Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog


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(Includes spoilers!)

In class today, we were talking a bit about how abrupt the ending was, and how Precious hadn’t figured or planned things out for the children very much. The story kind of leaves us hanging between the naturalistic ending of The Street, and the happier ending of The Color Purple. As such I think it kind of throws off some of the critique that we’ve encountered about both story endings. Some people find The Street “too” harsh, and some people find The Color Purple’s ending “too” happy.

 

I find that to a degree, there is an uplifting ending in Precious. A lot of hope comes from developing the mind, and separating the mind from the body. When Precious’ father is raping her, she has to go to a special place in her mind to deny the reality of rape happening to her. The mind becomes a place of escape, a place of survival.

 

A similar dichotomy between mind and body happens when Precious is at the Survivors of Incest Anonymous meeting, and she sees that not only “ugly” girls are the ones to get raped, she gets the sensation of flying: “I see flying. Feel flying. Am flying. Far up, but my body down in circle. Precious is bird” (129). It is a moment in which her body no longer haunts her as a sign of her lack of worth. Instead, she can relate to someone else purely on the basis on their internal experiences. That recognition allows her inner self feel free – no longer trapped by her body. It exists, and not alone. It is a good moment.

 

Even though we know what must happen to Precious, she seizes every day and tries harder than ever to be educated and to give a voice to her and her friends. There is power in the mind – there is hope in it and a new kind of peace that allows her to even feel better about her body.

 

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On and On

*bear in mind I’m only halfway through the novel 🙂

I would like to discuss a quote present on the handout we received in class:

“Time, I want to learn to look at round clock and tell time.  No one ever show me.  I never tell Ms Rain I don’t know that” (Sapphire 88).

Let’s unpack this!  Although Kindred would like to have word with me, I think most would agree that time is the most static phenomena in our universe.  It can only move forward, and is the most dependable consistent component of our lives.  Even if it’s going to be shit, we will always have a future (until we die).  Time existed before life, and probably will continue after we are all gone.  Undoubtedly, it’s pretty important.

Imagine you had no concept of time, only the relative purple to orange hue of the sky to guide your day.  Although Precious certainly can read a digital clock, the ability to decipher ticking hands into time is a skill lost on someone with no one to teach her one of the fundamentals of life.  Precious can’t look at a “round clock and tell time”, because no one ever took the time to care about her (Sapphire 88).  What could time represent to someone in Precious’s position?  Later, maybe, things will get better.  Maybe the AIDS will go away, maybe Precious will be the mom she always wanted, and maybe she will be genuinely loved by a child who wholeheartedly believes she is the greatest thing in the world.  You cannot realize hope, hold it in your hands and keep it in your pocket, because it is perpetually out there forward in time.  Hope can only exist in the future.

Time for Precious is the space to endure, an uncertain and clouded nether which could consist of a multitude of different life choices.  Maybe things will get better.  Only time will tell, and time can be tight-lipped


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Perhaps it goes without saying, but the topic was touched on in class today of whether or not a character’s actions in a tale are meant to be the overall message of the tale. That is: if a character like our protagonist does not get an abortion, is the message of the novel, “Abortion is bad?” I feel that this is not the case, that a character is just that: an albeit fictional being living their life in what manner seems right to them. Of course, that is in truth up to the author, but I think treating the character as an entity rather than a hollow vessel to fill with the author’s didactic meaning is oftentimes vital to engaging a text. Sometimes it is not, sometimes a character really is nothing more than a pole on which the author may hang their banner. I may be a bad academic for saying so, but I just cannot enjoy tales of that sort. In any case: It certainly is possible for a reader to interpret a story in any manner of their choosing, but the author can only account for so much, lest they be forced to pepper their story with disclaimers. A writer discussing the subject of theatre once pointed out that even two people from the exact same background, sharing numerous experiences, may have experienced their similar lives in highly different ways, and I believe that is true of readers as well. An obvious but note-worthy truth, in that it indicates how limited an author’s capabilities are when it comes to accounting for interpretations. Thus, I feel it is imperative for readers to try, as often as can be done, to view characters only as characters, beings like themselves whose unique experiences shaped their decisions, rather than as indicators of the “only right path” from the author’s perspective. A good author’s characters will be as unique, each individually shaped by the life the author has built for them, and not meant as a model for the reader’s behavior, but as a person the reader may observe to learn of the experience of another being from a different perspective on the world into which they’ve been cast.


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Watering Shug down for Celuloid

While it is impressive that film adaptation of The Color Purple is as faithful as it is, some changes were made to the story that have some pretty worrying implications. The most glaring of which is the subplot that was added of Shug trying to appease the local preacher with the reveal at the end of the film that he was her father. On it’s face this doesn’t seem to change much about Shug’s character and provides a moment of reconciliation that is easier to show on film than Shug going to live with her estranged son, but when you look deeper at it, it really changes a lot about Shug’s character.

Throughout the novel, Shug does what she wants, she goes where she wants, and she is clearly  bisexual and polyamorous, choosing to sleep with both Celie and Mr. even after her marriage. But, in the film she shows off her ring to her preacher father exclaiming, “I’m a married woman!”, essentially she’s saying that she’s become respectable and to a viewer of the film who hasn’t read the book, she has become a respectable, a heteronormative respectable woman who doesn’t challenge any ideas held by mainstream America. It’s implied in the film that Celie and Shug have at least one sexual encounter, but this is never revisited after that single scene and there is no evidence in the film that Shug continues to have a sexual relationship with Mr. Furthermore, in the film Shug never expresses the unhappiness with her marriage that she expresses in the novel. By all appearances in the film, Shug has excised all the ideas she had that were antithetical to her father (and I don’t think this is a big jump to make) mainstream Christianity. On top of watering down Shug’s sexuality we only get a very truncated version of her Deism speech to Celie. While a lot of the film adaptation of The Color Purple was very faithful, I find it hard to believe that Alice Walker, who dedicated The Color Purple “To the Spirit” and refers to God as “That Which is Beyond Understanding But Not Beyond Loving” and  the “Great Mystery” sat idly by on set while the most radical ideas were stripped from her story. Maybe she just didn’t show up the day these scenes were filmed?


