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Cultivating Black Lesbian Shamelessness: Alice Walker's "The Color Purple" Author(s): Christopher S.

Lewis Source: Rocky Mountain Review, Vol. 66, No. 2 (Fall 2012), pp. 158-175 Published by: Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41763555 . Accessed: 09/02/2014 13:15
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Cultivating

Black Lesbian

Shamelessness:

Alice Walker s

The Color Purple Christopher S. Lewis Ohio State University

T n herpivotal1979 essay"Toward a BlackFeminist Barbara Smith Criticism," in U.S. literary JL criticism. lamented the lack of black lesbianrepresentation - whether world She explained that"Allsegments of the literary establishment, or lesbian not or at least act as ifthey do do Black,female, know, progressive, exist"(132). The not know, thatBlackwomenwriters and Blacklesbianwriters about blacklesbiansthatemerged amountof writing by and/or unprecedented in the 1970s and 1980s made the questionand value of blacklesbianwritings to African Americanliterary existence of fundamental studiesin importance Four seminal black lesbian texts Alice Walker s The Color Audre particular. Purple, LordesZami: A New Spelling , NtozakeShange's ofMy Name Sassafrass, Cyprusy in & Indigo s The Women Brewster Place were , and GloriaNaylor published of AnnAllenShockley, writers AlexisDe 1982.1 Lesbian-identified Clarke, Cheryl Audre Pat and Alice Walker each Veaux, Gomez, Lorde, Parker, Jewelle beganand 2 their careers between likeOctaviaButler, 1970 and 1990. Writers Gayl developed Toni Gloria and Ntozake Kincaid, Morrison, Jones, Jamaica Naylor, Shangewho in did not openlyidentify as lesbianor same-sex also published desiring writing the 1970s and 1980s thatexplicitly black lesbian characters and/or represented shared blacklesbian in women's interest same-sex relationships.3 writings general Thesewriters wereat oddswithmajormalewriters ofthe1960sand 1970s Black ArtsMovement likeAmiriBarakaand Eldridge Cleaverbecausetheycritiqued what E. Patrick calls "the of an ethic blackness," Johnson politics hegemonic thatdefined the BlackArtsMovement of the "representation of and conceived effeminate black as because the [within homosexuality writing] disempowering" associated withbothfemininity and homosexuality was considered vulnerability in the fight "ineffectual (51).4 Composed by blacklesbian againstoppression" writers likeCheryl the AudreLorde,Barbara and Beverly Clarke, Smith, Smith, Collective Statement the case 1977 CombaheeRiver explained plainly: Black feminist ... have an obvious tomovements for Black connection politics those of the and of us were in active 1960s 1970s. liberation, particularly Many 158 * ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW * FALL 2012

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andall Black theBlack those movements nationalism, (Civil panthers), Rights, their and ofour lives were affected and their by ideologies, goals, greatly changed Itwasourexperience anddisillusionment the tactics used toachieve their goals. ofthe aswell asexperience onthe within these liberation movements, periphery a that was male that led to the need to white anti-racist, left, develop politics andwhite unlike those ofBlack those ofwhite andanti-sexist, unlike women, men. (273) not only the racismof The Combahee RiverCollectiveconsistently critiqued but also the politicsof black (masculine) whitefeminism, pridethatrequired as self-determined and the supinebody of a black woman forits articulation ofthe1970s writers racism. Blacklesbian and lesbian-allied invulnerable to white about black women who were excluded and 1980s insisted on tellingstories "looked of blackpride;they underthepolitics from blackliterary representation abuse" and sexual broken domestic theveiland explored behind families, violence, considered theseexperiences blackness (Wall 797). The politicsof hegemonic with affiliated have been because and identities they typically "disempowering" attention writers and lesbian-allied and shame.Blacklesbian brought vulnerability in African whatis representable shameoften dictates to the factthatsexualized of what are usuallyconsidered Their exploration American literature. shameful Power and Black that the Black calls for black defined the issues pride complicated Arts Movements. whatthisarticle writers cultivated black lesbianand lesbian-allied Together, of the calls forblack an amendedversion calls "black lesbianshamelessness," Blacklesbian Movements. in theBlackPower and BlackArts circulated pridethat of thefactthatsame-sex shamelessness is defined relationships by itscelebration as wellas byitsacceptance ofcountless blackwomen, sustain and nurture thelives of human conditions as fundamental of vulnerability and mutualdependence as represented The ethic ofblacklesbian shamelessness, bya number relationships. identities the 1970s and 1980s,does not position from of blackwomenwriters in a re-structured one another and "man" like"black," "white," "woman," against whichthe as an of blackness rather conceives but experience through hierarchy, racial,and sexualidentification vulnerable, qualitiesof gender, inter-subjective and its TheColor I consider AliceWalker's areclearly seen.In thisarticle, Purple I focuson The ColorPurple of blacklesbianshamelessness. treatment particular PrizeforFictionand National Book Awardmarka because its 1983 Pulitzer The novelspopularity in thehistory ofblacklesbian moment writing. significant same-sex desireas an objectof thatblackfemale acclaimsuggested and critical and sensitivity withseriousness could be regarded by a literary representation REVIEW * 159 * ROCKY MOUNTAIN FALL 2012

