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Feminsism In Sula And The Color Purple English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2141 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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“It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. Men, their rights and nothing more; women, their rights and nothing less.” (Anthony 1) The quote speaks about the unequal rights of African-American women and the awful treatment they receive at the hands of men during the early twentieth century, as they were politically and socially inferior. It is the best quote to describe the inequality of rights between men and women in both the novels The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Sula by Toni Morrison. Therefore, the most suitable lens that can be used to study The Color Purple and Sula is the feminism lens, as it is centered on the restrictions of the African-American women’s rights. Both of the authors of the novels are strongly against the central idea of men using intimidation and violence to rule women’s lives.

The subject of intimidation has been a concern by the African-American women for many years. African-American women were looked at as inferior and their role of a female is being oppressed.

Those women who are exploited, isolated, powerless, marginalized, oppressed, less educated, weaker, and inferior belong to the class which frightened into submission by men. According to Doctor Timothy Lin, the definition of inferiority complex is “An abnormal or pathological state which leads the individual to depreciate himself, to become unduly sensitive, to be too eager for praise and flattery, and to adopt a derogatory attitude toward others” (Lin). Humans are naturally inferior as it is inherited from the fallen Adamic nature. However, there are four external causes that contribute to one’s inferiority: parental attitudes, physical defects, mental limitations and social disadvantages (Lin 2).

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In both of the novels, women’s inferiority is made worse by being mentally and physically intimidated by men ever since they were children. They were brought up in an environment that believes men are superior in the society. Throughout their childhood and teenage years, they adhere to the rules set by their respective fathers. In such a case, to no doubt, women are convinced to obey and respect men. In The Color Purple, one of the factors that contribute to Celie’s inferiority is her parent attitude, which is her stepfather’s brutal abuse. This is clearly shown where Celie, was unable to fight when she was raped by her stepfather. Discouragement is also being created within the women, which is comparable to psychological intimidation. Women were not given any proper education. Celie, she was a smart girl who attends classes until her stepfather withdraws her from school. The lack of confidence in Celie due to the discouragement is implicated in their mind and emotions which leads them to be psychologically intimidated in their state of mind.

The oppressed class is immediately harmed or executed by the men with no restraints and false guilt at all. This can be demonstrated through Celie, she was pregnant with her stepfather’s child twice, she knew her stepfather kidnapped her children and sent them away. However, there was nothing that she could do about it, except remaining silent (Walker 2). Similar to the example above, a news article on Socialist Action Organiztion written by Tom Sanders voices out the oppression of black women in America, “I have born 13 children and seems that they all sold off into slavery”. A mother does not have the power to protect her own children, simply because they were women. Moreover, Celie is also meant to accept Albert’s affair with Shug Avery, which extends to him sleeping with her under the same roof. “They sleep together at night. Not every night, but almost every night, from Friday to Monday” (Walker 75).

In addition, the traditional ideology states that the responsibility of women is to take good care of the family, support their husbands, submit to their demands. To no doubt, women’s lives are bound by home and childcare. For instance, in Sula, Nel, depict women who cling to traditional ideals about love, sex, and marriage. She takes good care of her children and “to help, to soothe” without any objection when her husband is in trouble (Morrison 103).

Throughout history, women have been dominated by men, and were not given their human rights, simply because they were women. Men represent

those who are respected, honoured, obeyed, educated, powerful, and superior. For example, in The Color Purple, Albert asked Harpo to beat his wife, Sofia to make her do what he tells her to do (Walker 35). In Albert’s point of view, it is a respectable thing for a man to do to his wife. When Harpo was young, he asked his daddy why he hits Celie. “Cause she my wife”, he answered (Walker 22).

Albert Einstein states that, “Hunger, love, pain, fear are some of those inner forces which rule the individual’s instinct for self preservation.” (Einstein 1) It means that an inner force such as hunger, fear and pain can trigger someone to become who they are to preserve oneself. A person has natural instincts to fight for survival against all odds. However, in both of the novels, the overwhelmingly strong fear which inflicted by men upon women has overcome the women’s weak will to fight for equal rights. For instance, Albert’s sisters, Kate and Carrie tells Celie to fight against Albert. “You got to fight them, Celie, she say. I can’t do it for you. You got to fight them yourself.” (Walker 21). However, Celie did not do so because she has a significant amount of agony in her soul. On the other hand, men prevent women from betraying or disobey them by inflicting fear upon them.

In addition, men often inflict fear upon women by abusing or beating them when one does not abide to the rules which are set by them. In the short story “The Pearl” written by John Steinbeck, Juana is submissive, obeying her husband as she is clinging to the traditional ideology. When Juana disobeys Kino’s command by attempting to get rid of the pearl,

Kino kicks her in the side and punches her in the face as he grabs the pearl from her (Steinbeck). This shows that violence has the ability to create a substantial degree of fear in the soul of women that acts as an admonition.

