Strength for Today and Bright Hope for Tomorrow

Volume 14:12 December 2014
ISSN 1930-2940

Managing Editor: M. S. Thirumalai, Ph.D.
Editors: B. Mallikarjun, Ph.D.
         Sam Mohanlal, Ph.D.
         B. A. Sharada, Ph.D.
         A. R. Fatihi, Ph.D.
         Lakhan Gusain, Ph.D.
         Jennifer Marie Bayer, Ph.D.
         S. M. Ravichandran, Ph.D.
         G. Baskaran, Ph.D.
         L. Ramamoorthy, Ph.D.
         C. Subburaman, Ph.D. (Economics)
         N. Nadaraja Pillai, Ph.D.
Assistant Managing Editor: Swarna Thirumalai, M.A.


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M. S. Thirumalai

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Doctoral Dissertation

N. R. Charrumathi, Ph.D.


Alice Walker indubitably holds a place of covetable prominence in African American literature. She portrays the struggles and journeys of African American men and women in an effort to empower and emancipate the entire black race. She is concerned with the “survival whole” of her people who are discriminated, humiliated and dishonoured by the white American majority.

Walker particularly focuses on the black women’s strategies of survival in a racist white society and patriarchal black community. Her personal experiences and observations as a black woman are replicated in her works and her characters. Walker dexterously shows in her writings that being a black woman is twice harder than being just a woman or just a black man.

The black woman faces the problems of defining selfhood and overcoming isolation which are caused by cultural taboos and by the gender barriers. Walker believes that with the strength of sisterhood, love, compassion, forgiveness and also creativity, black women could revive their world and also benefit the black community as a whole.

Behind Walker’s philosophy of redemptive art is the will to liberate her race from an oppressive society and to save the entire race through a collective oneness. The theme of redemption, reconciliation and restoration of the status of black woman is recurrent in the works of Alice Walker.

Among her works, it was decided to confine the study to four of Walker’s novels namely, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, The Color Purple, The Temple of My Familiar and Now is the Time to Open Your Heart. The novels share in common Walker’s artistic strategy of survival to cover solutions to social problems such as racial and gender oppression.

The present study proposes to define the struggle undergone by Walker’s female characters to achieve decisive independence and freedom from racism and sexism by preserving their ethnic heritage. The aim of the thesis is to demonstrate how Walker, in her works, attempts to create situations that reflect the plight of black women in the real world and tries to heal and redeem them, thus paving the way for their survival and fulfilment.

The thesis has been divided into six chapters. Chapter I, “Introduction,” constitutes a brief outline of African American literary tradition and Walker’s eminence in it. It is followed by an overview of Walker’s life and works and a brief appraisal of her predominant themes, motifs and concept of “Womanism” a unique ideology regarding the liberation of women. In addition, the purpose of the study is stated and its scope defined.

The second chapter, “Redemptive Power of Love in The Third Life of Grange Copeland” discusses Walker’s belief that the soul has the power to transform an individual from a life of hatred to a life of love. The novel, which follows three generations of a black Southern family of sharecroppers, shows through its depiction of the character of the protagonist, Grange Copeland, that love can redeem, restore and reunite shattered lives. Redemption is possible only when the black men are of an androgynous temperament and are magnanimous enough to include black women and their issues in their fight against the discrimination of the whites in America.

Chapter III, “Redemption through Self-expression and Sisterhood in The Color Purple,” demonstrates how sisterhood has the power to create and strengthen newly-woven bonds among black women, leading them to a sense of independence and autonomy. Sisterhood among the women provides them with the prospect of self-discovery and the power to define their own lives. Walker empowers her female characters through the boon of female bonding, which leads them to the discovery of their talents. Walker’s female characters achieve psychological wholeness when they are able to fight oppression, whereas her male characters achieve psychological health and wholeness only when they are able to acknowledge women’s pain and admit their role in it.

Chapter IV, “Remembrance of the Past as the Key to Redemption in The Temple of My Familiar,” explores how Walker tries to heal her generation by instigating them to revise their past, respect their own ancestors, mothers, and their own female selves. Walker insists that the knowledge of their past, which consists of their ancestors’ experiences, mistakes, failures, and struggle against injustice, as well as their infirmities, suffering and sustenance is vital to survival in the present context. When people refuse to acknowledge their past or feel ashamed to know about the lives of their ancestors or if they are too frightened to recall and refurbish it to their memory, they will not be able to acquire the fortitude and endurance required to live. Spiritual wholeness, for African Americans, consists of an understanding and embracing of the African American past.

The penultimate chapter, “Spiritual Redemption through Communion with Nature in Now is the Time to Open Your Heart,” deals with a novel with autobiographical overtones, resonating Walker’s personal experiences and their impact on her life. As a black woman, Walker discloses that she is no exception to the triple jeopardy of race, sex and class and that through writing she attempts to heal the hurt, pain and humiliation she had suffered. It is seen that personally and professionally, Walker has journeyed through various phases of growth towards enlightenment strategies of survival. Through her protagonist, she speaks of necessity of cleansing the polluted body by consuming “Grandmother medicine,” known as Yagé. Walker stresses that the “continuous internal cleansing” would eventually lead to the purity of the soul—a necessary prerequisite to reach God and the other World.

The final chapter sums up the findings of the research which were elaborated in the preceding ones. Walker’s writings portray the struggle of black people in general and the experiences of black women in a patriarchal community in particular. The focal theme of Walker’s work is survival, the survival of the whole self. Walker writes of African American women’s discovery of their inner selves from which they draw the strength necessary to live. Her central characters, like Walker herself, come to recognize and acknowledge the divine, both within themselves and in everything in the universe. She urged the black women to forge self-definition of self-reliance and independence. Walker, through her characters, instills the notion that since the black women suffers dual or even triple discrimination, their strength to obtain their rightful place in racist and sexist society has to be enormous. From the dehumanizing and degrading state, they have to elevate themselves with fortitude and their forte is the gift of sisterhood. After summing up, the researcher gives suggestions for further study in related areas.


N. R. Charrumathi, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
Department of English
Velalar College of Engineering and Technology
Erode 638012

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