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audience. theswift backlash thenovelsuseofrealism However, widespread against foritscultivation of lesbianshamelessness also reveals thatgenre determines the in whichcelebrations of African American sexualqueerness are received. spirit This article therefore considers Walker s cultivation ofblacklesbian shamelessness as wellas itsreception. and OpposingSalvation Sexuality Articulating The ColorPurple ruminates on issuesof salvation, shame,and silenceas they in thelivesof earlymanifest black in the U.S. twentieth-century womenliving South.The novelrepresents thepitfalls of the"salvific wish,"a rhetorical gesture associated withrepresentations of African American womenthat,according to CandiceJenkins, in thenineteenth that (125). Jenkins developed century explains thesalvific wish"is bestunderstood as an aspiration, mostoften but not solely middle-class and female, to saveor rescue theblackcommunity from white racist accusations ofsexualor domestic the embrace of conventional pathology through to ofblackwomensacrificing (125). Jenkins propriety" bourgeois points a history - especially - in order to protect sexual exploration queer sexual exploration blackcommunities from accusations ofsexualdeviance. As such,sexualpropriety has operated as a shield.Evelynn Hammondsexplains thatblackwomenhave "countered of black "the consistently stereotypes" negative sexuality through of a culture evolution of dissemblance' and a politicsof silence'"(142), both of whichhave required blackwomento hide,mute,and/or shieldexpressions of (queer) sexuality.5 to L.H. Stallings, this "historically According politicized has it made difficult to discuss Black women's sexual desires" (4). quiet very fully Becausewhitesupremacy blackwomen's or exploration regards open expression of (queer)sexuality as an invitation to violation, blackwomenhavefrequently felt theneedto sublimate both. Blacklesbian writers ofthe1970sand 1980scritiqued thecultural compulsion that requiredblack women'ssacrifice of (queer) sexual articulation.6 Audre Lordetheorized the uselessness of salvation via silencein her 1977 piece,"The Transformation of Silence into Languageand Action." Ratherthan hide or sublimate desires and experiences considered shameful as a meansof shielding oneself from or violation, Lordeexplained that judgment Itisnecessary toteach andspeaking those truths which webelieve and byliving know in this Because alone wecansurvive... And beyond way understanding. - ofvisibility, itis never without fear ofthe harsh ofscrutiny andperhaps light of of death. But we have lived all of those in judgment,pain, already, through 160 * ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW * FALL 2012

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I remind ifI were death. And allthe time now that tohave silence, except myself been born or had maintained an oath of silence whole life for mute, my long I would still have andI would still die.{Sister suffered, 43) safety, in particular Lordeasksthatblacklesbians liberate themselves from theoperating that their silence on issues of same-sex can blackpeople desire presumption protect in general from heterosexist and/or racist Her suggestion had she that, judgment. been mute,she "wouldstillhavesuffered" resounds because(black)womenare violatedin patriarchal cultures of their sexualexperience, expression, regardless or other feature of clothing, make-up, any propriety. defining Walker questions the salvationassumed to be inherentin silence and on thefirst witha linethe , whichbegins respectability page of The ColorPurple " ' rest of thenovelgoes on to challenge: Youbetter notnever tellnobody butGod who (1). The line is purportedly spokento Celie by herstep-father Alphonso, her her adolescence. While intends to repeatedly rapes Alphonso keep during Celie quietabouthissexualabuse,sheproceeds to write letters to God abouther and thereby turns on its head. As MarthaCutter experience Alphonsosthreat "therapebecomes notan instrument to Celie's ofsilencing, butthecatalyst writes, in a search forvoice"(166). Celie'sfirst letter to God describes abuse Alphonsos manner: "He never had a kinewordto sayto me.Just sayYou gonna disturbing First do whatyourmammy wouldn't. he puthisthing myhip and sort up gainst ofwiggle it around. inside Then he grabhold mytitties. Then he pushhis thing I When that He start to choke You better shut hurt, cry. me,saying mypussy. up and gitusedto it"(1-2). Celies descriptive narration ofAlphonosassault suggests thatsexualarticulation can displaceimposedsilenceas a meansof copingwith abuse. Celie is confused overAlphonsosviolation, whichshe has no reasonto "I am fourteen believe shedeserved or invited: been old. I am I havealways years to a good girl.Maybeyoucan giveme a signletting me knowwhatis happening a condition me" (1). Celie emphasizes herlong-standing status as a "good girl," wish the of determined her adherence to the salvific and by politics respectability. the Celie has beenled to believe thather"goodgirl" behavior can spareherfrom from the racist sexualviolation of men,as well as spareher entire community wish confronts thevalues ofthesalvific violence ofwhite people.Celie'sexperience that behavior and thepolitics ofsilence the bychallenging assumption "goodgirl" leads to leads to personalsafety and that,vice versa,only "bad girl"behavior as ineffectual the of violation. Walker ultimately represents politics respectability thepolitics of silence meansof confronting violation. she regards Furthermore, of racist violence thatdictate thereticence of Celie'scommunity overthehistory in the United Statesas misguided. Celie eventually learnsthather biological REVIEW * 161 FALL 2012 * ROCKY MOUNTAIN

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father was lynched When bya whitemob threatened byhis successin business. .. Celie'smother thedeathofherhusband, "[t]heneighbors. continuously grieved hermoreand more. . . becauseherattachment shunned to thepastwas so pitiful" the past and hide its grief from her daughters, Celies (181). Pushedto forget mother who proceeded to masquerade as thebiological father married Alphonso, In bothsituations, ofCelie and hersister Nettie. ofheterosexist articulations and in orderto preserve racist violation werestifled a semblance of familial sanctity. Celie'sletters about herexperiences to confront these silenced realities of begin sexualviolation, violence. and racist But their confrontation, sexuality, according toWendy is audible that Celie "can survive these abuses Wall, initially barely given in a diary them whichactsas hersecondmemory. She displaces onlybyrecording hervoiceontothissilent, text" uncommunicated (263). After and Celie continues to write letters house, Alphonso's marrying leaving thatsilently narrate in sexualfeelings and experiences, her disinterest including herhusband Albert as a dominative sexualand domestic partner. Upon meeting herloverShug,Celie is introduced to masturbation, same-sex and relationships, letters from Nettiethat Albert in hid. Celie begins to now Nettie, Africa, writing rather thanto God; Walkerthusrepresents blackwomen's of open expression with one another as an alternative to the isolation of sexuality onlyto writing God. Furthermore, Walker blackwomen's sexualrelationships withand represents of one another an as alternative to to masculinist and tutelage beingsubjected dominative ideasof sex. Celie'ssame-sex experiences beginto soothethe (sexist) woundsinflicted and Albert.7 Celie details herintimacy withherself byAlphonso "I lie backon thebed and haulup mydress. andwithShugas follows: Yankdown bloomers. Stick the tween All that hair. Then my my mylegs.Ugh. looking glass than pussylips be black.Then insidelook likea wet rose. [...] It a lot prettier ain't it? from the With the of door" aid Celie (82). youthought, [Shug]say Shug, thepower oflooking within TheColor : no an complicates dynamics Purple longer for and Albert's sole and sexual with use,Celie, object Alphonso's viewing Shugas thedirector, becomes aboutherbodyand sexualpleasure: inquisitive ...Where the button? the she Thepart that stick outa little. upnear say. Right top, I look ather andtouch itwith A little shiver me.Nothing my finger. gothrough much. But to tell me this the button to mash. (82) just enough right Celie'sarticulation ofsexualpleasure is also thearticulation ofhervery bodyand Walker Celie's woman-directed masturbation and presence. positions vulnerability 162 * ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW * FALL 2012

