The considered to be a feminist reworking

The
Color Purple is a novel written by Alice Walker that was published in
1982. The Bloody Chamber is a collection of short stories written by Angela
Carter that was published in 1979. The Color Purple has been seen as a
pivotal text in the tradition of literature by black women writers who have
taken as their theme a young black woman’s journey from silence to voice and
“authentic female selfhood”.  On the other hand, The Bloody Chamber is considered
to be a feminist reworking of the patriarchal fairy tale form. However Carter
disagreed arguing that, in her view, she was simply exposing the previously
obscured core content of fairy tales. She said, “I was taking the latent
image – the latent content of those traditional stories and using that; and the
latent content is violently sexual, and because I am a woman I read it that
way.” Overall, it will be argued that women are presented as creating
self-identity for themselves as well as conveying a sense of underlying
strength both mentally and physically that undermines the society the
characters of both texts live in.

 

Firstly
the idea of heroic female selfhood is a subjectivity derived from the female
hero quest paradigm set forth by literary scholars Carol Pearson and Katherine
Pope. Pearson and Pope’s paradigm delineates three stages of the traditional
female Bildungsroman: (1) The Call to Adventure/Departure; (2) The
Journey/Initiation; and (3) The Return. Regardless of how the quest is
structured, each stage of the quest is comprised of “trials” or obstacles that
may thwart the successful completion of the female protagonist’s quest (Pearson, 1981). Applying this
approach to The Color Purple, special emphasis is placed on two specific
trials within the protagonist’s quest, the mastery of which is deemed
imperative to the achievement of “heroic” selfhood: Heroic female selfhood is
achieved when the protagonist successfully subverts those conventions of the
established social order that oppress and subordinate her. She creates an
identity that embodies her unique perceptions of self and privileges her
individual experiences within the social order. Most definitively, the female
protagonist achieves heroic status when she discovers or creates a “community
of equals” that sustains or promises the survival of her newly-created self.
Through her use of these strategies, Walker succeeds in writing her female
protagonist Celie from tragic heroine to female hero, an empowered and
empowering subjectivity that resonates for black women, for the black
community, and for others. Thus, it can be established that through the process
of heroization of Celie throughout the Color Purple it breaks the norm
of male ‘heroes’ and instead sets a figure that reflects Walker’s recognition
of the culture’s need for an African American female hero. This process of
redemptive behaviour from the bottom to the top is evident in the character
Celie’s story whereby this self-provided success is an inspiration for the
oppression by different ethnicities at the time of Alice Walker writing an thus
in a sense Walker creates a construct that not only conveys theses of
inspiration but also acts as an example for those deemed inferior.

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The
idea of female heroics is equally illustrated in the Bloody Chamber
whereby each tale embodies this approach of heroics whether it in the Bloody
Chamber as the young girl triumphs over the Marquis or The Company of
Wolves which creates the ‘Red Riding Hood’ adventure and journey qualities.
These heroine triumphing over evil notions create an image of female integrity
of strength and courage and almost stereotypical masculine qualities which on
the hand could be viewed as Carter illustrating the equality of bravery and
heroics of women. The influences of Marquis de Sade and his novels Justine
(1791) and Juliette (1797) can be seen to be inspiration for this concept. From
de Sade’s sexual fantasies Carter noted the lesson that passivity in a heroine
was not merely undesirable, it was also likely to result in her death. Spirited
women meanwhile might well be able to turn the tables on their lascivious
admirers and beat them at their own game. (Buzwell, 2016) Thus to convey the
ideas of female ingenuity and skill Carter twists the passivity of Justine and
Juliette to create cunning women who are matching to the natures of cunning
men. Therefore both texts are able to construct the notions of spirited women
whom can defy the generalised expectations of the patriarchal societies which
can be seen to symbolise the empowering movements of the black women movement
of Alice Walker and the feminist movements of Angela Carter and thus both
create symbols to unite woman.

