There are many different types of authors in the world of literature, authors of horror, romance, suspense, and the type that Alice Walker writes, through personal experiences. Although most critics categorize her writings as feminist, Walker describes herself as a “womanist”, she defines this as “a woman who loves another woman…Appreciates and prefers woman culture, woman’s emotional flexibility… and woman’s strength… Loves the spirit… Loves herself, Regardless”. Walker’s thoughts and feelings show through in her writing of poetry and novels. Alice Walker writes through her feelings and the morals that she has grown with, she writes about the black woman’s struggle for spiritual wholeness and sexual, political, and racial equality.
Much of Walker’s fiction is informed by her Southern background. She was born in Eatonton, Georgia, a rural town where most blacks worked as tenant farmers. At the age of eight, she was blinded in the right eye when an older brother accidentally shot her with a BB gun, after which she fell into somewhat of a depression. She secluded herself from the other children, and as she explained, “I no longer felt like the little girl I was. I felt old, and because I felt I was unpleasant to look at, filled with shame. I retreated into solitude, and read stories and began to write poems.”
In 1961 Walker won a scholarship to Spelman College in Atlanta, where she became involved in the civil rights movement and participated in sit-ins at local business establishments. She transferred to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, graduating from there in 1965. She met her future husband Melvyn Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights attorney, in Mississippi where she was an activist and teacher. In 1967 Walker and Leventhal married, becoming the first legally married interracial couple to reside in Jackson, the state capital, they had one child together one year after they got married, named Rebecca . They divorced in 1976. Since then Walker has focused more on her writing and has taught at various colleges and universities.
Walker is one of the most prolific black women writers in America. Her work consistently reflects her concern with racial, sexual, and political issues-particularly with black woman’s struggle for survival. She explained, “The black woman is one of America’s greatest heroes….Not enough credit has been given to the black woman who has been oppressed beyond recognition.”
Walker’s insistence on giving black women their due resulted in one of the most widely read novels in America today, Alice’s third novel, “The Color Purple”. The was the first book I had read by Alice Walker, the novel traces thirty years in the life of Celie, a poor Southern black woman who is victimized physically and emotionally by her step-father and husband. While in her teens, Celie is repeatedly raped by her step-father, who sells the children.
Then she is placed in a loveless marriage to Albert, who also beats and torments her continuously. She eventually finds peace with the help of Albert’s mistress, Shug Avery, a blues signer who gives her the courage to leave her marriage. At the end of the novel, Celie is reunited with her children and with her long lost sister Nettie. Walker earned many praises for the novel along with many criticisms as well. Those who praise the book such as Peter S. Prescott would agree with him when he said, “an American novel of permanent importance, that rare sort of book which amounts to a diversion in the fields of dread”.
Some felt differently about certain points the book made, one being its negative portraits of black men, people like Darryl Pinckney state, “Walker’s work shows a world divided between the chosen (black women) and the unsaved, the poor miserable critter’ (black men), between the ‘furnace of affliction’ and a ‘far off, the mystic land of…miraculous. Walker’s central characters are almost always black women; the themes of sexism and racism are predominant in her work, but her impact is felt across both racial and sexual boundaries.
The first novel written by Alice Walker “The Third Life of Grange Copeland” (1970), again carries many of her prevalent themes, particularly the domination of powerless women by equally powerless men. In this novel, which spans the years between the Depression and the beginnings of the civil rights movement in the early 1960s, walker showed three generations of a black sharecropping family and explored the effects of poverty and racism on their lives. Because of his sense of failure, Grange Copeland leads his wife to suicide and abandons his children to seek a better life in the North.
His traits are passed on to his son, Brownsfield, who in time murders his wife. In the end of the novel, Grange returns to his family a broken yet compassionate man and attempts to make up for all the hurt he has caused in the past with the help of his granddaughter, Ruth. While some people accused Walker of reviving stereotypes about the dysfunctional black family, others praised her use of intensive, descriptive language in creating believable characters.
Walker is also considered an accomplished poet. Walkers first collection, Once: Poems (1968), includes works written during the early 1960’s while she attended Sarah Lawrence College. Some of these pieces relate to the confusion, isolation, and suicidal thoughts Walker experienced. For she had learned her Senior year that she was pregnant and had to deal with the stressful time that followed. Revolutionary Petunias and Other Poems was Walker’s second volume of poems, in this she addressed such topics as love, individualism, and revolution.
When Alice Walker lived in Mississippi and was active in the civil rights movement and teaching she experienced these such things. With Walker’s most recent poems she expresses her ideas of races, gender, environment, love, hate, and suffering, the same topics she writes about in her novels. In addition to her novels, and poetry, Walker has also published two volumes of short stories, In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973) and You Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down: Stories (1981), both of which evidence her womanist philosophy.
Overall Alice Walker has been a very influential author throughout the black community, and her audiences are very much interracial. Although many of the criticisms are controversial on her view of black men and their abuse toward black women, that depiction can not be narrowed down to only that, there is much more that is present in Alice Walker’s writing. Her feelings, morals and the opinions Walker has towards women, sexuality, and racial equality shine through her works of all literature.
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