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as the means through which her burgeoning self-awareness and self-love are This visionofselfhood and self-love is very from thecallsto different experienced. in Black heard the Arts when black selfhood and self-love were Movement, pride said to be experienced men'suse of "prone" women's bodies.8Indeed, through masculinist intervention turnsthe scene of Celie's sexualself-exploration from one of consensual black female sexualcompanionship to one of female sexual as it endswhenAlbert and his son intrude on Celie and Shug:"Albert deviance, and Harpo coming,[Shug]say.And I yankup mydrawers and yankdown my I feellikeus beendoingsomething dress. (82). wrong" Celie and demonstrate a model of sexualvulnerability Together, Shug and mutualdependencethathas themworking toward consensually together self-love rather thanrelating an interaction different from Albert s hierarchically masculinist withCelie. When Celie decidesto travel to Memphis relationship withShug,Albert to Celie's her: bydegrading responds departure he You'll beback, hesay. for like talent, nobody you. Nothing upNorth Shug got can he can talk to She She She looks, say. anybody. spunk, say. Shug got sing. got hesay. Shecanstand what Youugly. Youskinny. But you upandbenotice. got? Allyou Youtooscared toopen mouth topeople. fit todo Youshape funny. your inMemphis isbeShug's Take cook her food. maid. outher and slop-jar maybe (212) Albert's Albert chidesCelie as different from Shug,who can "talkto anybody." as words showthatCelie'ssilence has notshielded herfrom insult and accusation, "I curse he nevertheless herappearance.9 Celie responds with a curse: you. degrades will . Until . Until touch crumble. do [. .] [. .] you right byme,everything you you do right byme,everything you evendreamaboutwillfail"(213). Celie explains is beyondher thatthe originof her curseand newly-vocalized self-articulation individual body:"I giveit to himstraight, justlikeit cometo me.And itseemto her cometo me from thetrees" This (213). particular speechactofCelie'saffirms ina wayhersilent to existence andexperience toAlbert letters didnot.10 According "In to a an of action order to attribute Butler, Judith accountability subject, origin in that . . . Thequestion, then is Actively secured. , ofwhoisaccountable fora subject is the and the and initiates , through subject subject itself formed given injury precedes ' and site nominated to inhabit that (45-46, emphasis juridical being grammatical Albert receives thecurse as ifCelie alone WhenCelie curses Albert, hers). initially Who you "He laugh. is its"origin ofaction," orauthor. Thus,he reacts mockingly: Look at You think is? he You can't curse black, youpore, you you say. nobody. you. To Celie is a woman. he at all" Albert, Goddam, (213). you say, you nothing ugly, and but at all" because of her blackness, poverty, "nothing ugliness, womanhood, FALL * ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW * 163 2012

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thecurseitself attests to Celies presence, allowsherto speakherexperiences and and initiates" her. Celie what Butler calls the "precedes feelings, performs "making witha history ofspeakers" toThomas [of] linguistic (52). According community M. Marvin,Celie responds to Albert"likea conjurewoman"(412) and links herself to a hostofAfrican and practitioners. Indeed, diasporic practices religious Celie makes Albert awareofthisfact whenshetells "You better him, stoptalking becauseall I'm telling me"(213). Citing and inhabiting youain't justfrom coming a history of African Celie intimidates Albertinto diasporicreligious practice, down.Before hercurse, Albert believed Celie to be a backing mistakenly hearing When Celie a asserts for herself within African non-subject. non-speaking place thatis recognizable toAlbert, sheaffirms herexistence diasporic practice religious to him,as wellas their shared inter-subjective experience.11 Celie re-imagines thefourcategories in whichAlbert places herwhenshe to his insults witha finaldeclaration: "I'm pore,I'm black,I maybe responds a and can't voice to But I'm here"(214). cook, ugly say everything listening. She shamelessly embracestheterms Albertintended as insults. Followingher earlier workto turn to silence down Alphonso'scompulsion upside by writing to God, Celie again finds a meansof articulating in thefaceof herexperiences extreme ThadiousM. Davis finds that Celie's embraceofAlbert's degradation. insults echo ofLangston folk B.Semple [the words] Jesse Hughes's philosopher, (Simple): "I'mstill here... I'vebeenunderfed, I'vebeen abused, confused, underpaid... misused. .. I done had from flat I amstill feet toflat head. .. but .. here. everything I'mstill here." Celie's verbal connection toHughes's black and the black everyman oral tradition extends her affirmation ofself, so that itbecomes aswell as racial, (119) personal. Walker connects Celie and hercultivation ofblackshamelessness notonlyto the of African but also to and thework of history diasporic religious practice, Hughes an earlier blackqueerwriter. In doingso,Walker theblackshamelessness positions articulated Celie as a black survival mechanism. Darieck by particularly queer Scottpostulates thatcountless African Americans haveutilized thisqueersurvival from the antebellum era to the and "If strategy present wonders, we areracialized domination and abjection and humiliation, is there (in part)through anything of value to be learnedfromthe experience of beingdefeated, and humiliated, from an and violated rather than a (6). abjected?" Speaking abject position defensive and posturing Celie models the of black shamelessness one, politics by and a social most facets of as embracing valuing experience by society regarded worthless. Walker thusposits theembrace ofqueervulnerability as a critical lesson 164 * ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW * FALL 2012

