The Great Woman – Alice Walker

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Eatonton, Georgia birthed one of the most influential African American women in Black American Literature, Alice Walker. She is the mastermind behind the critically acclaimed The Color Purple and many other literary pieces. As a child, I can remember how on the weekend’s BET would play The Color Purple and I would think to myself “Oh my gosh this is boring, not again.” This was typical as I was a young child and did not understand the significance of the film. It would not be until my junior year of college where I decided to sit down and watch the film. After watching it, I wondered why I did not set aside a time to watch it years ago. It was a research paper that geared me to finally watch the film, however, I now know that the works that many boasts about, especially within the African American community, I should take the time to look at myself. Although it was bad on my end to not have watched the film earlier I did manage to learn a vast amount of information. Immediately I began my research on Walker and was astonished at all she had accomplished to make her a notary literary figure in Black American Literature. Walker’s contributions to Black American Literature are of greater importance because she became a voice for many within the African American community, especially the women (White, 2004).

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Nonetheless, her work has inspired other authors and feminists as a result of it challenging the status quo during its time. In the winter of 1944, February 9 to be exact Alice Walker was born to Willier Lee and Minnie Lou Grant Walker. She was the eighth and last child of the sharecroppers. While outside one day an older sibling accidentally shot her right eye with a BB gun. Until the age of fourteen, her eye would not be corrected. It was not corrected immediately since her parents did not have the finances for a car that was needed to aid her for immediate medical attention.

The incident caused Walker to develop low self-esteem. Her mother suggested that she take on more reading and writing and purchased a notebook to write her feelings to cope with her insecurities. Like many other African Americans in the rural south, she faced tremendous racism. She attended a school that was only designated for African Americans. The school lacked the proper resources that its counterparts were fortunate to have for their students.

However, Alice did not let this obstacle stop her from achieving success in high school. With the limited resources she graduated valedictorian of her class and earned a disabled scholarship. With her scholarship in hand, she went on to attend the Historically Black College and University, SpelmanCollege. After spending only two years at SpelmanCollegeshe transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in New York on another scholarship. Once she transferred to Sarah Lawrence College she began to be mentored by Muriel Rukeyser, a poet, and political activist. With the help of her new mentor, she was able to have some of her early works published. During a summer away from Sarah Lawrence College Walker participated on a trip to Africa which influenced her to write her first collection of poems once(1970) and many others (Sadoff, 1985). While she was writing these poems her self esteem deteriorated as she discovered that she was pregnant. The pregnancy made her feel more at the mercy of her body and suicidal. For Walker, the poems were a celebration of life because she expressed that there were many days she contemplated committing suicide. Once was of greater importance because it was completed just as her friends found an abortionist. After the publication of Once her second volume of poetry Revolutionary Petuniasappeared in 1973.

The 70s was a big deal for Walker as she began to explore and create a name for herself in fiction. Some of her notable works during this time includeThe Third Life of Grange Copeland(1970), In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women(1973), and meridian(1976). BothTheThird Life of Grange CopelandandIn Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women had somewhat similar themes, escaping cruel men. WhereasTheThird Life of Grange Copeland focuses on the main character escaping his master

In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women the main characters try to escape the men in their lives. It could be argued that these two literature pieces were the start of women empowerment or empowerment in general. Walker’sMeridianelaborated on women empowerment with the addition of sexual and racial politics of the Civil Rights Movement. Once Walker relocated to Mississippi she participated in numerous activities geared towards the equality of African Americans in America. EssentiallyMeridianbecame the holy mecca for the start of her lifetime goal?” to reorient social protest toward an Afrocentric female model (Hill, 1998). The novel is about a heroine who is torn between love and reality. One main character, Truman who is African American loves a white woman, but his reality is that he should not love her since it is not right for interracial dating. Moreover, this piece of literature would serve as the influence for her most notable work, The Color Purple. Both novels bring awareness to the African American woman and her role in life to those around her, specifically the men. The novels show the struggles that women face with being female and how it correlates to how they are treated because of their sex.

After one has read the novels they are able to understand how love, self-sacrificing, and sex can all create dysfunction. This is of greater importance because during this time there was the need for awareness to be brought to the African American community and this work would help to make an impact of Walker’s activism in female genital mutilation. It is no doubt that Walker’s TheColor Purple is one of the most important literature pieces in Black American Literature. The novel earned Walker a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 making her the first African American woman to win the Pulitzer for fiction (Robison, 2009). Walker’sTheColor Purple follows the life of an African American woman who suffers from racism, sexism, and patriarchy.

Although the novel discusses primarily racism, sexism, and patriarchy with women there is an area of the book that discusses something that often happens within the African American community. Celie’s (the main character) father was lynched because he was a successful businessman in the South, something that was uncommon. This part of the novel brings the awareness of the struggles of being African American in the South regardless if the individual is a male or female. African Americans in today’s society and past society have always received the shorter end of the stick, meaning, he/she must go the extra mile for equality. The novel captured so many aspects of the African American woman that a film followed the publishing of the novel soon after. It is for these reasons that led The Color Purple to earn the Pulitzer Prize.

Possessing the Secret of Joy is somewhat a sequel to The Color Purple and serves as the start of Walker’s activism in female genital mutilation. Walker reintroduces characters from The Color PurpleinPossessing the Secret of Joy. The novel explores the complex issues regarding female genital cutting. The novel makes readers look at physical deterioration and physical destruction of mutilated women.

Although in the story the cutting of the clitoris is a tradition, Walker disagrees with the performance due to its association with patriarchy. Since Walker identifies as a feminist is easy to understand her perspective of the tradition. Throughout the novel’s chapters address the different motifs over the performance of female genital circumcision. Moreover, both possessing the Secret of Joy and The Color Purple are similar as the protagonists are in search of their true self, reoccurring themes throughout Walker’s novels. The protagonists searching for their true self-are literal and metaphoric mirrors that allow them to transition from an experience of fragmentation to a vision of a more unified state of self-possession (Pifer & Slusser, 1998).

Alice Walker continues to be celebrated internationally as a writer, poet, and activist. Her latest works include The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way and The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers, poems. Not only has she continued to write new novels but she continues to identify herself as a feminist and an activist for a variety of things. She is a firm believer that compassion is a duty that can be learned through working for greater results.

Although she is a notary literary figure she remains humble by traveling the world to visit and learn about those who are economically, spiritually, and politically oppressed. Walker challenges society to seek change and transformation in the world. A world that remains the stationary is bound to overlook the issues in the world, thus, making the world ignorant of the misfortunes of others. Walker’s socially awaken conscience is one of the many reasons she is has become a notary literary figure. Nonetheless, Walker’s contributions to literature have made significant impacts on the African American community by becoming a household name for bringing a voice to the community that was often overshadowed.

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The Great Woman - Alice Walker. (2021, Mar 17). Retrieved February 4, 2023 , from
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