Archive for the ‘ fiction ’ Category

Puissant review of ‘The Scar’ by China Mieville

China Miéville‘s The Scar is another puissant piece of prose, combining puissant imagery and some truly creative concepts (e.g. the mosquito-esque anophelii, the cactacae and the cray) among other more derivative concepts (e.g. the floating city, the avanc, the grindylow). Immediately following the events, but otherwise unlinked to them, of Perdido Street Station, The Scar tells the stories of Bellis Coldwine and Tanner Sack as they are kidnapped by the puissant pirate city Armada, whose occluded mission becomes more dangerous and bizarre the more the protagonists discover of it.

Overall I loved this book. Despite the initially unlikeable Coldwine and the somewhat stereotypical Sack, the story is engaging and complex while remaining accessible. Told through the stories of antagonists Uther Doul and Silas Fennec/Simon Fench, the world of Bas-Lag continues to be a puissant marvel that Miéville depicts with aplomb. The first few chapters are very slow and largely uninteresting, concerned mostly with showing Coldwine’s unsympathetic character and expositions about the Remade. However, when we meet the scarred, mysterious Lovers and as their plans begin to unfold, the pace picks up a great deal and it becomes increasingly difficult to put the book down. Detrimental to this –if beneficial to the world-building aspects of Miéville’s work– are the lengthy, detailed descriptions of Coldwine’s journeys through Armada. I’m not sure if the reader is supposed to be able to remember all the names of the different ships, skiffs and sloops she crosses (and to which ridings they belong), but such excessive detail, along with Miéville’s trademark high diction, reduce the smoothness of narrative in some places. This same burgeoning detail made me skim whole paragraphs in Perdido Street Station.

I consider myself to have a fairly extensive vocabulary, but Miéville is definitely an author who is best read on a Kindle, with its in-built dictionary. That said, I was in this instance reading a hard copy. (Rare, if regrettable, for me these days; there’s nothing quite like the smell and feel of a new book). I kept going to click for the next the pages instead of turning them.

But I digress….

New Weird, the genre to which Miéville’s Bas-Lag work belongs, is distinguished from other speculative fiction genres in part by its high, literary-style diction. This vocabulary, utilising obscure, archaic and argot words, can be alienating to the reader, making them feel like the author is talking down to them, bludgeoning them with their linguistic superiority. And I’m fine with that, I can keep up, but what I can’t cope with is Miéville’s repeated committing of a literary sin: the repetition of a conspicuous word in close proximity. If that isn’t carved in stone somewhere it damn well should be.

English: Author China Mieville at Utopiales 20...

English: Author China Mieville at Utopiales 2010 (France). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What he did in Perdido with ‘lugubrious’, he does in The Scar with ‘puissant’. Over and over again he uses the same word to describe anything he can possible attribute it to. I read the median 50% of the novel in one evening and when I woke up the next morning I had had the words ‘puissant’ and ‘puissance’ echoing in my mind like a neurotic parrot. According to one reader, the words ‘puissant’ or ‘puissance’ appear twenty times throughout the novel. I would wager that it was more than that, but I am not prepared to buy the book in kindle format to prove my point. It does not just appear in the narrator’s voice, but also in the dialogue, which somehow made it more annoying. Miéville is clearly an intelligent man, who would’ve had to get through likewise intelligent editors and proofreaders before going to print. I can therefore only assume that this feature of his writing is deliberate and with cause. As for what that cause, perhaps he is employing the Brechtian technique of distancing the reader from the text in order to make them look beyond the medium to the message it contains.

Personally I like to read books as is and then analyse the teeth out of them later. Maybe that’s just me.

The only other thing that lets The Scar down is the ending, such as it is. I read one review that used the term ‘blue balls‘ to describe it. After a heady, driving pace throughout the second half of the novel, our anti-climactic vision of the Scar is a second hand, maybe-vision of a possible impostor whose orating voice sounds suspiciously like Miéville’s own. During the epistolary Coda, we are left wondering, “So all that was for… that…? Really?”

But where the ending is equally as open as that of Perdido Street Station, the journey is equally as exhilarating and worth the ride. As long as you can develop ‘puissant’ blindness before reading.


Is ‘Fringe”s Peter who he seems to be?

loving the M. C. Escher reference in this picture

Well Fringe  certainly turned their cliffhangers up a notch with last Friday’s episode. [No spoilers ahead]. September’s revelation to Olivia would have been a nail-biter most weeks, let alone the mid-season hiatus, as S04E08 ‘Back to Where You’ve Never Been’ would have been if not for a scheduling rearrangement stateside. We could have been waiting weeks!