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aboutblacklesbianidentification, as wellas blackidentification in general. Scott that explains the in/of blackness endows its inheritors with a form ofcounterintuitive abjection what we can think of as black This isalso indeed, (which power power. power a way ofspeaking offreedom) is found at the of the erasure of point apparent at thepoint at which theconstellation oftropes that we call ego-protections, race seem to reveal themselves as utterly and , body, , nation identity penetrated without defensible (9) compromised, boundary. thevulnerability ofabjection as a source ofknowledge Walker andpower, Regarding tendencies thatconceiveof resoluteness and its attendant upsetshierarchizing of as and valuable. work Her powerful feeling pride uniquely re-conceptualizes with and of violation as a source and experience vulnerability acknowledgement ofpower and strength rather thanshamewithin blackcommunities. Celie concludesher interaction withAlbertby telling him, "Anything you do to me, already done to you" (214). Celie suggests thatshe and Albert havea Ifhe shouldhitCelie again, shared Albert willonlyhithimself. bodily experience. After Albert's workto differentiate Celie from himself and to differentiate Celie from her and "a Celie unites them all woman," Shug bycalling "pore," "ugly," to theirsharedhistorical circumstances of violation and abjection by gesturing in particular and encourages Albert to valuevulnerability. L.H. Stallings explains that"[r]ealresistance to stereotypes [sh]ouldentailmorethansimply reversing the binary about Black women'ssexuality; it would mean logic of stereotypes of genderand sexuality thatmake the stereotypes systems possible. destroying Such actionwould aid in the initial construction of radicalBlackfemale sexual the (2-3). The ColorPurplerevealsthat "such action"requires subjectivities" breakdown of individual one another. to Rachel egospostured against According her elaboration of Celie's thetraditionally Lister, "Walker, narrative, through rejects masculine on self-containment and boundaries and presents emphasis strong ego 12 as a form ofempowerment" (65). This modeof "empowerment" fragmentation within ofpride, thepolitics of is quitedifferent from thosecontained thepolitics and thesalvific shields and "egoboundaries" silence, wish,giventhatit advocates be dropped and vulnerability embraced. TheColorPurple and BlackLesbianShamelessness Receiving The Color Purples cultivation receiveda of black lesbian shamelessness mixofreviews critics the1980s.On theone hand,many complicated throughout celebrated thenovel's realist use ofAfrican American Vernacular (AAVE) English FALL 2012 * ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW * 165

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heralded the "authenticity of its of its narration. Mel Watkins forthe majority wrote who otherwise of the folk voice"(9) andTrudier novel, Harris, disapproved thatits "folk wonderful" (156). HenryLouis Gates,Jr. speech ... is absolutely that "one can writean entire novel The Color for championed Purple revealing was a "storehouse in dialect"(251), whichin turnaffirmed thatAAVE itself or simplistic subrather than an of [linguistic] (251) unsophisticated figures" either theethicof on the otherhand,manycritics However, ignored language. ofAAVE narrated or blacklesbianshamelessness that Walker s celebrated version thelatter s blacklesbian shamelessness and AAVE as incompatible given regarded association with black realism.13 of the Mixed literary reception longstanding withtheissueofgenre novelsblacklesbiancontent was thusentangled and with in realism particular. literary "racialrealism," an artistic mode that to Gene AndrewJarrett, According [s] the black race in accurateor truthful ways"(1), is an "supposedly portray of black-authored endorsed and byboth frequently expectation writing regulated "WilliamHowellsin and blackwriters alike,including (often white)publishers in the the 1890s,Alain Locke in the 1920s, Richard 1930s and 1940s, Wright and AmiriBarakain the 1960s and 1970s" (1). This expectation is informed by "rich the assumption thatblackwriting to use Toni Morrisons ore" is, phrase, even unsophisticated, information about (2303), or a sourceof unmediated, blackness. black writers used this and Historically, many expectation strategically in wayscapableofleveling of realism to represent African Americans assumption to of racism and white discourses which discourses supremacy, damage prevailing whatblackness is. Recognizing realism to knowcompletely bypresuming operate writers have as theprivileged arenaof blackartistic black expression, frequently sexualnormativity within it in order to combatracist discourse ofblack endorsed sexualdepravity. out the of such a schema, exclusionary politics Pointing Dwight McBridewrites, "Thereare manyvisionsand versions of the blackcommunity thatget positedin scholarly and in political discourse, forms, popularcultural discourse. do any of thesevisionsincludelesbiansand gay men,except Rarely as an (207). perhaps afterthought" The expectation thatblackwriters forms has historically composein realist coalescedinto an expectation thatblack writers at least in compose partially overtimebecamenearly In withblackliterary realism. AAVE,which synonymous hispreface to TheBookofAmerican Weldon (1921), James Johnson Negro Poetry remembered Paul LaurenceDunbar,the leadingblack poet of the late 1800s, to him,"I'vegottowrite its theonly dialect wayI can getthem remarking poetry; to listen to me" (899). Dunbar recognized his (largely white)audiencesappetite 166 * ROCKY * FALL MOUNTAIN REVIEW 2012