 

Secondly,
Jack Zipes explains in Breaking the Magic Spell (2002), folk tales were
addressed to the community at large and played a crucial role in society: “Not
only did the tales serve to unite the people of the community and help bridge a
gap in their understanding of social problems in a language and narrative made
familiar to the listeners’ experiences, but this aura illuminated the possible
fulfilment of Utopian longings and wishes which did not preclude social
integration” (Zipes, Breaking the Magic Spell:
Radical Theories of Folk and Fairy Tales, 2002). In this sense, folk
tales reflected the community and its psychology. They also provided the hope
for self-transformation, and “they sought to celebrate humankind’s capacity to
transform the mundane into the Utopian as part of a communal project”. The Color
Purple shares with these folk tales a capacity to satisfy unconscious
desires and fantasies. It is wish fulfilment — a chimerical inverted world
where the poor become the powerful where the oppressors are punished and the
oppressed find freedom. In contrast to the typically cute, submissive, and
often witless fairy-tale heroine, Walker’s protagonist Celie takes her destiny
in her own hands and becomes the architect of a successful life without Prince
Charming and without idealized heterosexual love. Thus, in breaking engrained
‘rules’ the Color Purple establishes a concept that mirrors the attempt of
blacks trying to rewrite the perception of inferiority and instead a perception
that is good.

With
the Bloody Chamber the use of the utopian fairy
tale is used to convey modern ideas and themes. For example, a threat to the
heroine is foreshadowed by something seemingly innocent, such as the jewellery
worn by the young bride: ‘His wedding gift, clasped round my throat. A choker
of rubies, two-inches wide, like an extraordinarily precious slit throat’.
Similarly, to the Color Purple the female protagonist is in control of her own
destiny and on her own terms is there love and marriage involved, e.g. The
Tiger’s Bride. In 1979, there were fast advances in birth control. Birth
control enabled many women to take control of their bodies and when they wanted
to reproduces instead of not having any control over what could happen to them.
Which is seen in Carter’s stories, ‘The Bloody Chamber’ and ‘The Lady of the
House of Love’, however later within these stories their fate changes; this
could represent how women were being given more chances to have their say and
to do what they want.

 

The distinct feminist perspective of the
Bloody Chamber and in turn Carter’s writing creates a collection that is
complex and thought-provoking. Although the read may be delightful, there is an
underlying expectation from Carter that the reader should work hard to understand
her message. For example, in the ‘The Werewolf’, Red Riding Hood is a girl who
has been taught to defend herself against the predatory and (we mistakenly
assume) male beasts of the forest. Fear turns her into a violent aggressor and,
as she indifferently slashes off the Wolf’s paw, it is the beast we are made to
feel sorry for. Carter further complicates things, however, by implying – when
Red Riding Hood finds her Grandmother with ‘a bloody stump where her right hand
should have been’ – that Wolf and Grandmother are one. Does the
Wolf/Grandmother represent suppressed female desire? Or does the lopped off
hand/paw with its ‘wedding ring’ represent an older generation of women, who,
by subscribing to patriarchal ideals, have perpetuated the oppression of their
daughters and granddaughters?

However, the underlying motive of Carter’s
tales is that there is no moral and instead then tales provoke and allow for
questions instead of dictating a point of view. Therefore, The Bloody Chamber
does not abide to the literary mantra of ‘women are victims/men are villains’;
instead portraying horrific female characters too. In addition Carter is abler
to convey her characters as the victim and villain simultaneously – the
Countess in ‘The Snow Child’ is a prime example. Ultimately, there is an
argument from Carter that we should think beyond the gender constructions we
impose upon and use to categorize others. This could be seen to suggest why the
natural world is represented so positively throughout the collection. Aspects
such as bestiality – which diverges away from any symbolic connection to
aggressive patriarchal or matriarchal desire – is a state of liberation for
Carter, one based on instinct rather than social expectation.

This is contradicted by the Color Purple
whereby there is a lack of natural imagery instead there is heavy patriarchy
and the struggles within that illustrating that the women of the Color Purple
are such disassociated with their own lives that they disassociate themselves
from nature as well as they conform to the social norms they are confined to
instead of visualising the freedom of nature.