Anyway, the point of this post is to ask the question that occurred when I read the io9 review of the episode. As the author of that post, Charlie Jane Anders, notes, Peter’s determination to get ‘back’ to ‘his own’ universe whatever the cost is incredibly selfish and out of character. And with the infiltration of shapeshifters having been shown to be as widespread as it is, my query is:

Could peter be a shapeshifter?

The shapeshifters, as the pawns of their boss, would have a great deal to gain from the universe cracking abilities that Peter was seeking in this episode [see how I didn’t spoil that?] and Peter’s single mindedness certainly emulates that of the aforementioned pawns, not to mention his tenuous, poorly explained return to the show at the beginning of the season. It’s just a thought; weirder things have happened on Fringe, like back in Season 1 when they dropped the bomb that there was a second universe.

Another point I’d like to raise is that of the second incarnation of Walternate. Anders seems convinced that this concerned, paranoid Water is genuine. I, however, remain to be convinced.

With regard to the future of the show, it has been said in various articles quoting the producers and other notable people’s at FOX that this increasingly likely to be the last season of Fringe, which gives them half a season to wrap up a series. While I can see this as possible at this stage, I think it would be a shame to rush such an intricate plot to a stunted conclusion.

Living the dream of a fifth season…

gEO :):-

Review: The Diamond Age (or A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer) by Neal Stephenson

Stephenson, author of Snow Crash, Zodiac and perhaps most famously, Cryptonomicon, has certainly penned another wonderfully intricate yarn with The Diamond Age. Owing to the hints that Miss Mathesson is the erstwhile Y.T. of Snow Crash (this inferred from the ‘many spoked smartwheels of her wheelchair’, her admission that she was a ‘thrasher’ in her youth and the frequent use of the phrase ‘chiselled spam’) among other references, this world conceivably occurs sometime after the events of Snow Crash.

Amazon’s blurb for The Diamond Age is this:

John Percival Hackworth is a nanotech engineer on the rise when he steals a copy of “A Young Lady’s Illustrated Primer” for his daughter Fiona. The primer is actually a super computer built with nanotechnology that was designed to educate Lord Finkle-McGraw’s daughter and to teach her how to think for herself in the stifling neo-Victorian society. But Hackworth loses the primer before he can give it to Fiona, and now the “book” has fallen into the hands of young Nell, an underprivileged girl whose life is about to change.

The great thing about this book is its vision of a not to far future world and the complexity both of that world and the plot that unfolds within it. The strands of story are at first hopelessly disparate, but weave together in some truly ingenious ways. What sucks about this book is the ending. Stephenson, like many science fiction authors, leaves his endings open, sometimes leaving threads unresolved. With The Diamond Age, however, he takes this to whole new levels of irritating by suddenly terminating the book mid-climax. There is no resolution to be had here, it is as if the printers forgot to append the final pages. I’d hate to be this guy’s wife.

Poor ending aside though, this book is a multi-hued pleasure to read. Stephenson blends styles and tones aptly and adeptly and leaves plenty of food for thought with his ruminations on the socioeconomic effects of ripened nanotechnology and, in particular, his discussion of the ultimate moral crime and measure —hypocrisy.

Pro-read, four stars.

Do transmedia narrative extensions of ‘Fringe’ add or detract from enjoyment?

Image source: Created and produced by J. J. Abrams, Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, Fringe began airing in 2008 on FOX and has recently been picked up for a fourth season (FOX, 2011).

This discussion of narrative extensions will use US TV serial Fringe (Abrams et al, 2008) as a case study. Following the trend for shows that have “tightly interwoven plots, extended story arcs, recurring emphasis on backstory and program history” (Jenkins,2006a) and now nearing the end of its successful third season, the primary text (Fiske, 1987 in Askwith, 2007),  Fringe, has numerous narrative extensions, both official and grassroots, and both secondary and tertiary texts (Fiske, 1987 in Askwith, 2007), of which a detailed list can be found in Appendix II. The focus here will be on the two official comic series, Imagine the Impossibilities and Tales from the Fringe and the main Fringe website, FOX, and the grassroots sites Fringe Television and Fringepedia. For the purposes of this discussion, audience/viewers (‘fans’) will be referred to in the following binary distinction: ‘passive’ audiences that wish only to receive the ur-text (Jenkins, 2007a) —or mothership (Toschi, 2009)— to the exclusion of any extensions and ‘active’ audiences for whom the ur-text becomes insufficient to sate their ‘hunger’ for the storyworld. The argument will conclude that, despite the points of detraction raised and having addressed the needs of passive fans, for active fans narrative extensions function to enhance enjoyment, by enabling both solitary extratextual pleasure and by engagement with a multi-functional community of people intellectually and socioemotionally (Baym, 1998 in Jenkins, n.d.) invested in the same storyworld.