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AAVEand satiated in order for itstrategically to buildan audience with whomhe Americans images could thenshareimages ofdignified and respectable African withboth to counter of sexual and backwardness associated stereotypes depravity in general blackness and AAVE specifically. inopposition tohisnormative a century after andworking Dunbar, nearly Writing with like Zora Neale Huston before her Their Walker, EyesWere Watching goals, while ofAAVEs artfulness and sophistication God(1937), challenged assumptions visions of successful sexual contained simultaneously anti-queer practice questioning in thepolitics wasconscious ofaudience when ofblackpride. LikeDunbar, Walker inAAVE.Describing hermother s interaction withTheColor shechoseto compose before herstroke, "Shehad notreadTheColor writes, , Walker beyond Purple Purple in a way thatwould not written the first fewpages,thoughit was deliberately withonlya grade schooleducation and a intimidate and other readers likeher, her, Written theBible,newspapers and magazine articles" Same lifetime ofreading 24). ( TheColor like her mother rather than white tobeaccessible toreaders readers, Purples ofblack realism nevertheless ofthelinguistic conventions fulfillment literary strategic Americans thenormative of African traditionally queersforbothgroups portrait ofblack nevertheless found aswellas themore therein, radical, portrait misogynistic, In the ofblack self-love the of black other endorsed words, by politics pride. framing of lesbian shamelessness as a realist and realistic narrative, alongwiththenarrating in AAVE,expands arenaofblackliterary theprivileged blacklesbian shamelessness this toaccount a happy, black lesbian.14 realism for successful Furthermore, queering of what masculinist of blackliterary realism assumptions predominant challenges makes blacklife valuable andviable. in opposition to thepolitics ofblackrespectability CandiceJenkins that, argues of blackpatriarchy and pride,The ColorPurple queersthe "ahistorical fantasies Hortense as a to defensive (erected,perhaps, Spillerscalls] response [what The Color harbors ofwhichtheblackcommunity (94). fatherlack), many" Purples in far more the fact that it "contains a lies bewildering possibility queerness partly no who is present than the father's absence:a father , but nonetheless [Albert] of the in the end domination" dominant or even interested novel, (94). By longer rather thanvolatile husbandand abused Albert and Celie have becomefriends feminist heterosexual thesymbol ofsuccessful, wife. The failed becomes patriarch emblematic woman becomes black same-sex andtheshameless masculinity desiring critical sexualarticulation. Such an outcomesparked of successful blackfemale for is often usedas therationale concern becauseso-called blacksexualdepravity in theUnitedStates. Harriswrotein her 1984 review Trudier whitesupremacy thatTheColor Purple * ROCKY REVIEW * 167 FALL 2012 MOUNTAIN

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in thepopular add to many oftheideas culture [s]freshness simply circulating in that have no andcapturedracist literature suggested that black morality people ifexistent when itcomes tosexuality, that the black structure isweak at family in all... The novel to all the white racists notions of validity pathology gives black communities... Black males andfemales form units without the benefit of orthey inorder toform less dissolve more structured, easily marriage, marriages (157) promiscuous relationships. Harrisfoundthatthenovelscultivation of blacklesbianshamelessness validated whiteracist ofblacksexualimpropriety discourse and deviance.TheColor Purple in cameto represent theentire discourse of blacksexualand domestic pathology itsrepresentations of homosexuality and sexualassault. Harris's concern overthe lackofmonogamous in the in the novel an interest betrays represented marriages and circulation ofheteronormative and kinship promotion exclusively. propriety Additional that took with Walkers cultivation of black lesbian critiques umbrage in a realistformrevealblack literary shamelessness realism's heteronormative link Albert's to himself with Celie the end of the novel politics. by willingness and relinquish his imagined as an inviolate status man was seen as particularly odd to DinitiaSmith, whowrote, "The menin thisbook changeonly whentheir womenjoin together and rebel and then,the changeis so complete as to be unrealistic. It was hardforme to believethata personas violent, and brooding as could ever become that man and sweet, [Albert] justplainnasty quiet smoking on the porch"(19). On the shamelessly of the novel, chatting queersensibility StevenC. Weisenburger wrotethat,"as The ColorPurplenearedits close, the author's felt needs to winherreader's and good opinionofher, with, complicity work had overridden the for consciousness-raising requirements intradiegetic mimetic verisimilitude" and that"Walker's womanist' errand had takenpriority over the elements of narrative art" (265). Weisenburger Walkerfor critiqued the conventions in orderto accomplish of literary realism a political stretching he as to artistic concerns. Harris's review made a similar goal regarded tangential andAlbert s transformation: "I am notopposed pointaboutCelies shamelessness to triumph, but I do haveobjections to theunrealistic of thepath, presentation theprocess thatleadsto sucha triumph, whenit is usedto create a new especially or to resurrect old about black women" At (156, emphasis hers). archetype myths theheart of thesecritiques is thesensethatblacklesbian shamelessness is neither a viablepath to triumph nor a realistic for black women's lives. The sensibility takeissuewithWalker's combination ofblacklesbian shamelessness and critiques - twotracts blackliterary realism to the rhetoric of the salvific which, according ofsilence, and thepolitics ofblackpride, shouldnotmeet.15 wish,thepolitics * ROCKY 168 MOUNTAIN REVIEW * FALL 2012

