WOMANIST CONSCIOUSNESS AND EMANCIPATION IN ALICE WALKER’S THE COLOR PURPLE AND MARIAMA BA’S SO LONG A LETTER


WOMANIST CONSCIOUSNESS AND EMANCIPATION IN ALICE WALKER’S THE COLOR PURPLE AND MARIAMA BA’S SO LONG A LETTER  

ABSTRACT

This study examined “Womanist Consciousness and Emancipation in Mariama’ Ba’s SoLong aLetter and Alice Walker’s The Color Purplein societies in which male oppression, exploitation and patriarchy are dominant. Thus, using Womanism as the theoretical framework, the study examined the issues of oppression, exploitation and slavery as well as the different steps taken by these women to liberate and emancipate themselves from these shackles of oppression. The study observed that female oppression, exploitation, slavery and sexual abuse are rooted in the tradition, culture and religious customs of the African and African American societies controlled by men. In other words, women are exposed to various forms of oppressions which are considered to be part of the tradition and customs of their various societies. Such forms include: polygamy, sexual abuse and victimization of women, slavery and are treated even as goods to be sold as observed in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Mariama Ba’s So Long A Letter. The study has also observed that female identity and self emancipation sterns from female-self consciousness and gender bonding as seen in the two novels under study. The study concluded that collective consciousness is a unifying tool for fighting oppression against women. And that, women regain their identity and self emancipation through folk unity, bonding and recognition of their plight in society that is controlled by men. With this, they can fight and regain their lost status.     

TABLE OF CONTENT

Title page - - - - - - - - - i

Declaration---------ii

Certification - - - - - - - - - iii

Dedication - - - - - - - - - iv

Acknowledgement--------v

Abstract - - - - - - - - - vii

Table of content --------viii

CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION

1.1Background to the Study------1

1.2 Statement of the Problem - - - - - - 5

1.3 Aims and Objectives - - - - - - - 6

1.4 Methodology - - - - - - - - 7

1.5 Scope of the Study - - - - - - - 7

1.6 Significance of the Study - - - - - - 7

1.7Theoretical Framework------8

1.8 Bio-data of the Authors - - - - - - 10

CHAPTER TWO: REVIEW OF RELATED LITERATURE 

2.1Review of Mariama Ba’s So Long A Letter----12

2.2 Review on Alice Walker’s The Color Purple - - - - 16

CHAPTER THREE

3.0 Women Oppression and Quest for Self-Emancipation in Mariama Ba’s 

SoLong A Letter-------19

3.1 Women Oppression in Mariama Ba’s So Long A Letter - - 19

3.2 Female Quest for Identity and Self-Emancipation in 

Mariama Ba’s So Long A letter - - - - - 24

3.3Language in Ba’s So Long A Letter -----28

CHAPTER FOUR

4.0 Female Oppression, Identity and Self Assertion 1n Alice Walkers 

the Color Purple-------30

4.1 Introduction--------30

4.2 Female Oppression and Gender Inequality - Celie and Alphonso - 30

4.3 Portraiture of Women in Walkers the Color Purple - - - 36

4.4 Identity and Self Actualization in Walkers The Color Purple - 36

4.5 Style/Language Use In Alice Walker’s  The Color Purple - - 41

CHAPTER FIVE: SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION

5.1Summary--------43

5.2 Conclusion - - - - - - - - 45

5.3Recommendation -------46

Works Cited - - - - - - - - 48

CHAPTER ONE

INTRODUCTION

1.1 Background to the Study 

The concept of literature as a mirror of society is to a large extent true, therefore, writers write to expose, in stack details, several ills which plague society and mar its smooth relationship between and among different social sectors. Accordingly, literary writers, on this note, write to project, portray and represent society as it is and sometimes proffer solutions. Some of the issues considered by literary writers may include, post colonial disillusionment, social problems, corruption, economic exploitation, as well as gender inequality, exploitation, oppression and racism. Women’s place in society has received a lot of discussions in contemporary studies. In literature, women’s representation by men is observed and criticized with feminist approach, (Louis 48).

Like most literature around the world, African literature also portrays women in different shades. Incomplete and inaccurate female characters littered early African works like Achebe’s Things Fall Apart.Other literature, for instance, African American literature, African literature was first written by men. Educated African men not only come from patriarchal society, but were educated by colonizers, who also come from patriarchal society. Some feminist critics say that male francophone African writers routinely portray their female characters in the stereotype of an oppressed and subjugated wife who has little or no say in shaping her destiny or changing the system that deprives and oppresses her      (Irele 26).

Feminist critics argue that male writers depict female characters as defined by their relationships to men – someone’s daughter or wife, or mother, shadowy figure who hover on the fringes of the plot, suckling infants, cooking, plating their hair…they fall into a specific category of female stereotypes of…men appendages and prostitutes or courtesans (Irele,125). Irele further stresses that female characters have not their own identity of story to be told or celebrated. But they are always portrayed as less heroic than men and in periphery. Irele posits therefore that: 

Black male writers portray women as “passive” mothers with neither personality nor character or problems, accepting their condition and thus exhibiting no spirit of revolt or freedom. Male writers routinely portray “voiceless, resigned and docile women (Irele,125).

