Monday, March 24, 2014

There's No (Place Like) Home

            In reading Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, as well as in reading a few of the other texts that we have studied in class semester, I was struck by the lack of a sense of belonging, or a sense of “home.” In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we followed Huck through his journey to find a sense of understanding of his world in order to feel a certain sense of contentment with himself and his environment. We encountered much of the same situations with Candide, but in The Color Purple, the problem of disconnection with one’s surroundings and lack of belonging is slightly different.
            The Color Purple presents us with the character, Celie, who does not feel at home even in the house that she lives in. She refers to it, not as her home, but as Mr. ______’s. This struck me as odd from the start and I cannot imagine such a feeling, but Celie accepts this as her reality and is grateful simply to have a roof over her head, regardless of how much she feels she belongs there. Even beyond actual location, there is a deeper sense of disconnect between her and the household itself; Celie is taking care of children which are not her own and who refuse to fully accept her into the role of mother that she is taking on. Celie is a visitor, or as one of Sofia’s sons puts it in describing his own mother’s situation, a “captive” (103) in what probably should be her “home.”
            On an even broader level, though, Celie is not accepted as belonging in the Southern society she lives in. Being black in the early twentieth century South, Celie and her family members, as well as much of her community, are not truly accepted as “belonging,” because of their race. Celie and much of her female friends, on top of this, are pushed aside because they are females. There is nowhere in their own country where these people feel they belong, nowhere to call home. For many of the white members of society, Celie and her family’s home is in Africa. Black Americans were not considered natives, regardless of whether they were born and raised on American soil or not, causing these children to grow up already thinking that they are not welcome here and are definitely not at home.
            For us, today, reading the novel, we know that this is not true; that those people should be calling America home and that they are, indeed natives. This is a major problem in the novel though and one which has been struggled with for years. For my other English class on contemporary literature, I have been reading Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard, a collection of poems connection Trethewey’s personal experiences of  being biracial in Mississippi with the struggles of slaves and black American’s during the Civil War, specifically those in the Native Guard. A key idea that runs through Trethewey’s poems is the feeling of being alienated in one’s own home. In one poem, “Miscegenation,” Trethewey even traces her feelings of not belonging back to her parents’ illegal marriage by being of different races. She writes about the people who fought for their country and their freedom, but were not credited as such because society saw them as “African” and therefore “different,” not at home here, in America, fighting for land that belonged to them, but as “others.”

            The intense feeling of “other”-ness is evident throughout both Trethewey and Walker’s writing and it is truly tragic. Trethewey quotes E.O. Wilson in the introduction to her poem, “South,” writing, “Homo sapiens is the only species to suffer psychological exile.” This idea of “psychological exile” is exactly what was and probably still is being ingrained into the minds of minorities in society and it has more to do with the way people are perceived by others than how they perceive themselves. Some people are never really given a chance to belong or have a home because they are not welcomed into it, instead, they are left extremely alone, lacking a connection between themselves and their world or anyone around them.

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