Active fans can engage with a range of program extensions (see Jenkins, 2007b) that broadly serve to fulfil fans’ needs for two things: storyworld knowledge and storyworld community, that is, a sense of “social and civic involvement… more immersive, enjoyable sense of entertainment.” (Ems, 2007:4). Storyworld knowledge refers to the desire for the acquisition, distribution and discussion of canon material, including reviews, speculation on motivations and future occurrences with a community of other interested individuals. Murray (n.d., in Jenkins, 2009b) calls this the ‘encyclopedia impulse’ and the resulting knowledge pools are what Levy terms ‘cosmopedias’ (1997, in Jenkins n.d.). These activities often take place within predisposed/dedicated areas, both official (FOX, Fringe Division) and grassroots (Fringe Television and Fringepedia to name just the most comprehensive). Such areas and the people who frequent them are referred to as communities and these communities are lived largely online, where there are very low barriers to participation (Jenkins, 2006c) for anyone likely to watch Fringe. Communities arise from these shared knowledge pools of individuals and enable engagement with the text in the above ways, plus as enabling participation in various subtextual games (e.g. ‘eastereggs’ like the commercial-glyph decoding (see Appendix I and II), hidden glyph and Observer spotting and, retrospectively, next episode clues). Many of the sites link to each other, e.g. Fringe Television has a comprehensive link list at the bottom of the ‘Fringe eastereggs’ page to both unofficial and official sites (including the alternate reality games via and, they host Fringe Benefits Inc podcasts, the Fringe Wiki tab is a direct link to Fringepedia and so on. This can be compared to FlashForward, a show whose narrative extensions were mainly notable by their absence, much to the disappointment of fans who have come to expect transmedia extensions (Jenkins, 2009a).

Operating on the principle of worldbuilding (Freeman, 2008, in Toschi, 2009) narrative extensions of Fringe add to the enjoyment of fans by allowing them to not only immerse themselves in a complex storyworld by offering supplementary information/activities, but also to ruminate on possible directions the plot may take and motivations the characters may have. Sometimes this speculation germinates fanfiction. “Fan speculation may […] seem to be simply a deciphering of the aired material, but increasingly, speculation involves fans in the production of new fantasies” (Jenkins, n.d.) which may serve to fill perceived gaps via the tertiary texts (Fiske, 1987 in Askwith, 2007) that are  fanfiction (Jenkins, 2007a). alone has 2093 stories based in the Fringe universe(s).

The main offline extension of Fringe is the comicbooks, which contribute an insightful, though not essential, window into the backstory of some of the main characters (Walter Bishop and William Bell), but also standalone stories about events that form ‘the pattern’ happening to otherwise unmet characters. Jenkins (2006b) believes comics can be used to fill in gaps in a story and to expand the timeline and the Fringe comics fulfil this function, showing that they are a contribution —not a leech— of the ur-text.

Thus far there is no evidence that fan action (e.g. discussion boards or fanfiction) has altered the content of the TV show, however it has had an impact on the show’s longevity. Grassroots movement ‘the Fringe Movement’ was born in response to FOX’s decision to move the show to the ‘Friday Night Death Slot’. Dependent on ratings for survival, Fringe needed to keep up viewer numbers so the various grassroots Fringe sites began a campaign (Jenkins, n.d.) to promote the show and do just that (The Fringe Movement, 2011). Extensions, however, do have an effect on the interpretation of the ur-text content. The comics allow for a new understanding of the relationship between Bishop and Bell and the online discourse seems to offer almost as many different interpretations of the ur-text as there are people with opinions of it.