But still in some cases, as a stereotype, the idea of an “African dilemma” is therefore with representation of women in specific ways. African women have to choose between being true to their traditional culture and embracing colonizing western culture, and having equal rights is an interesting one.

The study of  women characters portrayed in African colonized literature is an interesting one in that, one can know human nature of colonizing, marginalizing or making other race, gender, religion vulnerable to oppression. Furthermore, critic Florence Stratton argues that “Gendered identity in Africa has a hot bed of ideological and narrative contestation. While colonial constructions of the African female were generally essentialist and negative in character, early post colonial African literature also ironically deployed essentialism and rigid gender binaries to portray African womanhood, thus prompting a challenge of both by female African writers of the first generation (Stratton 16). However, in a significant twist, second generation Nigerian women writers were to restore the related tropes of wifehood and motherhood to the front burner” (Stratton 16). In a further note, Florence  Stratton argues that gender biases arise, primarily from the portraiture of women in literature. She further posits that, the dearth of African and western literary genres that support the woman’s participation in the (re)creation and maintenance of societal vision provides evidence of her silencing and apparent invisibility in Africa’s encounter with the West (18). Stratton’s participation is more overt in the post colonial arena. Although African writers did not exclude her from the emerging culture that impressed African experience for a largely external readership, her portrayal became problematic in the contemporary setting which devised rules for her participation in the new dispensation. This seems a minor problem except that the task of reassuring the African woman’s presence was left to western educated African men who, themselves, were inadequately inscribed in the new dispensation. Burdened with the responsibility for self reclamation and the risk of a lost homeland, a significant number of early writers overtly articulated the African male (Stratton 16).

Although feminism claimed as its goal the emancipation of all women from sexist oppression, it failed to take into consideration the peculiarities of Black females and men of colored. In practice, feminism concentrated on the needs of middle class white women in Britain and America while posing as the movement for the emancipation of women globally.  Patricia Collins contends that: Even though Black women intellectuals have long expressed a unique feminist consciousness about the intersection of race and class in structuring gender, historically, we have not been full participants in white feminist organizations (7).

Bell Hooks also accuses feminism of excluding Blacks from participating fully in the movement. Thus, she criticizes Betty Friedan’s The Feminist Mystique because though it is herald as paving the way for contemporary feminist movement, it is written as if the Black/lower class women did not exist. In Hook’s opinion, racism exists in the writings of white feminist, and as a result, female bonding is difficult in the face of ethnic and racial differences (144).

Hence, the deficiencies of feminism as practiced by middle class white women and the need to evolve a theory or an ideology that caters specifically for the needs of Black women folk later led to the development of another variant of feminism called Womanism, a term coined by Alice Walker in her collection of essays titled: In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens: Womanist Prose (1983). Thus, in a general context, womanism establishes aesthetics for the Black female literary experience. According to Alice Walker, womanist is: 

A black feminist or feminist of color…A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or non- sexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility, (values tears as a natural counter balance of laughter) and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or non-sexually committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. Not a separatist, except periodically for health. Traditionally Universalist…loves music. Loves dance. Loves the moon. Loves the spirit. Loves struggle. Loves the folk. Loves herself. Regardless, womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender. (xi-xii)

Therefore, womanism differs from feminism because it recognizes the triple oppression of Black women wherein racial, classist and sexist oppression are identified and fought against by womanists, as opposed to the feminism main concern with sexist oppression.

Accordingly, this study examined Womanist consciousness and emancipation in Mariama’ ba’s So Long a Letter and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

1.2 Statement of the Problem

Female exploitation and sexual violence meted out to women generate the concept of gender inequality in society. This gender biases lead, undoubtedly to many other gender-related issues such as economic independence, sexual exploitation, political biases and gender discrimination, among others. Accordingly, this research examines the above gender problems as well as the struggle to achieve consciousness and emancipation in Mariama ba’s So Long a Letter and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

1.3 Aims and Objectives

The aims and objectives of this study include:

i. To examine the aspects of female oppression and exploitation in society as seen in ba’s So Long a Letter and Walker’s The Color Purple;

ii. To examine female portraiture in both works.

iii. To examine education and gender bonding as viable tools for achieving female self consciousness and emancipation as observed in Mariama’ ba’s So Long a Letter and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.

iv. To examine the struggle by women to establish self consciousness and emancipation as evident in So Long a Letter and The Color Purple; and

v. To examine the use of language and literary device in both works.  

1.4 Methodology

For the purpose of this study, Mariama’ Ba’s So Long a Letter and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple constitute the primary sources of data collection from which analysis of female oppression, exploitation and their subsequent quest for self consciousness and emancipation is made. Furthermore, since the research is library-based, books, journal articles, reviews and book chapters formed the secondary source of data from which information were obtained to enhance the contents of the research. Additionally, materials from the internet were also retrieved to enrich the information content of the study.

