Examine the author’s presentation of men, women and gender roles in ‘The Color Purple’ and ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. ‘ ‘The Color Purple,’ by Alice Walker; a novel in an epistolary form, reveals the story of a young black Georgia girl who faces adulthood believing that she has been raped by her father and that he killed both of their babies. The novel examines her struggle to find love, self-esteem, and continuing courage, despite harsh setbacks; until she eventually achieves freedom for herself.
The many characters in the novel break the boundaries of traditional male or female gender roles- it is this that I shall be discussing in greater depth, drawing comparisons to my second novel, ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit,’ by Jeanette Winterson. This is the story of the young protagonist; Jeanette who retells the story of her life beginning when she is seven years old and living in England with her adoptive parents. Jeanette does not know anyone aside from the other members of the church until at the age of the seven, when her mother is ordered to send Jeanette to school.
As this young girl begins to age she realises that she sometimes disagrees with the teachings of her congregation-, which ultimately leads her to explore her sexuality- here, both the church and the protagonist herself question gender roles. ‘The Color Purple’ and ‘Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit’ portray males in the form of a father in a very negative way immediately. Infact, they are portrayed negatively on the first pages of both novels. “He start to choke me, saying You better shut up and git used to it. But I never git used to it.
” Immediately ‘The Color Purple’ opens with a painful sexual crime, where the man who the young protagonist calls her father, rapes her, this physical violence is Celie’s first experience and introduction to sexuality. Instantly the readers are drawn into the brutality, violence and inhumanity of this particular ‘male’ gender. The father addressed as ‘Pa,’ who is supposed to represent a protector, comforter, breadwinner and guardian- that loves and protects his family, is presented in a completely diverse manner.
Whereas in “Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit,” the protagonist touches upon the fact that the father is the breadwinner in the house, however is incapable of emotionally providing for the young Jeanette, as he is never there for her. The father works early shifts and has no drastic contribution to her life. This is portrayed through the time the father goes to bed, “my father had already gone to bed because he worked early shifts. ” Overall, immediately I come to conclude that, both fathers in both the novels are presented negatively, in different ways.
Imagery of a brutal, selfish and a rapist father is created in the minds of the readers in ‘The Color purple. ‘ Celie’s ‘father’ has been presented in the utmost negative manner possible- through the minds of the readers he has been given the title of a rapist, worse yet- a rapist, who rapes his own daughter. Feelings of; disgust, horror, empathy and compassion circle the minds of the readers, as the belief in a ‘father’ acting so horrifically astonishes them. Everyone can relate to a father in one form or another and the thought of one actually ‘raping’ a child creates anger and disgust throughout the reading.
In a similar way, it can be said that the father in “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit” is also portrayed in a negative way immediately. This is simply explicit, by the way the protagonist, Jeanette, describes her fathers action. “My father liked to watch the wrestling… ” Unlike Celie’s father, who is portrayed as a brutal rapist, Jeanette’s father, in ‘Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit,’ is presented as a far more gentle and passive individual, who works in a factory and shows little interest to Jeanette.
Immediately, Winterson presents the male genre as passive and ‘not’ important, as after the first chapter there is hardly any mention of the father and his activities. This is in fact a negative portrayal of male fathers, because, readers feel that when a child is young, in this case ‘Jeanette’ the child requires love and attention from both parents, they need a father that protects them, takes interest in their day to day activities and ‘guide’ them, when they are making mistakes, talking to them and asking them of their day to day troubles.
However this father may not come across as a ‘brutal’ man, like Celie’s father, but he does come across as a father that simply ‘cannot’ be bothered. Therefore his portrayal becomes negative as he comes across as though he simply does not care about the existence of his own daughter, through the minds of many readers. To further this argument, it can be supposed to a certain degree, that Celie’s father, like Jeanette’s father simply does ‘not’ care about his daughter. Readers are made to feel this, because if a father cared about his daughter, like his ‘own’ then why would he ‘rape’ her?
All these questions race through the minds of the readers, whilst they read the first page of each novel. ‘ Walker, at this early stage of the novel, has immediately portrayed the ‘male’ gender to be negative, worst yet, the male gender seems to be associated with brutal rape and violence, “He start to choke me” being one form of male violence. The language used by both the protagonists at the beginning of both novels conveys the innocence that both writers attempt to get across. Celie’s innocence is conveyed through extremely limited phrases and language, with occasional ellipsis, which further the reader’s empathy towards her.
This style creates sympathy as she also writes with the rhythm of speech, which ultimately creates vast hatred and disgust toward the father, who is dominating and abusing an innocent child. Similarly Winterson also creates the innocence of the child protagonist in her novel, through the fact that she believe in everything her ‘mother’ tells her, even the fact that it “rains” when clouds hit tall buildings. Walker, at this early stage of the novel, has immediately portrayed the ‘male’ gender to be negative, worst yet, the male gender seems to be associated with brutal rape and violence, “He start to choke me” being one form of male violence.
Whereas, also in a negative form, the Jeanette’s father too Is portrayed as negative in the sense that he has no participation in the life of his own daughter, not even for her well being, as no emotion is come across in Winterson’s description of her father, only the fact that he enjoys watching wresting on he day off, rather than talking to his daughter, some readers may feel that this particular father is negative, due to the fact that he neglects his daughter, even on the few days he has off from work.
Father figures are presented negative by both authors, who are incapable of taking up the ‘father, disciplinary figure’ in their own households. They seem to have ‘forgotten’ their traditional gender role, as a ‘father. ‘