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Responding to an Open Ending

We talked a lot today about the open ending of Push. It made me think of a conversation we had in my Introduction to Hinduism class on Tuesday. We just finished reading a novel called Samskara, which has a surprisingly open ending. Throughout the whole book, there is one primary conflict that binds all the separate events together. However, the novel ends abruptly, before this conflict is ever even remotely solved, and there are a ton of loose ends. Because of this, I didn’t really see Push as open ended at all. Just because a novel leaves a lot for the imagination doesn’t mean that it is incomplete. 

I’d also like to compare the open-endedness of Push to the way that The Street was also left open. In The Street, Lutie kills a man, abandons her son who will probably be thrown in juvenile detention for a crime he didn’t know he was committing, and she runs away to Chicago to try and start over. In Push, Precious has escaped her parents, is living in a place where she will be taken care of until she can support herself, and has people to help take care of her son while she goes to school so she can get her GED. I feel like either of these situations could end well, or end badly. It is the tone of the novel that causes us to sway one way or the other. The Street was progressively negative, it seemed that every corner Lutie took she fell deeper and deeper into the poverty that was holding her back. However, in Push Precious starts out in a bad situation, she’s illiterate, is being raped by her father and molested and beaten by her mother, and nobody at school seems to care. But when she begins attending the alternative school, things start to look up, she has a positive attitude about everything and eventually ends up away from those who have been hurting her and she is determined to make her life better. The Negativity in Lutie’s life causes us to think it will be the same situation, different city once she arrives in Chicago. It is the drive that Precious has and the new people that she has met and that are helping her that cause us to think that things may turn out well for Precious in the long run.


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The Presentation of Literature in Push (Among other novels we have read in this class)

We have skirted around this issue since the first day of class. I feel that in our time together we have focused more on what’s at stake for feminism and feminist thought in the books we have read than what is at stake for literature when reading these books. At the beginning of Push, Precious asserts her claim as to why she decides to take the action of writing down her circumstances:

“Sure you can do anything when you talking or writing, it’s not like living when you can only do what you are doing. Some people tell a story ‘n it don’t make no sense of be true. But I’m gonna try to make sense and tell the truth, else what’s the fucking use? Ain’ enough lies and shit out there already?” (3-4)

Although literature and writing are powerful ways to engage others to view social problems and at times even take action to resolve these problems, it is in my opinion that Precious problematizes classifying literature through creating a standard in which literature is valued based solely on its efforts to solve social problems. She places the “lies and shit” label on literature that exists outside the realm of social and political activism. Now I am not saying that activism through literature should be devalued or halted altogether. But I can’t help to think that Precious (or perhaps Sapphire?) is pushing the reader to take on a certain perspective when reading this novel.

Before I finish my rant, I would like to note that I have not finished the book so I am unsure of how Precious’ stance on literature develops throughout the course of the novel. So if you have read ahead and are aware of placing where this has occurred, feel free to cite these instances in the comments.


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Explaining my thoughts further

I feel like I end up doing this a lot, but I wanted to expand on some stuff I said in class today. I am not always able to articulate myself properly in the moment in class.

First off, I’m really glad that Precious kept Abdul. I think it was the right choice for her, and I understand why it is important for her to make that choice for herself. However, I think it is fair to question if that situation will continue to go as well as it is in the long term. Children take a lot of time and money, and many young women are unable to continue attending school as a teen mother. While she has benefited from friends and housemothers watching Abdul in the halfway house, Precious may not always be able to depend on these people. Her child will also be a large financial burden that may make upward mobility more difficult. This is not inherently bad–I am not saying that she needs to be upperclass, or should even want that. However, I just wanted to reflect on some of the difficulties that she may face.

Furthermore, I think that it is fine that she gains agency from being a mother. It is obviously very beautiful and wonderful that she feels so connected to her child, and that he motivates her to get out of bad situations. So, in this indivdual situation, it’s positive. However, I was trying to raise the issue that I think this reinforces a larger cultural obsession with motherhood that is often unfair. Speaking as someone who is often chastised for not wanting children, I am constantly amazed at how society judges women’s worth based on motherhood. I think motherhood is incredible, and of course none of us would be here without it. But being a mother is like an added bonus to a woman’s worth; it does not need to define her. I read a really interesting article that critiqued the anti-rape argument that “every woman could be someone’s sister, mother, daughter.” While that is an excellent point, it also equates a woman’s worth with her relationships to others (often men). Why do we have to be mothers, daughters, sisters to be worthwhile? Why can we not just be worth it because we are strong women? And what does that line of reasoning mean for girls in foster care, or women who cannot have children, etc?

I’d like to reiterate that I think that Precious made a good choice, and that I understand why motherhood is an awesome thing. I am, in no way, trying to say that women shouldn’t take pride and worth from their motherhood, and I am so glad that Precious uses motherhood to motivate her for a better life. However, I just hope that Precious knows that even if she didn’t have children, her life would be worth just as much.