1.5 Scope of the Study

This study seeks to primarily concentrate attention on Mariama’ ba’s So Long a Letter and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple with focus on female oppression and exploitation and the women’s subsequent quest for achieving self consciousness and emancipation. It also considers language and the literary devices used by both authors. However, the primary scope of this study is limited to the achievement of self consciousness and emancipation in the two works under study.

1.6 Significance of the Study

Education constitutes the tool for awareness and liberation especially for women folk. Accordingly, the significance of this study lies in its overall contribution to scholarship. In this regard, researchers in literature in general and those of gender studies in particular are likely to benefit from this research. Furthermore, those who may want to research using the framework of feminism or gender relations within literature will also benefit from this research. 

1.7 Theoretical Framework

This research adopts Gender studies of literature as its theoretical framework. Gender studies is a field for interdisciplinary study, devoted to gender identity and gender representation as central categories of analysis. This theory embodies women’s studies (concerning women, feminism, gender, and politics), and men’s studies. This theory studies gender and sexuality in the fields of literature, language, history, political science, sociology, anthropology as well as media studies, (Krijnen and Bauwel 122).

The theory also analyses how race, ethnicity, location, class, nationality and disability intersect with the categories of gender and sexuality (Healey 28). Similarly, women and Gender studies emphasizes feminist and social justice which focus on agency, social responsibility, advocacy and activism. It also fosters the understanding of the interconnectedness of systems and structures of gender, race, class, sexuality, age, ability, culture, religion and nation within broader historical, social, global and transactional contents (Healey 28). Again, regarding gender, Simone de Beauvoir observes that “one is not born a woman, one becomes one” (6).

This view proposes that in gender studies or discourse, the term “gender” should be used to refer to the social and cultural constructions of masculinities and feminities and not to the state of being male and female in its entirety. In other words, gender is different from sex. Sex refers only to the biological reality of male or female, whereas, gender deals with socially constructed roles which can change. Therefore, in principle, there is nothing wrong with distinguishing between the biological reality and the cultural or personal expression of masculinity and feminity (de Beauvoir 13).

Furthermore, those promoting the mainstream gender perspective argue that all social differences between men and women are the results of oppressive stereotypes and should be eliminated so that men and women would participate in every activity of society in statistically equal numbers. While it is true that stereotypes have in the past prevented some from achieving their full potentials, it is also true that there are real differences between men and women, particularly as regards motherhood and fatherhood. These differences affect the free choices of women and men and even when stereotypes and sex-based restrictions are eliminated, women and men cannot be expected to achieve statistical equality (Stratton 16).

The history of gender theory looks at the different perspectives of gender. This discipline examines the ways in which historical, cultural, and social events shape the role of gender in different societies. The field of gender, while focusing on the differences between men and women, also looks at sexual differences and less binary definitions of gender categorization (Stratton 16).

Accordingly, this theory is applied to the study and analysis of Mariama’ ba’s So Long a Letter and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple in order to understand and appreciate gender identity and struggle to secure womanist consciousness and emancipation in the entire women folk.

1.8 Bio-data of the Authors

Mariama’ ba

Mariama’ ba was born in Dakar, Senegal, in 1929 into an educated and well-to-do Senegalese family, where she grew up. ba had her early education at Rufisque teacher training college where she won the first prize in the entrance examination and entered the Ecole Normale Institute. In this institution, she was prepared for a career as a school teacher. Mariama’ ba assumed her career as a school teacher where she taught from 1947 – 1959, before being transferred to the Regional Inspectorate of teaching as an educational inspector. ba was a novelist, teacher and feminist, active from 1979 – 1981 in Senegal, West Africa.

Therefore, ba’s source of determination and commitment to the feminist cause stemmed from her background, her parent’s life and her schooling. Indeed, her contribution is of absolute importance in modern African studies since she was among the first to illustrate the disadvantaged position of women in African society. Her works include: So Long a Letter (1981), Scarlet Songs (986), and La fonction Politique des littéreratures Africanes ecrites (The Political Function of African Written Literature) (1981). ba died on 17 August, 1981 (Wikipedia).

Alice Walker

Alice Walker is an African American novelist, short story writer, poet, essayist and activist. Her most famous novel, The Color Purple was awarded Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1983. Walker’s creative vision is rooted in the economic hardship, racial terror, and folk wisdom of African American life and culture.

Alice Malsenior Walker was born in Eatanton on Friday 9 September, 1944. She was the eighth and youngest child of Menie Tallulah Grant and Willie Lee Walker who were sharecroppers. Walker attended Eatanton Elementary School. She cultivated and nurtured the passion for reading and writing poetry in solitude. In 1961, Walker left for Spelman College, a prominent school for black women in Atlanta, on a state scholarship. During the two years she attended Spelman, she became active in the civil rights movement. After transferring to Serah Lawrence College in New York, Walker continued her studies as well as her involvement in civil rights. Her works include: The Color Purple (1982), The Third Life of Grange Cope-Land (197), Meridian (1976), among others.

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WOMANIST CONSCIOUSNESS AND EMANCIPATION IN ALICE WALKER’S THE COLOR PURPLE AND MARIAMA BA’S SO LONG A LETTER



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