THE COLOR PURPLE AS A FEMINIST EXISTENTIALIST TEXT. A CONCISE OVERSIGHT-
BY: EZE SOCHIMA LEONARD
Overtime, the question still posed concerning the continuity of the female sex is --if women still exist, whether or not it is desirable that they should, what place they occupy in this world, what their place should be. What has become of woman?''(Beauvoir 49:1). Feminism definitively encapsulates a series of movements aimed at establishing, defining and defending the political, social and economic rights and equality of women. Existentialism as a philosophical and cultural movement holds that the starting point of philosophical thinking must be the individual and his/her experiences. It also presupposes that moral and scientific thinking together do not suffice to understand human existence, and, thus, a further set of categories, governed by the norm of authenticity, is necessary to understand human existence. Authenticity in the context of existentialism is being true to one's own personality, spirit or character. Like Alice Walker, existential feminists take an existential approach toward the nature of being for women, in the process examining the experiences of women and their development in a male dominant society. This has been an inspiration which affected the works of the French philosopher, Simone De Beauvoir, feminist writers, Lorraine Hansberry, Toni Morrison, and Virginia Woolf and a host of other feminist and feminist existentialists over the ages, especially those of African descent living in Diaspora, e.g. African-American feminists. The position of the woman in this world is seen by Simone De Beauvoir as the --Other'' i.e. the subordinate-a part of man who is the -'Self''. However the purpose of Alice Walker's The Color Purple is to develop the woman into a self, thus independent of the masculine self, and equal in every societal level, cadre, and pedestal. Celie is a pastiche of this developing self. The development of her identity is essential as she passes through a series of human downgrade and maltreatment by her supposed father, Alphonso, who rapes and beats her severally at the young age of fourteen, and in the process using her as an object of anger management, or better put, anger dissolution. She is urged later on by Kate to fight against her husband, Mr ______, who continues Alphonso's infamous legacy on this --Other''. This goes a long way to tell a tale of women and the inferiority attached to their identity in a society which claims to uphold the equality of --man''(satirically speaking). This is also the case with Sofia and Nettie. They are victims of attempts made by men to coerce women into submission and subjugation, but instead they protest or show defiance. However, this is the role that the existential feminist, Simone De Beauvoir examines in her book, The Second Sex -the subordinate role. She posits that -'one is not born but becomes a woman''(Beauvoir 49:267). Furthermore, the moment of emancipation in the life of a woman is when she exits the position of the dependent-the --Other'', and assumes the position of the assertive and independent-the --Self''. This may occur more often through economic means as it stands to be a major reason for man's suppression and subjugation of woman, even more powerful than the physical attribute as the archetype of Sofia proves this to be less effective in her ordeal with Harpo. The characters of Celie, toward the end of the novel, Shug Avery, Sofia, Squeaky, and partially the overprotective Corrine, present an absolute transfiguration and representation of the regenerated and emancipated self. Palingenesis in the bildungsroman or developmental phases of the --eternal feminine'' is significant as it transforms the primordial or aboriginal feminine self and femininity as a whole to a new self, one of absolute independence, one that possesses the right of sexual equality, and one of total individual feminine recovery and realization. This concept of the transfigured or emancipated self is represented by Celie's later realization of her -Self- through her travelling to Tennessee with Shug, her newly found tailoring hobby turned business, and her recovery of her real father's land and property in Georgia after Alphonso's death. This is the self discovery of what Beauvoir terms -the new woman-. In conclusion, the psychological independence of a woman is of an utmost significance with regards to her liberation. Women have long dwelt on the crotches provided them by men, and this limits the possibilities of self discovery and the creation of an independent woman, free from the Alphonsos, Mr _______s and Harpos of this ever revolving and dualistic world.