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The ColorPurples1980s reception reveals how truly novel BarbaraSmiths of black lesbianexistence was. A greatnumberof readers 1979 proclamation theelimination normative for blackcommunities that harbored aspirations sought lesbianism of blacklesbianism that,forAfrican Americans, (and by suggesting the backlash shamelessness Furthermore, it) was simplyimpossible. regarding of black The Color reveals not the normative literary only politics against Purple of particular theviability but also the normative realism, politicsthatpresume blacklives. Butler that"[w]henwe askwhatmakesa lifelivable, Judith explains forlifeto normative conditions thatmustbe fulfilled we areasking aboutcertain ofblack . The works to assert the becomelife" Color viability Purple (UndoingllG) the in thefaceofitsassociations withsilence and socialdeath.In effect, lesbianism of blackness" novelalso questions whatCheryl Clarkecalls"theboundaries and, Clarke writes blackness as racial identification should how operate. specifically, erawereimposed oftheBlackArts Movement thatthe"prescriptions uponrecent wereimpressed muchlikethecodesof'blackrespectability' converts to blackness, The the twentieth from theSouthat theturnof century. upon recent migrants of . . . sharply oftheblacknationalist rhetoric policedthe'boundaries intelligentsia These boundaries at invulnerability. blackness' to itsmargins" (14) in an attempt black wereheavily not to out, but also to queerexpressions patrolled only keep witha as incompatible endemic to queersocialpositions thevulnerability regard on Walker's insistence of blackness. inviolate self-determined, newly conception neednot thatvulnerability thevalueof an abjectpositionality, however, suggests or forthatmatter for blacklivesto be valuable, be disavowed powerful. realism that blackliterary finds of TheColor s 1980sreception Myreading Purple the and to and for viable is critical terrain legacies approaches responses exploring in theUnitedStates. Thus blackliterary realities of racism and whitesupremacy in the wordsofJudith realism is one place to examineblackvulnerability and, to violence" dealswithitsvulnerability "howa collective Butler, 231). ( Undoing alternative before two familiar Butleridentifies another, exploring possibilities to response vulnerability: ofrepudiating is thepossibility ofappearing There vulnerability impermeable, other there issome violent. But ofbecoming itself. There isthe perhaps possibility dead neither in a that one is to live such death, socially way way fearing becoming or and or fear ofbeing from others, subjecting violent, killing killed, becoming death. the fear ofliteral tolive a life ofsocial death them Perhaps upon predicated to arefound inwhich collective means to live a world this other way requires 16 it. without (231) bodily vulnerability precisely eradicating protect

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Walker offers blacklesbianshamelessness as this"other wayto live"byregarding as a sustainable Articulation ofviolation vulnerability inter-subjective experience. can lead to an awareness of individuals' indebtedness to one another fortheir identities and thus become a fundamental ethicof human care. Ratherthan and social abjectionas invitations to violationthat must vulnerability regard be foreclosed and disavowed, Walkersblack queer realism conceives of social as a source ofsustenance that to individuals' needto preserve one abjection speaks another's Central to this black realism is the black lesbian who vulnerability. queer articulates her sexual and desires and who, violations, shamelessly experiences, links these to broader histories of blackviolation and subsequently, experiences desire. NOTES 1See Barbara Christian's "No More BuriedLives" fora consideration of their simultaneous emergence. 2Shockley's Her(1974)is oneofthe first novels tofeature a black lesbian main Loving character. Clarke's Narratives: Poems inthe Tradition Black Women was her first of (1983) collection. De Veaux's inthe Street memoir ofher life. poetry (1973)isa fictionalized Spirits her Don't ofBillieHoliday written as a prose Additionally, (1980)is a biography Explain Gomez her first twopoetry TheLipstick collections, poem. published Papers(1980)and and Bears this time. Pat Parker four collections Flamingoes (1986)during published poetry the1970s, in Movement inBlack : TheCollected throughout culminating (1978). Poetry Audre Lorde seven volumes ofpoetry this time with The published during period, beginning First Cities Coal(1976). Alice Walker her first of collection (1968)andincluding published Once her first The Third and her first novel, (1968), poetry, Life ofGrange (1970), Copeland short InLoveandTrouble this time. While Walker identified collection, story (1973), during herself as bisexual atvarious inthe1990s andearly shedidnot make 2000s, points public about her same-sex desires this time rumors of Nevertheless, proclamations during period. her swirled around the time ofTheColor sexuality Purple's (Jenkins 224). publication 3Inaddition toNaylor's TheWomen PlaceandShange's ofBrewster Sassafrass, Cyprus & Indigo Jones's , see Butler's Xenogenesis (1987-1989), trilogy (1975), Corregidora Kincaid's Annie John andMorrison's Sula(1973). (1985), 4SeealsoWahneema Lubiano's "Black Nationalism and Black Common inwhich Sense," shewrites that black nationalism's "most and manifestations have hegemonic appearances been masculinist andhomophobic" shesays that "Black nationalism is (232).Furthermore, a constantly reinvented andreinventing discourse that the Eurocentrism generally opposes ofthe U.S. state, but neither nor a consistent historically contemporaneously depends upon orcomplete toEurocentrism. .. [0]neconsistent black feminist ofblack opposition critique nationalist is that it insufficiently breaks with modes of economic, ideology patriarchal cultural andsocialcirculations ofpower that mimic Europolitical, familial), (especially American modes" (233). 170 * ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW * FALL 2012