Men, who represent the dominant class gain control on women to ensure that their power and status are sustained. In a time where women were the possessions of their fathers, they were exploited seriously as the decisions they made were beyond of their control. In The Color Purple, the chief of Olinka village forces the young children to undergo scarification, whereby they carve identification as a people onto their faces in desperation to save their culture. (Walker 239). Tashi was left without a choice but to obey the chief’s order to undergo scarification. She was ashamed of her scars and hardly raises her head. Likewise, Celie listens to her stepfather to be married off to Albert in purpose to take care his children, submit to all of Albert’s sexual demands after the death of Annie Julia, his late wife (Walker 12). This shows that the ruling class gains control on women without justice.

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Moreover, the husband has life and death power over the wife. “If he accuses one of his wives with witchcraft or infidelity, she can be killed” (Walker 163). On the other hand, men are allowed to behave anyhow as they wish whereas women does not have any freedom at all. In Sula, Eva, Sula’s grandma is married to Boy-Boy. Her marriage was short-lived. He drinks, abuses her, cheats on her and when he takes off, he leaves only $1.65 and three children for her to take care (Morrison 32). This demonstrates that the loose lifestyle of Boy-Boy results him to fail terribly in carrying out his responsibility as a father.

When a woman is put up next to a dominant male, her importance could be hardly seen as women are not recognized as individuals who were able to contribute to the society. The traditional culture dictates that the fate of women is to listen to men and live their lives as a housewife. Nel embodies feminity as she is locked into destructive cultural myths concerning the status quo.

However, some women eventually found their strengths to live on their own feet rather than having their lives bound by home and childcare. For instance, Shug Avery is dominant and powerful. Her career as a blues singer enables her to experience much more freedom than the other women whose lives are bound by home and childcare. She is described by Albert as being “more manly than most men”.

She tells Celie that she must fight against Albert for his awful treatment. Albert’s sisters, Kate and Carrie to fight against Albert. “You got to fight them, Celie, she say. I can’t do it for you. You got to fight them yourself.” (Walker 21).

A news article on Human Rights Watch Organization states that the law to curb women’s rights is to be approved and takes effect immediately to avoid discrimination against Shia woman. President Hamid Karzai

was told to amend the law as the final law intimidates women physically and mentally. This saved the women from being further harmed, intimidated, threatened and exploited without justice. Men no longer have the life and death power upon the women.

“Hatred is the coward’s revenge for being intimidated.” (Shaw 1) The quote relates to the times when the dominant class instills fear in women and plants this ideology in their subconscious mind therefore the power and status of men being superior is maintained. Celie was once the ‘coward’, however, not anymore. Celie finally got up in a fight with Albert and moved out of the house. She designs and sews functional and comfortable pants to sell it to support her own living (Walker 204-206). Similar to the example above, an article which is written by Kristof in 2009 talks about the life of Saima Muhammad, she was routinely beaten up by her husband when he feels frustrated and angry because he was unemployed. Her husband left a debt accumulated up to $3,000. Her mother-in-law requests her husband to marry a second wife because she was hoping to have a grandson since the two children of Saima were daughters. Her nightmares ended when she signed up for Kashf Foundation, a Pakistani Micro Finance organization, which provides financial aid for poor women to start a business to break free from the pot which holds them in (Kristof 1). This shows that the oppressed class breaks free from the psychological pressure exerted in the minds and souls by the dominant class, which is no longer dominant. Similarly, Sofia, Harpo’s wife is a strong character with masculine tendencies. She hits Harpo right back when he beats her to make her follow his orders (Walker 35). Obviously, Sofia has got the upper hand.

Some women has the ability to take control over a situation by means of violation in order to protect themselves from being further oppressed. In Sula, Sula creates and controls her own identity, her own life. She doesn’t care about what she should do, and she doesn’t want anyone else to determine who she is. She had many relationships with men, but she tossed aside the traditional conventions of the roles of women. She was independent, did whatever she wanted, regardless of the society’s opinion of her.

In conclusion, the class which are being intimidated, mistreated and oppressed are predominantly the African-American women in the early twentieth century. This is because most of them are less-educated and they are substandard when compared to men who are superior in the society. They are also afraid to stand for their rights in order to achieve equality as they are vulnerable in nature and high level of inferiority. Hence, the men uses intimidation as their method in maintaining supremacy and reputation since it has been the status quo that the submissive women are bound to be intimidated and exploited. Nevertheless, women should not be fearful from going against men in order to gain their rights they deserve in life as each and everyone in society should have equal rights regardless of their gender. As such, women will not be looked at as inferior and exploited. Men who utilizes intimidation to uphold its power, status and reputation in a society to rule women’s lives is an unethical and sinful act and would not be given respect by anyone who understands what integrity is.


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