The Colour Purple was written by Alice Walker in 1982. This is because of the appearance Feminist writers during the 1970s when certain gender issues weren’t being suppressed in a patriarchal society. This allowed individuals to have more freedom in the cultural legacy of both Black communities and the Feminist movement. The drive for selfhood and intellectual awareness grew. The second text I chose is The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, published in 1929. The novel tells the story of a Southern American family who are “on their way to dusty deaths” due to their involvement and participation in the North’s distorted politics and social struggles. The Sound and the Fury can be divided into three parts. Benjy, an 18-year-old man with a severe psychological illness, is the first to see the story. Crow: The Life and Songs of the Crow (1970), Ted Hughes used Crow the quasihuman human figure to examine the human soul and his themes of birth and death. Hughes believed that folk-mythology was incomplete without a Shamanic journey into the Underworld. This is what Hughes created in his work. Crow was Hughes’s first collection of poems. It was here that he created a complex folk mythology, based on Shamanism. Crow features a hero character who searches for answers and an imperfect God.
Celie Walker’s character narrates her personal story in an epistolary way. This allows for self revelation and also provides an intellectual process to understand herself and reality. The style is similar to Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man or William Wells Brown’s Clotel. J. Hollands wrote that this “enables you to witness the birth and development of very private writing”. He cited the example of Celie’s first line, where she changed “I am” to “I Have” and the use of the present form to replace the “I was” form. Celie’s alienation from God is demonstrated by Celie writing letters to God. “…longest I can spell G.O.D. Walker doesn’t give her protagonist any surname. This removes her sense of self and intensifies her need for contact with all people willing to help her. Faulkner portrays Benjy (the mentally disabled Compson child) as a modern Christlike figure, which mirrors the ineptness, irony and despair evident in the desperate relationship between young people and God. Caddy is shown Benjy as a potential savior. A man half the age of Jesus, yet part of a generation that slowly tarnishes the family’s name with moral decay. Faulkner portrays the new Christ as an image that would allow for the restoration and renewal, especially of Caddy. Benjy is shown crying over Caddy as he wears perfume. This symbolises the immorality Caddy’s unwed child birth. Crow is similar in that Hughes’ use and recreation of the Genesis story and Biblical language redefine God. This gave Crow the opportunity to learn humanity and change his animalistic, amoral nature. Each of the three protagonists developed a sense for themselves through contact with God. Benjy, Celie, and Crow, through their attempts to imitate God’s work, became substitutes for previously “unworthy” religious figures. Faulkner’s narrative also includes images from the busiest day on the Christian Calendar. The structure of The Sound and the Fury revolves around the Easter Week. It allows the author to explore spiritual possibilities within his characters, including Dilsey. Faulkner portrays Dilsey’s experiences of spiritual renewal as parallels to Reverend Shegog’s unorthodox but powerful Easter sermon. Accordingly, the Easter event relevant to this novel’s plot is sacrament. This isn’t an instantaneous rebirth, but rather a gradual process of awakening. Crow’s enlightenment takes place over time, as evidenced in “Crow Communes”, a short poem that might be a parody of the Christian Eucharist. Hughes calls Crow a “hierophant” because he was caught trying to eat a piece God to gain Divine knowledge and power. Crow is “blasted” and dies in “Truth Kills Everybody.” Hughes also describes Crow as a “hierophant” because he was caught eating a piece of God to gain Divine knowledge and power.
Celie’s character is, in contrast, more passively and slowly realizing spirituality. Richard Yarborough, a Critic, stated that Celie’s decision to write to Nettie instead of God was a significant moment in her psychological maturation. Celie should not be freed by this single action. Celie’s character was still subject to domestic abuse years after the “dissolution” which suggested that any form or rebirth would be after the end of the mental and physical trauma. Celie would feel more at ease if Shug Avery’s relationship with Celie becomes sexual. Celie has the greatest emotional stability at this stage. Walker makes Celie feel more self-aware and more individual. Celie signs her letters now, signing ironically “Amen” on letters addressed to Nettie while signing “God Bless You!” on others. This transition from a metaphysically created “God”, into a receptive, human substitute for God also results in a change in the narrative tone.
Hughes shows that death and life are interrelated in Crow’s spiritual rebirth. Crow Tyrannosaurus makes this clear: “Creation quaked vocals…a cortege de mourning, lament” indicates that Crow must first overcome the absurd duality trap and “try to be the light.” Crow could be seen as a pilgrim on the path to enlightenment. Crow appears to be in a paradoxical state of being “roots breaking out of the bedrock-atom” (Valerie Smith, 1987). Smith’s perspective is valid because the majority of the actions in “A Kill” are immediate and within Crow’s reach. It is important that Crow realizes that Hughes has taken control of Crow’s psyche, and therefore his body. This spiritual duality is reinforced by “Crow’s Fall’s” depiction of black and his white counterparts as mutually exclusive. Crow is described in “Crow’s Fall” as once being white. However, by fighting the white sunlight, he turns into black. Hughes suggests this spiritual duality cannot be overcome unless Crow can see the opposing opposites as mutually dependent.