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5 in "AfricanBrooks first to "thepolitics of silence" Evelyn Higginbotham pointed American Women's andthe orRace"as "a political History Metalanguage strategy byblack women reformers who their silence and the of Victorian hoped by by promotion proper morality todemonstrate the lieofthe ofthe immoral black woman" (Hammonds 143). image sexually In"Rape inthe and the Inner Lives ofBlack Women Middle Darlene Clark Hine West," says women that the "culture ofdissemblance" as "the behavior andattitudes ofBlack developed created the ofopenness and but the truth oftheir inner disclosure shielded actually appearance inHammonds lives andselves from their (Hine 143). oppressors" qtd. 6Hammonds inorder advocates that black women cultivate a politics ofsexual articulation to"overturn... the'politics ofsilence'" ofsexual shesays, articulation, (152).Thepolitics itpossible black women tospeak and should "build ontheinterrogation ofwhat makes for In I which black act" this share Hammonds 's concern about the means article, (152). through itcomes toliterary form. women's sexual canbearticulated, when experiences especially 7Somecritics as wounds havefound that these wounds ofsexism arealsorepresented of slavery is invoked ofracism. Maroula Joannou "Because thecontext writes, through 's situation, herexperiences to mind collective rather than theparticulars of Celie bring haveargued that Walker doesnot individual memories andhistories" (176). Stillothers in thecontext andAlbert of U.S. contextualize thesexist actsofAlphonso adequately writes that novel the of broad racism. Elliot ButlerEvans the accomplishes "displacement Berlant issues of AfroAmerican feminist (12).Lauren argues history bya specific ideology" - Sofia - aremore that thestories ofother characters andSqueak/Mary Agnes thoroughly in thecontext contextualized of dualracism and sexism by blackwomen experienced with toheal that Celie'ssexual (219).Additionally, exploration Shug helps myargument in meant to that the caused Albert and 's violations is no wounds way suggest by Alphonso with Walker same-sex desire as universally the result offailed men, relationships represents ofthe movie in"Steven Howard hiscritique as Ishmael Reed wrote Beach," Plays Spielberg version ofThe Color Purple. 8 Stokeley that theonly for saidin an unofficial 1964statement Carmichael position women inthe Student Nonviolent Committee was"prone." Coordinating 9 Thefact inorder that Albert callsCelie"ugly" to stifle herambitious plantotravel in a relationship between andintelligence/ambition toMemphis recalls ugliness explored examined which "Noonebefore hasever the Combahee River Collective Statement, says, An example ofthis kind ofrevelation/ themultilayered texture ofblack women's lives. ourearly as we discussed thewaysin which occurred at a meeting conceptualization Wediscovered Black males. intellectual interests had been attacked byour peers, particularly 'smart' hadalsobeenconsidered that all ofus,because we were i.e.,'smart-ugly.' 'ugly,' our to develop the in which most of us hadbeenforced 'Smart-ugly' crystallized way with is incloseassociation intellects atgreat cost toour'social'lives" (276).Thus "ugly" inparticular black female for black women because "smart" and"ambitious" intelligence innormative "'social'lives." andambition novaluable role play apparently 10 oforality inThe Color this about the critics have made , Purple point privileging Many TheSignifying inhischapter from LouisGates, Jr. on TheColor Purple Henry including makes a similar in"'Preachin' the Blues.'" bellhooks andThomas F.Marvin point Monkey in"Reading andResistance." 11 Baker's from Houston I import "interand"intertheterms subjectivity" subjective" as both a ofthe blues Literature heconceives andAfro-American Blues, , wherein Ideology, REVIEW * 171 FALL * ROCKY MOUNTAIN 2012

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- a nonlinear, a phylogenetic musical form and a cultural that "offer recapitulation experience - ofspecies What meditation associative, [through emerges freely nonsequential experience. voice from a filled but ananonymous blues is not (nameless) issuing subject, performance] to energizing Its theblack(w)hole...Its [anonymity] is an invitation intersubjectivity. meant for reads: here is my (a phylogenetically conceived) you" body implied (injunction ina black context the ofsubjectivity cultural (5). Baker's emphasizes importance theorizing toother buttobecome of andwillingness tonotonly relate ofvulnerability part people, andviceversa. them, 12 in"Piecing Self' that this ethic Fiske thePatchwork Furthermore, Shanyn explains in TheColor broad form: "Thenovel's is actually reflected ofinter-subjectivity Purple's itdifficult whether these narratives are inclusion ofso many individual stories makes totell within life orwhether Celie'sstory ispart ofa larger whole. enclosed Celie'saccount ofher that anindividual cannot be This formal destabilization ofa dominant narrative emphasizes from the matrix ofhisorher considered (150-151). relationships" apart 13 an explanation ofthefact See Barbara Smith's "Sexual Unmasked" for Oppression most chose tooverlook while readers celebrated TheColor that, many Purple's language, itslesbian storyline. 14 is especially here. NellaLarsen's Theshamelessness ofWalker's characters important novel ofa significantly earlier realist ofblack (1929)is anexample representation Passing for another as threatening female same-sex desire that oneblack woman's desire regards than a foundational andcentral of andantithetical toblack social success rather experience black women's self-love. 15 A number TheColorPurple itnotas a ofcritics havetried to redeem be reading as a and/or folk tale. See realist but "Romance, narrative, romance, tale, Hite, Molly fairy DianeGabrielsen 's "With EarstoHear andEyesto andMatrilineage," Scholl Marginality, Walsh's "TheEnchanted World ofTheColor ." However, even See,"andMargaret Purple these more critics endup implying that black lesbian shamelessness is nota sympathetic means ofexperiencing life ittothe realm ofromance, and viable tale, fairy byrelegating folk tale. 16 While Butler doesnotspecifically address an African American context her here, words recall the African Americanist work ofOrlando Patterson's and Social Death , Slavery inSula as wellas Toni Morrison's onblack women's selfSula , wherein thoughts fashioning that andNelrealize are"neither white nor male" andso "set about they creating something elsetobe"(52). WorksCited Houston A.Blues, and A Vernacular Literature: Baker, Ideology, Afro-American Theory. U ofChicago Print. P,1984. Chicago: in The 211-238. Lauren. andNation Color Gates and Berlant, "Race, Gender, Appiah Purple" Print. A Politics Excitable the New York: 1997. Butler, Judith. Speech: of Performative. Routledge, Print. 172 * ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW * FALL 2012

