Monday, April 4, 2016

Tell Your Truth

I think we can all come to some sort of agreement that when an author sets out to write a novel, they set out to tell their truth. For some black women writers this truth is one of both sexual and racial oppression. The stories they tell reflect this truth, and from what the articles have shown, this truth does not sit too well with some black male critics. I doubt that Alice Walker set out to make readers think that all African American men were terrible people. From what we’ve read in The Color Purple, she is focusing on the women because she is telling the story of a select group of women. While leaving out Albert’s last name can seem like an attempt to make him into a generalization of all men, it is clearly an attempt to universalize the character into someone any woman can relate to, to make him a nameless man who could be anybody—white or black. The “enemy” here, according to duCille, “is not Black men, not Black women, it’s the country” (561).
The simple idea that having Black characters in a novel makes that novel indicative of all Black people is simply absurd. No one would ever generalize a book about white people to that extreme. We would never assume that all white men are are hateful slave owners just because we saw the movie Twelve Years a Slave. Society is the problem. Just like Harris’ students in her class, these critics of Walker’s work “did not conclude that this was a particular depiction of particular black people in a specific black community” (158). Rather, people are quick to generalize and say that the book was a “large and representative slice of black life” without having any evidence from the novel to suggest this to be the case.
There is nothing in the novel to suggest that all Black men are the target of these negative feelings Celie has toward men. Just because Walker does not give the male characters much agency does not mean that she is setting out to deprive the African American male community of theirs. It is simply implying that she is telling a woman’s story from the eyes of a woman. Celie is a woman who has been hurt by the men in her life, she is a woman who is sexually attracted to other women and shows little to no interest in men. It makes sense, therefore, that the men in her tale do not have much power. There is no reason that this “brief renaissance of Black women’s literature” should be thought of as a slight against Black males; “the fact that [men] have not experienced sexual oppression does not mean, however, that it never happened or that Black women writers are lying about its existence in the Black community and in the society at large” (Gates 7, 6).

This all comes down to the fact that white women can tell their stories about rape and sexual oppression without much push back from critics, and Black women cannot. Sure, there will always be the refrain of “not all men,” but hardly ever are white women criticized for their ideas being damaging to the white race. While they might not be particularly encouraged by men, they are seldom told to stop telling their stories. If people can read The Lovely Bones without assuming that all white men are serial killers, I think it is highly reasonable to expect people to read The Color Purple without thinking that all Black men beat their wives and run out on their families.

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