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In this essay the feminist theories of Virginia Woolf are examined and analysed, as well as connected to the famous novel The Color Purple by Alice Walker. Woolf introduces the theories of women’s economic and social freedom being crucial for women’s progression in society in her extended essay A room of one’s own. This essay explores the ideas of Woolf and draws parallels to Walker’s novel as well as gains and understanding of her Woolf’s theories, with the aid of present day studies of the matter.
Virginia Woolf writes “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction,” in her essay A room of her own. Thus Woolf begins a conundrum of ideas that women need economic and social freedom in order to progress in society and rise as equals to man. A room of one’s own does not only relate to a literal room, but also a figurative room which allows the woman a space of her own. In other words a woman’s need for independence.
“The only charge I could bring against the Fellows and Scholars of whatever the college might happen to be was that in protection of their turf, which has been rolled for 300 years in succession they had sent my little fish into hiding. ” (Woolf, Virginia. A room of one’s own. 1929:4)1Woolf’s quote represents her work’s heavy relation to the differences in higher education between men and women at the time, the latter being inferior to men’s education. This highlights Woolf’s point that women’s ideas and thoughts were oppressed by society which further suppressed women’s progress. This drives the belief that women need their freedom in order to bloom out and to empower themselves out of female secludedness. “Letting women achieve greater economic clout enables them to lobby for social change, from which flows political and legal change. ” Chelsea Follet (2017) 3Studies have been made in present day relating women’s empowerment and freedom to their economic status and how economical freedom in turn would lead to social freedom. Chelsea Follet writes in FFE that to solve social issues of women, they need their own private economy, in order to gain social freedom and in turn be a part of a working society.
Alice Walker’s famous novel The Color Purple gives us numerous examples of what Woolf’s theories are built upon. Celie and Shug Avery, the two opposites in the novel, find consolation in each other to strengthen the clear feminist thoughts in the novel. “I don’t fight, I stay where I’m told. But I’m alive. ” (Walker, Alice. The color purple. 1982:22) Celie represents all struggles of women in the novel at the time. This is a young girl who at a very tender age has given up any sort of fight for her own life to become any better, since she has experienced no happiness in her life. Celie has no freedom whatsoever, neither social or economic which many women in the 30’s did not have. As a woman Celie was expected to become a wife and a mother, who took care of the children and the household. These strict structures ruled by society did not allow for women like Celie to work to gain her economic independence. In turn, Celie had two controlling and abusive patriarchs in her life which disallowed social freedom, first her stepfather and then the man she was married off to. 2“Mr. mutter, putting on his clothes. My wife can’t do this. My wife can’t do that. No wife of mines. He go on and on. Shug Avery finally say, Good thing I ain’t your damn wife. ” (Walker, Alice. The color purple. 1982:47)
Shug Avery, on the other hand, represents a revolutionary woman for this time period. She is has characteristics that Celie: independent, strong and free in many ways. Shug Avery has work as a singer which allows her economic freedom to do what she wishes with her money. In turn, Shug is not married and thus has no man controlling her social, or for that matter, economic independence. Shug is free to go and do where and whatever she wants to. Thusly, Shug Avery fulfills the two requirements Woolf states in her essay. however, does this naturally mean that Shug is a free woman to progress as any man? One could argue that Shug Avery’s freedom comes at a great cost for she gains the dislike of many from the community in the book. As a free independent woman Shug is not admired as she should, but judged for not being like the great mass. Shug has not been helped by society to gain the freedom she has, thus the price she pays is because of the lack of involvement to make women people of their own whom are not solely the property and helpers of their husbands. Shug, much like Celie, would not have the same access to the education that Woolf deemed to important, if their fathers would not allow so, thus putting them in the same boat despite their differences.
Despite Shug having ‘A room of her own’, she still was not as free as any man and this could be blamed on the structures of society working against women. Chelsea Follet states that social freedom comes automatically as one gains economical freedom, which in turn then a radical change in structures of society at the time would be the only true way to give women an opportunity to empower themselves.
Woolf speaks of economic and social freedom as a necessity for women to progress in society to rise as equals to men. This is not enough if not it is seen as global phenomenon that changes structures in society to enable women to do this. A single woman like Shug Avery will simply not be enough to change a larger issue, even though she as a headstrong woman is a step in the right direction. However as long as there are structures working against women’s ability to empower themselves, women will never truly be free, independent or equals to men.
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