With works like The Bluest Eye, Song of Solomon, and Beloved, Toni Morrison has captivated audiences and revealed racial injustices that have plagued the United States for generations. Throughout Morrison's work, her life is constantly reflected in her books from past experiences and stories from her father. This extremely important aspect is very important in Morrison's novels, and should always be considered. The life of Toni Morrison began in Lorain, Ohio in 1931. She was one of four children in a middle-class family and was often told stories about the community by her father. This is where Morrison gets her storytelling style, and where she learned the harshness of black culture. Later on, she managed to acquire a B.A. in English from Howard University, and a Master of Arts degree from Cornell University. After this, Morrison became a teacher in Huston, and married Harold Morrison shortly after.
When she divorced, she moved to Syracuse, New York and worked as an editor for Random House. Through this job, she helped propel black literature into the mainstream spotlight, while constantly giving public lectures. When she became a senior editor at Random House, she ended up publishing The Bluest Eye as well as Sula, which both met widespread critical praise. Morrison went on to publish many more novels including Beloved, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and continued to win multiple awards and nominations for her groundbreaking work in literature. In 1993, Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, a prestigious endowment on Morrison for her strong visual and poetic writing styles. Morrison continues to advocate for racial equality, and works on the editorial board for The Nation magazine.
As an extremely influential African American author, Alice Walker's life also highly influences the type of writing that she does, from incredible racial tension to moments of compassion. These experiences started when Alice Walker was born in 1944, in Eatonton, Georgia. She was the youngest of 8 children, her father was a sharecropper. Her mom worked as a maid for low wage, in order to put Walker through college. Despite racial discrimination like the Jim Crowe laws, Alice still went to school and strived to get an education. When she was injured by a BB gun in the eye, she took up a passion for poetry, and began what would be her writing career. After graduating high school, Walker attended Spelman College in Atlanta, where she got involved in the civil rights movement. From here, she participated in things like the March on Washington, and helped with activism for blacks across the country.
Walker eventually started publishing poems and short stories, with her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, being published in 1970. After this, she published the novel Meridian in 1976, which is about southern activist workers during the Civil Rights movement. In 1982 she published The Color Purple, which became an immense success, and opened up the public's eyes about racial oppression, violence, and surviving in a racist white culture. Morrison continued to write several other works, including The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing the Secret of Joy which reinforced the ideas of black struggles throughout the history of the United States. Alice Walker's styles were now clearly evident: she shows the struggles and hardships of blacks and women, while at the same time displaying the cruelty of culture and how it is racist, sexist, and violent towards race. Feminism is also heavily promoted in Alice Walker's novels, as it is a reoccurring theme with woman African American authors. Alice Walker is still a major advocate for African American equality today, being involved in politics as well as joining others activists for causes like the Gaza Freedom March, and the Women for Peace movement.
The themes evident in Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Alice Walker's The Color Purple span from victimhood and violence, to racial oppression and inequality. These topics, though very consistent with African American writers, tend to present themselves in undeniable and incontrovertible ways throughout these books, in a very similar way throughout each novel. The evidence of racial injustice, violence, and beauty parallel each other in each novel, along with the burdening aspect of roles in society. The Bluest Eye and The Color Purple exactly represent these feelings commonly seen throughout the black community, and call attention to some of the most important societal structures that are often overlooked.
The constant idea and need for an identity or the structural basis for a "correct" one is often extant within the novels. The overarching idea of racial beauty, as well as societal norms, is constantly hindering the main characters Pecola and Celie. This theme serves as a basis for the entire book The Bluest Eye, and is shown through Pecola in almost every aspect of the story. Even the book title represents Pecola's longing for a type of beauty that she can't have, and with Celie she is almost physically labeled as "ugly". The theme of identity is constantly reoccurring in both of these books, showing a stable foundation in African American literature and black culture overall. Both Pecola and Celie experience this in almost the same way. Since they were both children, they have almost been taught what beautiful is. Since they are African American, this idea of beauty is almost unreachable by society's standards for Pecola and Celie, but they both still dream that they could be what society calls "beautiful". Morrison describes the beauty from Pecola's perspective that "it had occurred to Pecola some time ago that if her eyes, those eyes that held the pictures, and knew the sights-if those eyes of hers were different, that is to say, beautiful, she herself would be different" and Pecola would be a beautiful person (Morrison 46). This continues to display that Pecola is striving to conform to certain standards, and that once she is changed physically, that she could become an entirely different person and that she could leave her old, ugly self behind. Walker represents this theme clearly through Celie as well. Though Celie has almost accepted her fate, the theme is still present that Celie's beauty matters very much in society. As Celie explains, "He laugh. Who you think you is? He say. You can't curse nobody. Look at you. You black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman. Goddam, he say, you nothing at all."(Walker 206). Celie's beauty is taken into consideration even in the outside world. Racial judgements are made, and the entire idea of identity is upheld by African Americans, creating a spiral of judgments based within one's own race, and perpetuating the burden and the social problem of African American girls having to conform with certain beauty standards.
With two works greatly representing the African American community as a whole, it is easy to see potentially overlooked problems and struggles within black communities usually not seen by the public. With topics like violence and identity, it is easy to see the drastic similarities between these two texts. Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye and Alice Walker's The Color Purple show a side of a community that is in a constant state of struggle, and display issues that would not usually be seen by the average white suburbanite. These two books share the idea of a culture that is full of trials and tribulations, and one that should be respected and examined. With two African American woman characters, the struggles of these women often share common ground, with themes that can be clearly represented only in a type of rich literature that these books display. With a common context of African American culture, these books share a rich understanding of a society that is sometimes overlooked.