The rhetoric of oppression and marginality in Alice Walker's The Color Purple and Possessing the Secret of Joy

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This research study argues that the rhetoric of oppression creates harm and marginalizes various groups of people, specifically Black women. A social issue that appears to have no end in sight, oppression and marginality cripple the very souls of men and women. Although oppression has a long history in the American culture, it appeared to have waned in oppressive acts in the latter part of the twentieth century. However, in recent years, there has been an increase in hate crimes, cases of police brutality, and legislative acts designed to impose restrictions on marginalized people. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) noted increased crimes based on gender, ethnicity, religious ideologies, and race between 2019 and 2020. In addition, the oppressive acts in the Charleston, South Carolina church where nine worshippers were killed and other incidents led to an interest in why hateful acts were occurring with frequency in this country. These hateful occurrences led to an also interest in how groups of people were being oppressed and disregarded or targeted because of race. Approaching the issues of oppression and marginality from a rhetorical perspective led to Alice Walker's novels, The Color Purple and Possessing the Secret of Joy. Both novels were compelling examples of the disparities in the treatment of Black women, and they focused on the traditional patriarchy, which is mainly responsible for a great deal of the social unrest seen in society. Walker's work was examined using Iris Young's "Five Faces of Oppression," Anne Cudd's Analyzing Oppression, George Yudice's "Marginality and the Ethics of Survival," and Kenneth Burke's theory of identification and consubstantiality. In both novels, Walker's characters, Celie, Sofia, and Tashi-Evelyn, are oppressed and marginalized. By applying Young's identified criteria of oppression--exploitation, powerlessness, marginalization, cultural imperialism, and violence--Walker's message is that although Black women, specifically the three characters in her novel, are oppressed, they can overcome the oppression. This dissertation concludes that Walker's voice solidifies her role as a preacher--although not in the traditional sense of a preacher-- and based on her developed ethos, should be considered a rhetor.

Oppression, Marginality, Alice Walker, The Color Purple, Possessing the Secret of Joy