Political Critique of Race Relations in Alice Walker's Color Purple

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The Color Purple as Political Critique of Race Relations

If the integrated family of Doris Baines and her adopted African grandson

exposes the missionary pattern of integration in Africa as one based on a

false kinship that in fact denies the legitimacy of kinship bonds across

racial lines, the relationship between Miss Sophia and her white charge,

Miss Eleanor Jane, serves an analogous function for the American South.

Sophia, of course, joins the mayor's household as a maid under conditions

more overtly racist than Doris Baines's adoption of her Akwee family:

Because she answers "hell no" (76) to Miss Millie's request that she come to

work for her as a maid, Sophia is brutally beaten by the mayor and six

policeman and is then imprisoned. Forced to do the jail's laundry and driven

to the brink of madness, Sophia finally becomes Miss Millie's maid in order

to escape prison. Sophia's violent confrontation with the white officers

obviously foregrounds issues of race and class, as even critics who find

these issues marginalized elsewhere in The Color Purple have noted. But it

is not only through Sophia's dramatic public battles with white men that her

story dramatizes issues of race and class. Her domestic relationship with

Miss Eleanor Jane and the other members of the mayor's family offers a more

finely nuanced and extended critique of racial integration, albeit one that

has often been overlooked.(11)

Like Doris Baines and her black grandson, Sophia and Miss Eleanor Jane

appear to have some genuine family feelings for one another. Since Sophia

"practically . . . raise[s]" (222) Miss Eleanor Jane and is the one

sympathetic person...

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...nold, 1993. 85-96.

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Purple." CLA Journal 28 (1985): 382-92.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. "Explanation and Culture: Marginalia."

Humanities and Society 2 (1974): 201-21.

Stade, George. "Womanist Fiction and Male Characters." Partisan Review 52

(1985): 264-70.

Tate, Claudia. Domestic Allegories of Political Desire: The Black Heroine's

Text at the Turn of the Century. New York: Oxford UP, 1992.

Tompkins, Jane. Sensational Designs: The Cultural Work of American Fiction.

New York: Oxford UP, 1985.

Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. New York: Harcourt, 1982.

In this essay, the author

  • Narrates how sophia is brutally beaten by the mayor and six mayors.
  • Analyzes how she helps the white girl because she's "on parole.
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