The Color Purple

Edith Wharton, Alice Walker, and Female Culture College

Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence [1] and Alice Walker’s The Color Purple [2] both paint a portrait American culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. This culture appears to be male, with no room for the female as any manifestation other than a trophy or a servant. However, in both cases an unconventional female arrives to bring attention to the fact that a female culture also exists, no matter how small and unknown.

It is tempting to argue that both novels support the notion of the female culture as being both marginalized and, to a large degree, secret or underground. In The Age of Innocence, the use of a male narrator is crucially important in relation to the idea of a dominantly male American culture, specifically within the novel’s late nineteenth century setting. Clare Virginia Eby describes the novel as one “poised between the Victorian and modern eras which provocatively examines the potential for women’s freedom through a male centre of consciousness”[3]. Certainly, Wharton, although female, uses the voice of the opposite gender, and it is from this perspective that she examines and critiques the marginalization of female culture. Carol Wershoven supports this point as she argues that “[Newland’...

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