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Extra resources for The Color Purple - Alice Walker
The values that lead the missionary society to think it has a progressive message to deliver to the heathen brethren are shown to be well-intentioned, patronizing, misguided, and culturally destructive. While Samuel clearly identifies his destiny with that of the African people, he also unintentionally aims to reproduce the normative social relations of Western culture in the midst of his attempt to reform their spirit. The primary site of cultural contact between the missionaries and the Africans is pedagogical: the connection between cultural literacy and power established early in the novel is reiterated in the missionaries’ retraining of the tribal peoples in the “superior” and Christian practices and materials of Western culture.
But the mythic test of Sofia’s strength takes place in her refusal to enter the servitude of double discourse demanded of blacks by white culture. She says “Hell no” (p. 86) to the mayor’s wife’s “complimentary” suggestion that Sofia come to work as her maid; next Sofia answers the mayor’s scolding slap of her face with her own powerful punch. For her effort to stay honest in the face of the white demand for black hypocrisy, Sofia gains incarceration in a set of penal institutions that work by a logic similar to that of lynching: to racialize the scene of class struggle in the public sphere and to deploy prejudice against “woman” once behind the walls of the prison and the household.
The novel is critical of the sexism within the civil rights movement, for example. Nonetheless Meridian subordinates the struggle within gender to the “larger” questions raised by the imminent exhaustion or depletion of the movement itself. Meridian’s theory 24 Lauren Berlant of “One Life” dissolves the barriers of class and education between herself and the black community at large and effectively depoliticizes the struggle with the movement’s patriarchal values and practices by locating the “personal” problems of sexism within the nationalist project.