COMPARATIVE STUDY OF RACE AND GENDER IN SELECTED NOVELS OF TONI MORRISON AND ALICE WALKER

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ABSTRACT

Toni Morrison and Alice Walker are two of the leading contemporary African-American female writers. Morrison is a Nobel Prize winner, while Walker is a Pulitzer Prize winner. They also have to their credit a plethora of literary awards. Some critics, particularly male critics, have accused them of being very cruel in their presentations of the male characters in their works. Coming under serious attack is Alice Walker in particular, especially after the publications of her The Third Life of Grange Copeland and The Color Purple. Even some African-American women rained tantrums on her, accusing her of stripping the remaining dignity left on the battered ego of the black male. This research is focused primarily on four selected novels of both novelists, namely: Sula, Song of Solomon, The Color Purple, and The Third Life of Grange Copeland. These four novels were selected based on the fact that they have identical settings, thematic axis, and characterization.The thesis posits that in their presentations of the male characters in their works, Morrison and Walker delineate the traumatizing and debilitating effects of racism, which is the result of the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade. This situation has left a more traumatic scar on the black male psyche than on the black female character in the fictive works of Morrison and Walker. Contrary to some critical opinion, they are actually sympathetic to men, and their works feature in the realm of natural realism. A combination of two theories will form the theoretical framework of this research. These are womanist theory and Critical race theory. Womanism sprang up because some African-American critics argue that the traditional gender studies always privileged Anglo-American women to the detriment of black and minority women. In other words, discourse about white women has always occupied the centre and black and minority women have unwittingly been moved to the margins. The justification of womanist criticism lies in the need to move the discourse from the margins to the centre. Race dynamics plays out in the lives of the black and white characters in the novels. The blacks are often subjected to physical assault and gross abuse by the whites. Most white characters use deception and tricks to manipulate the blacks out of their rights. The male characters, in their egotistic disposition, are more psychologically traumatized than the female characters. Morrison and Walker are not really presenting their male characters as villains, murderers, and drunks, but are simply presenting a realist view of the black men after being traumatized and humiliated by the white supremacists. The male characters resort to oppressing the women in their lives to feel more like men. The female characters are exposed to oppression by both white and black men, so they resort to bonding with fellow women, and they emerge stronger than the male characters.


TABLE OF CONTENTS

Title Page
Abstract
Table of Contents

CHAPTER ONE: INTRODUCTION
1.1       Background to the Study
1.2       Statement of the Problem
1.3       Relevance of the Study
1.4       Scope and Limitation of the Study
1.5       Research Questions
1.6       General Objectives
1.7       Explanation of Basic Concepts

CHAPTER TWO: REVIEW OF RELEVANT LITERATURE
2.1       Critical Reception of Toni Morrison’s works
2.2       Works on Race and Gender in Morrison
2.3       Critical Reception of Alice Walker’s works
2.4       Works on Race and Gender in Walker

CHAPTER THREE: THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK AND RESEARCH METHODOLOGY
3.1       Theoretical Framework
3.2       Womanist Theory
3.3       Critical Race Theory
3.4       Research Methodology

CHAPTER FOUR: TEXTUAL ANALYSIS OF THE NOVELS
4.1       Race in Morrison’s Song of Solomon
4.I.1  Race in Morrison’s Sula
4.1.2  Gender in Morrison’s Song of Solomon
4.1.3  Gender in Morrison’s Sula
4.2       Race in Walker’s The Color Purple
4.2.1  Race in Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland
4.2.2  Gender in Walker’s The Color Purple
4.2.3  Gender in Walker’s The Third Life of Grange Copeland

CHAPTER FIVE: INTERSECTION OF SEXISM, ANTI-BLACK RACISM, AND IDENTITY QUEST
5.1       Sexism in the Four Novels
5.2       The Quest for Identity
5.3       Anti-Black Racism

CHAPTER SIX: SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION
6.1       Summary
6.2       Conclusion
WORKS CITED


CHAPTER ONE


INTRODUCTION


1.1 Background to the Study

W.E.B. Du Bois describes the distinctly double nature of African-American experience. Defining the “peculiar sensation” of “double consciousness” Du Bois writes in The Souls of Black Folks that “one ever feels his twoness – an American, a Negro, two souls two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring ideals in a dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (54). Although Du Bois’ landmark text was published at the turn of the twentieth century, it continues to capture the ‘doubleness’ of African-American culture, tradition, folklore, and literature.

In an interview given just prior to the publication of Beloved, Morrison hinted clearly enough at the burden of national identity her work was assuming: “So much of what is true about Afro-Americans is not only the African but the American – we are very much that and trying to separate those things out can be very difficult, if you want to separate them out. We are a brand new human being in this country” (25). The phrase “brand new human being’ is a classic instance of what Henry Louis Gates Jr. calls signifyin(g), revising and reversing the standard American mythos of a people freed from history and reborn to a frontier of self-determination and perhaps revising as well Jean Toomer’s poem, “The Blue Meridian”, which announces a vision of “a new America” and “a new people” liberated from the racial components of its history (104).


For so many years, the voices of the majority of black people were missing from the mainstream literary canon. The experiences of women from all racial and ethnic groups, regardless of their class positions, were missing, as was the history, culture, and experience of Black men. In their place were the writings and teachings of a relatively small group – predominantly privileged, White, and male – who offered their experiences and their perspectives as if they were universal. As a result, Rothenberg in her Race, Class, and Gender in the United States: An Integrated Study, rightly observes that “even books about breast-feeding and childbirth were written exclusively by male ‘experts’ who defined and described a reality they had never known” (3). White sociologists, psychologists, literary artists/critics and anthropologists set themselves up as experts on American-Indian, Hispanic, African- American, and Asian experience and literature.
This study sets out to add to the development of a body of womanist political theory whose assumptions could be used in the study of Black women’s art. When Black women’s books are studied, it is usually in the context of Black literature, which largely ignores the implications of sexual politics. This research therefore uses a womanist approach along with critical race theory to engage the politics of sexism as well as race and class as crucial interlocking factors in the narratives of Toni Morrison and Alice Walker. Their works are basically feminist and Afrocentric writings. Their grandparents were sold into slavery and, as such, were both victims of western imperialism, therefore, both novelists have been busy constructing bridges to access their long- lost cultural past. As a result, they have been able to through literature... 


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