 

Instead
of finding freedom through nature, Walker utilises the character of Shug Avery
to convey the concept of fairy tales whereby the heroine is taken in by fairies
who magically care for her. Walker
retains the paradigm of the fairy through the Shug character even if Shug is
not a traditional fairy or godmother. The first
time Shug meets Celie, she behaves like a witch, describing Celie with the
phrase: “You sure is ugly”. In Don’t Bet on the Prince (1986), Jack Zipes states that
‘the witch … lives on the outskirts of society … and represents the true
healer of society, one who will be used and abused until “civilized” peoples
learn to live in harmony with nature again, which also means living in harmony
with our own bodies (Zipes, Don’t Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in
North America and England, 1986). Like witches and werewolves of bygone
times, Shug brings Celie out of her torpor, rejuvenates her, and teaches her
how to create a world where she can live in harmony with others. More than a
lover and confidante, Shug becomes a nurturer and a spiritual guide to Celie.
Specifically, Shug shows nihilistic Celie that she fits in the natural order of
the universe: “God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the
world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it” Therefore,
Walker not only paints a picture of women but also of society whereby the
outcasts of society and notably women are seen to be respected as they can hold
the key for peace and prosperity. Religiously, the construct of Shug could be
seen to be a symbol of angels whereby they offer guidance towards those that
are suffering and this can be presented as a link towards Walker’s spirituality
and her belief in the nature whereby the ‘natural God’ is defied in place of a
realistic guardian such is conveyed by the portrayal of Shug.

Lastly, the concept of women in both The
Bloody Chamber and The Color Purple is regularly presented against
the backdrop of patriarchy. For example, the ‘victim-bride’ in ‘The Bloody
Chamber’ is given a ruby-choker by her murderous husband as a
wedding-present which symbolically figures her objectification as a sexual
possession and prefigures her death as the inevitable outcome to the
sadomasochistic relationship of this oppressive marriage. This choker reappears
in ‘The Courtship of Mr Lyon’ as a dog-collar on ‘Beauty’s precious
pet-spaniel setting up a series of allusions and echoes in which the apparently
gentle courtship of Beauty and the Beast is linked to the brutally exploitative
sexual-economic contract in ‘The Bloody Chamber.’ (Seago, 1999)
Since the classic story of ‘Beauty and the Beast’ derives its narrative
momentum from precisely such a patriarchal contract between the Beast and
Beauty’s father, the disguised barter is shown up through the intertextual link
and Beauty’s selfless decision to sacrifice herself willingly for her father’s
well-being appears not as self-determined choice but as a predetermined course
in a society where women figure as objects of exchange. Therefore, women are
conveyed as a ‘thing’ rather than a personality and accordingly, with ‘The
Courtship of Mr. Lyon’, there appears to be an acceptance of this role in
society or a role that can never be escaped from. On the one hand this could be
viewed as an illustration by Carter in symbolising the futility of the feminist
movements in the sense that little will change if we continue to accept certain
norms. However, in contrast, through the reification of her womanist doctrine,
Walker challenges and subverts the predominant myths and stereotypes that
perpetuates the condition and treatment of women, in general, and black women,
in particular, within the patriarchy of society. She dislocates the existing
archetypal and stereotypical patterns of the black female socio-cultural
experience, loosening and, in some instances, removing the constraints under
which black women exist. The result is a mythic narrative that deliberately and
unapologetically flies in the face of what is expected and accepted as
historically and culturally plausible for poor, oppressed black women, offering
an alternate path from subordination and victimization to “heroic female
selfhood.” (Smith, 2009)
Thus, women are presented as being able to overthrow the patriarchal norms and
create a female identity whilst the Bloody Chamber conveys the notion of
acceptance of the situation and biding time for a solution.

In conclusion, women in The Bloody Chamber
and The Color Purple are presented as resilient and the fairy tale
concept of both books creates a utopian setting in which the patriarchal norms
are twisted in favour of the women at the end. Additionally, the tales convey
these concepts with an aspect of warning and reality whereby the situations of
the ‘character women’ resembles the situations women face in reality. However,
it can be argued that the presentation comes at a cost to men whom are
generally portrayed negatively possibly to twist the natures of society or to act
as a general reflection of the feminist movements of both Walker and Carter.
Overall, women are conveyed as benefit towards the harmony of society but
equally are at risk of being corrupted by society as well. 

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