- The protagonists in the fiction of Paule Marshall, Alice Walker, and Toni
Morrison illuminate American cultural perceptions of black women and illustrate how the
creators of these characters hope to change those perceptions. I studied Paule Marshall's
Daughters, Alice Walker's Meridian and The Color Purple, and Toni Morrison's The
Bluest Eye to learn what the writers of these novels have to say about the women they
hope black girls can grow up to be and to learn what potential for self-development they
see for black women. For example, in order to become whole people, what do black girls
and black women need from their parents and their community? What do black women
need from their intimate relationships?
"Part One: Political, Historical and Religious Identity " surveys politics, religion
and history for views of black women. Politically, they appear disenfranchised;
historically they were property. In reference to religion, I found that a white male
religion does not serve black women well. Walker sees god within her female protagonist
Celie, and Marshall has a belief in a Caribbean/African diaspora that provides a sense of
spiritual and cultural continuity.
"Part Two: Childhood Identity" explores childhood and the community's role.
Childhood appears as a critical time for self-development. The adults in the community
contribute to the child's self-awareness. Mistreatment of girls causes them harm
throughout their lives. How well the community safeguards its children is a measure of
how highly these children are valued. These authors want to see girls more highly
regarded. Toward this end, they expose the abuse that takes place in the community.
Morrison shows not only the abuse, but also the love. By showing concerned parents as
well as neglectful ones, Morrison offers a fuller portrait of the community she knows.
The Color Purple also tells a story of sexual abuse of a girl, but this abuse is overcome by
the inner strength of the victim combined with the loving support of Shug Avery and the
supportive community context of the juke where Celie is accepted. The portrayal of
childhood in Daughters involves a Caribbean island culture where the roles of the women
that the child Ursa observes offer few role models.
"Part Three: Adult Relational Identity" looks at the dilemma in communication
between the sexes and across the generations from mother to daughter. Step-fathers and
husbands are abusive characters in Walker's writing, while Morrison shows a loving
father and an incestuous father in The Bluest Eye.
"Part Four: Language Identity" discusses Black English, orality and dialect,
looking at the role of language as an aspect of self-definition. James Baldwin's view of
language is presented: rejecting a child's language is rejecting the child himself.
Baldwin's view supports the attitude toward language as self-defining that appears in the
writing of Marshall, Morrison, and Walker. These authors show pride in Black English,
and they demonstrate their ability with edited English through their own writing.
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