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Alice Walker, most famous for her novel The Color Purple, is the first African- American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction (Alice (Malsenior) Walker). As well as writing bestselling books, Walker is a staunch defender of human rights, racial equality, and respecting all forms of life. Her written work and political activism have made Alice Walker’s writing famous among females and African-Americans alike. Her characters are revolutionary because Walker depicts them so different than other authors of similar subject matter have. Instead of writing about broken souls and lost causes because of an unfair and racist society, Walker writes uplifting, hopeful stories and, in the case of The Color Purple, shows characters who triumph in the face of adversity. Many powerful themes such as the dominance of men, the underestimated power of women, and sexism in relation to racism appear throughout her work and have caused her to be known as one of the most powerful female authors in history.
Unlike many female African-American children growing up in Walker’s time, her family thought it very important that she seek a college education. Born in Eatonton, Georgia, Walker was the daughter of a sharecropper, a profession which many of her fictional characters also share. As one of eight children, Walker was very poor in her early life. When she was eight years old, Walker suffered a rather serious injury due to an air gun accident. Unable to obtain a car due to severe poverty, her parents could not bring her to the hospital until much later, when it was too late to salvage sight in the injured eye or prevent the noticeable scar from appearing on her face. Her self consciousness and partial blindness forced her withdraw and become a reserved child, unknowingly aiding her future career by becoming a “meticulous observer of human relationships and interaction” (Alice Walker). She began writing poetry and short stories to cope with the loneliness.
In her twenties, after receiving a scholarship, Walker got involved in the Civil Rights movement at Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence College. While boarding the bus on the way to Atlanta, a white woman complained to the bus driver because Walker was sitting in the front of the bus. After being forced to move to the back of the bus, she realized she “would never have the luxury of only writing poetry,” but she needed to also “be politically active in order to achieve enough freedom to write at all” (Alice Walker Biography).
Much of Walker’s early life issues and her experiences with civil rights movements materialize in the personalities and struggles of her characters. She writes about strong and independent characters who are vulnerable nonetheless, often touching on a central theme of “a quest for freedom” (Voices of Power: African-American Women). Her works depict emotional, physical, and psychological torment that devastated many women and people of color in the past. In the well known poem “Be Nobody’s Darling” she writes, “But be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast,” encouraging her readers to not be purely defined by who their husband happens to be, but to live their own lives.
Her work is also incredibly revolutionary because she was one of the first women to focus mainly on colored women’s struggles. She practically ignored the traditional views of feminism as liberating upper class white women from the kitchen and instead coined the term “Womanism,” specifically supporting women of color (Feminist/ Womanist Aesthetics and the Quest for Selfhood in the Black American Novel. A Special Reference to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, 13). Walker believed there was not enough literature supporting the average black woman and wrote many novels and poems about this, exploring topics such as race in relation to marriage, sexual power, and violence towards women. This subject matter resonated in many readers who seemed to have little in common, but were reassured that the discrimination they were faced with was not a personal issue, but a societal one.
Through her most well known work, The Color Purple, Walker expands on the problem of racial strife, and rape. The story follows a young, poor, black girl lacking an education held down by an abusive father. Throughout the novel, the girl, Celie, gradually realizes her worth and learns to love herself and others. Touching on so many controversial issues and exploring the idea of a character who overcomes such adversity while still managing to be strong, independent, and driven made The Color Purple a revolutionary and empowering novel. The Color Purple assures the reader that “these women may be uneducated and unappreciated, they may be abused, but they survive and they affirm themselves” (Alice (Malsenior) Walker).
Lines such as “I loves Harpo, she say. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me” (Walker, 113), are the reasons why Alice Walker’s writing had such an immediate popularity with women and African Americans around the globe. Walker educates her readers on oppression while also inspiring them to embrace womanism along with feminism. Walker’s stories continue to encourage women to be brave and powerful while allowing themselves to admit their weaknesses.
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