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2004.Print. . Undoing Gender. New York andLondon: Routledge, Fiction Toni Cade Elliot. Race andDesire: Narrative inthe , Gender Butler-Evans, Strategies of Print. and Alice Walker. Toni Morrison 1991. Bambara, UP, Temple Philadelphia: inLorde, Theme of Lesbianism Barbara. "NoMore Buried Lives: The Christian, Naylor, Web. 10 2012. Walker." Feminist Issues 3-20. 5.1 (1985): January Shange, Mecca": Women Poets andthe Black Arts Movement. Clarke, NJ: Piscataway, Cheryl. "Afier 2005.Print. UP, Rutgers Smith Combahee River Collective. "Combahee River Collective Statement." 1977. 272-282. Print. in The ofRape Martha Alice Walkers Cutter, J."Philomela Archetypes Speaks: Revisioning 1 2011. Web. Color MELUS 25.3-4 (2000):161-180. September Purple: Women ofSelf inSouthern Generations." Thadious M. "Alice Walker's Celebration Davis, New Alice Walker. Ed.Barbara Christian. Texts andContexts: Writers, Use, Everyday Print. Burnswick, UP,1994.105-122. NJ: Rutgers A Reading ofAlice Walker's The Color the Patchwork Self: Fiske, Shanyn. Purple." "Piecing 1 2011. Web. 66.3(2008):150-153. September Explicator A Theory Criticism. The Gates, Louis, Jr. Henry Literary Monkey: of Afro-American Signifying Print. New York: Oxford UP,1988. Walker: eds. Alice Critical andKwame Gates, Louis, Jr. Anthony Perspectives, Henry Appiah, Print. andPresent. New York: Past 1993. Amistad, American Y.McKay, Norton andNellie eds.The Gates, Louis, Jr. Henry Anthology of African 2004.Print. New York andLondon, Second Edition. WW.Norton: Literature, ofBlack Female "Black andthe Hammonds, (W)holes Sexuality." Geometry Evelynn. Schor. Meets Eds.Elizabeth Weed andNaomi Feminism Queer Bloomington: Theory. Print. Indiana UP,1997.136-156. American Literature andSilence." Black Color Trudier. "On The Harris, Stereotypes, Purple, Forum 18.4(1984):155-161. May132011. of andthe "African-American Women's Brooks. History Metalanguage Evelyn Higginbotham, 102011. Web. Race." 17.2(1992): 251-174. September Signs inthe Middle West: ofBlack Women andthe Inner Lives Darlene Clark. Hine, "Rape Web. 14.4(1989): onthe Culture ofDissemblance." 915-920. Preliminary Signs Thoughts 102011. September Were The andTheir andMatrilineage: Color Hite, "Romance, Eyes Molly. Purple Marginality, New York: Ed.Henry Louis Feminist. God." Gates, Black, Jr. Reading Watching Reading Print. 1990. 431-453. Meridian, Gates and The Color Bell. andResistance: 284-295. Hooks, Appiah Purple." "Reading U of Black Relations : Regulating Private Candice. Lives, Jenkins, Minneapolis: Intimacy. Proper Minnesota P,2007.Print. * 173 REVIEW FALL 2012 * ROCKY MOUNTAIN

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Notebook to TheColor Women's TheGolden Maroula. Joannou, Writing from Contemporary Print. Manchester: Manchester 2000. 164-187. UP, Purple. andthe Politics E. Patrick. Blackness: Johnson, of Authenticity. Appropriating Performance Durham: DukeUP, 2003.Print. ." 1921. Gates and "Preface to The Book American Weldon. Johnson, James of Negro Poetry Print. 883-905. McKay A Readers Guide toEssential Criticism. New Rachel. Alice Walker ; TheColor Lister, Purple: Macmillan. 2010. Print. York andLondon: Palgrave "Black andBlack Common Sense: Ourselves Wahneema. Nationalism Lubiano, Policing That Race Built: Black U.S.Terrain. Ed.Wahneema andOthers." The House Americans, Print. New York: Lubiano. 1997. 232-252. Pantheon, Secular and Alice Walker's Thomas E "'Preachin' the Blues': Bessie Smith's Marvin, Religion 41 American Review 1-421. Web. 10 The Color 28.3 (1994): September Purple." African 2011. Problem of "Canthe Racial andthe McBride, Essentialism, Queen Sexuality, Speak? Dwight. I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch: on Race and New York and Authority." Why Essays Sexuality. New York Print. London: 2005.203-226. UP, Toni. New York: Triad Print. Sula. 1973. Panther, Morrison, inAmerican . "Unspeakable TheAfro-American Presence Unspoken: Things Literature." Gates andMcKay Print. 1989. 2299-2322. A Reader. York New ed.African American New andLondon: Winston, Napier, Literary Theory: York 2000.Print. UP, A Comparative Orlando. andSocial Death: Harvard Patterson, UP, Slavery Study. Cambridge: Print. 1982. Ishmael. "Steven Howard Beach." Writin andFightin: Years Reed, Plays Spielberg Thirty-Seven onPaper. York: New Print. 1988.145-146. Atheneum, of Boxing Diane Gabrielsen. "With Ears toHear andEyes toSee:Alice Walker's Parable The Scholl, Color Alice Walker's The Color Ed.Harold Bloom. Chelsea Philadelphia: Purple." Purple. 2000.107-118. Print. House, Darieck. andSexuality inthe American Power, Scott, Blackness, Abjection: African Extravagant New York and London: New York 2010. Print. UP, Literary Lmagination. A Black Feminist ed.Home Girls: New York: Kitchen Women Barbara, Smith, Table, Anthology. ofColor Print. P,1983. . "Sexual 22 (1984):170-176. Unmasked." Callaloo Oppression May132011. . "Toward a Black Feminist Criticism." Print. 1977. 132-147. Napier Dinitia. Youa Tree!'" Gates and Print. 1982. 19-20. Smith, "'Celie, Appiah L.H.Mutha' isHaifaWord: Intersections andQueerness Folklore, Vernacular, Stallings, of Myth, inBlack Female Culture. Columbus: OhioState 2007.Print. UP, 174 * ROCKY MOUNTAIN REVIEW * FALL 2012

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Alice. The New York: Print. Color Pocket 1982. 1985. Walker, Books, Purple. . The Same River Twice: the Honoring Difficult. A. "OnDolls, andLittle Black Girls." 796-801. 35.4(2010): Wall, Presidents, Cheryl Signs November 122011. Web. Print. Texts." Gates and "Lettered Bodies andCorporeal 261-274. Wall, Wendy. Appiah "TheEnchanted World ofThe Color Southern 25 (1987): Walsh, Quarterly Purple" Margaret. 101. Web. 10 2011. 89September Web. Mel."Some Letters Went toGod."The New York Times 25July 1982.11 pars. Watkins, 2011. 13 May Narrative Narrative andThe Color Steven C. "Errant Journal of Weisenburger, Purple" Web. 10 201 1. 257-275. (1989): September Technique

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