through her ideology of womanism,“the survivalwholeness of the entire people,male and female.”(Walker,1983:xi)