The theme of duality in life and death runs through both my novels. It’s shown in The Sound and the Fury via the division between morality and ethics and in The Color Purple using color symbolism, which is a similar technique as Crow. Faulkner portrays Compson as unsure of the issue. But, because of his “self-absorbed but destructive belief in himself being able to control all things that contribute to his demise,” (Robert Butler, 1998). These events include the loss of the social ideals of feminine purity by his daughter Caddy. Jason’s greed and intellect-destroying nature are manifested in Benjy’s inability or inability of seeing the connection between immorality and morality. He is unable to overcome old sins and rebirth into spiritual freedom. The Color Purple Walker, however, introduces gradually brighter colors throughout the novel to signify the chronology that depicts various characters’ renewals, rebirths and liberation. Celie is first shown this in The Color Purple Walker’s novel. Celie has limited color options for Celie’s new gown. She then chooses a bright yellow material from Shug’s previous dresses to make her quilt. Shug, who is described by June Lawrenson, as “a revelationatory figure…the key holder to Celies emotional and Spiritual maturity”, is associated to the color purple. I consider Shug to be an “revelation figure” in Celie’s and other women’s lives. Shug helps Celie to develop a strong sense and self-esteem. He also acts as an advocate for women trapped in the 1930s’ oppressive black female lifestyle. Modernist literature often celebrates the idea that rebirth can be found in destruction and that new creation can arise from that destruction. A quote from Timothy Bewes shows this in “The Waste Land”, which is a reconstruction of the meaning of history. “These fragments I have shored against mine ruins …”,” Shug says.
Faulkner says that the potential to regenerative effects of time can’t be objectively understood but is only accessible for human interaction. Benjy, despite not having any concept of time, is shown to have a mental condition that allows him see links between the past and the present. Quentin on the other hand is unable to escape time. His futile attempts to stop the clock only make him more dependent on the cycle of destruction and not the renewal that comes from it. This eventually leads to him taking his own life. Hughes, by contrast, is much more involved than Quentin in the world’s pain. Hughes uses Faulkner’s destructive time cycle to help him come to terms and accept his own experience. The “seven-year honeymoon” mentioned in the poem “Crow Improves” could be a reference to Hughes’ marriage with Sylvia Plath which lasted from 1956 to 1963. Plath-Hughes marriage had a turbulent history. Events surrounding Plath’s suicide, such as Hughes’ affair and refusal to discuss the circumstances surrounding Plath’s passing, made him look like a murderer to many Plath sympathizers. The “seven-year honeymoon,” which Hughes and Hughes shared, only serves to reinforce their marital problems. Hughes comes to similar conclusions as Faulkner’s Quentin. If the “machine guns” on his consciousness can be dissuaded, then escaping the “marchoftime” is their only option. Critic David King says that Hughes’ “retreat from the situation [is] a necessary component of artistic detachment” and allows for the gradual acceptance of horrible events. This is a progression from the time “he sat crying” over the dark side of life to the moment “he started to laugh.”
Celie’s involvement to the cycle time further oppresses her, and Walker’s narrative is confined to her internalisations about her disturbing private life. Walker’s narrative style is an extended inner monologue. Celie is initially made to feel depersonalized because of the extreme life circumstances she is faced with, such as the incest and loss of her children. I follow the instructions. But I am alive.” It is important to remember that Celie was freed from such extreme circumstances by the passing of time. This suggests that survival can lead to rejuvenation. Faulkner, along with his contemporaries, believed that the past was unalterable and that it “a burden that deeply affects the present deeply”. Faulkner closed The Sound and the Fury by describing the dark tone of Modernist thought. Hughes, however, chose to end Crow by returning to the theme of the quest for spiritual rebirth. Keith Sagar says that Crow is Everyman who won’t acknowledge that the Black Beast, all that he hates, fears, and is afraid of, is inside him.
Walker’s voice of Celie and other Black women was not only an important step towards liberation but, along with Faulkner Hughes, he also articulated an in-depth understanding about spiritual independence, making it possible to make the leap from the specific to the universal. This trio’s portrayal and analysis of incidental events transformed spiritual and emotional freedom in the twenty-first century.
Smith, Valerie. Harvard University Press 1987.
Butler, Robert. “Contemporary African-American Fiction: A Journey Through Time”. Associated University Presses published a book in 1998.
Lawrenson, June. Lecture: Women and Afro-American Literature. Truro, 2/8/11.
Hollands J. Lecture : Identity, Stereotypes & Silence Falmouth, 14/3/11.
Yarborough, Richard. “The First-Person of Afro-American Fiction.” Chicago University Press first published in 1989.
Bewes, Timothy. Lecture: Elements of Modernism as a Literary Style in America. During a lecture at Roehampton University in 2002, the speaker discussed the importance of understanding the context of an individual’s life when considering their behaviours. They argued that it is essential to look at the environment and experiences that have shaped an individual in order to gain insight into why they behave in certain ways.
King, David. Essay: From the Songs and Life of the Crow, a Description and Defense of Ted Hughes'”Crow”. In the fall of 2007.
Pointer, Lucas. Essay: The Burdens and History of American Literature in the Twentieth Century. In 1999.