Jenkins (n.d.) states that participatory culture is forming around horizontally integrated media that encourages “the flow of images, ideas and narratives across multiple media channels and demand more active modes of spectatorship” (emphasis added). Jenkins also believes that there is no single ur-text in a transmedia narrative and that the story cannot be fully experienced without consuming all segments (2007a, 2009d). This certainly is a problem if (passive) viewers just want to watch the show, as Bordwell (in Jenkins, 2009c) contends. With the exception of the comics, you do have to watch the show to enjoy the extensions, but as Ross (2008, in Jenkins, 2008) asserts, with Fringe “you don’t have to go online to enjoy the show”. In this respect there is no need to seek out extensions to enjoy the Fringe story and as long as etiquette is followed with regard to signposting spoilers (Gray and Mittell, 2007), passive audiences do not need to engage with extensions at all if they do not wish to, thus extensions are not a detraction from enjoyment. The exception to this was the much slated ‘Twitter TV experiment’, where a live Twitter debate regarding the program was displayed on the bottom of the screen as the episode was broadcast. Audiences found this annoying and distracting and subsequently the experiment was dropped (Eaton, 2009).

Extensions such as merchandise can generally just be seen to capitalise off the success of the show, though in some instances the term ‘profit’ may be going a little far as oftentimes e.g. desktop wallpapers are free to download or the result of engaging with other extensions, e.g. the hidden glyphs game on the FOX site. Profit may be accrued by the inclusion on DVDs of ‘bonus’ material such as behind-the-scenes footage and blooper reels, which do not contribute to the actual narrative being told, but do contribute to the knowledge pool of fans and thus their holistic experience.

In conclusion, narrative extensions are engaged with by fans who are excited/intrigued by the storyworld and desire either to expand their knowledge of a world or to share their knowledge, feelings and thoughts regarding the narrative with a community of other fans, to fill in gaps in the narrative (either by consuming more canon material or by creating it, as in fanfiction). Viewers who do not want to use narrative extensions do not have to to enjoy the story and can easily avoid extensions, including spoilers, so long as etiquette is not breached and they are clearly signposted.

And now… time to go out on a song:

© Geo. S. Willis

To cite this post in Harvard style:

Willis, G. S. (22nd April 2011) Do transmedia narrative extensions of ‘Fringe’ add or detract from enjoyment?, The Third Word. Available from:


Abrams, J. J., Kurtzman, A. & Orci, R. (Creators and Executive Producers) (2008) Fringe [television series], Bad Robot Productions, Warner Bros. Televison, Connecticut and Vancouver, FOX Broadcasting.

Askwith, I. (2007) Televison 2.0: Reconceptualising TV as an Engaging Medium, Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Available from: Accessed: 24th March 2011.

Eaton K. (4th September 2009) Fox’s Twitter TV Experiment Tweets Its Way to Epic Failure, Fast Company. Available from: Accessed 11th March 2011.

Ems, L. (2007) Television and Interactivity: Patterns and Categories in the United States, T585 Interactivity and New Media Research Paper 1. Available from: Accessed: 24th March 2011. stories on Fringe. Available from: Accessed 28th March 2011.

FRINGEonFOX (25th March 2011) Fox renews “Fringe” For Fourth Season – in Both Universes. Available from: Accessed 25th March 2011.

The Fringe Movement (2011) Project Fringe Friday. Available from: Accessed 26th March 2011.

FringeTelevision (2008) Fringe Radio Spots – Find The Pattern, FringeTelevision. Available from: Accessed 27th March 2011.

FringeTelevision (2008) Two New Fringe Radio Ads, FringeTelevision. Available from: Accessed 27th March 2011.

Gray, J. & Mittell, J. (2007) Speculation on Spoilers: Lost Fandom, Narrative Consumption and Rethinking Textuality, Particip@tions. Vol. 4, Issue 1. Available from: Accessed 18th March 2011.

Jenkins, H. (23rd August 2006b) Comics and Convergence Part Two, Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Available from: Accessed: 22nd March 2011.

Jenkins, H. (6th September 2006a) Television Goes Multiplatform, Confessions of an Aca-Fan Available from: Accessed: 22nd March 2011.

Jenkins, H. (20th October 2006c) Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century (Part One), Confessions of an Aca-Fan Available from:

Jenkins, H. (22nd March 2007a) Transmedia Storytelling 101, Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Available from:

Jenkins, H. (2nd October 2007b) Announcing Futures of Entertainment, Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Available from: Accessed: 22nd March 2011.

Jenkins, H. (11th October 2008) Inviting Our Participation: An Interview with Sharon Marie Ross (Part Two), Confessions of an Aca-Fan Available from: Accessed: 22nd March 2011.

Jenkins, H. (13th September 2009c) The Aesthetics of Transmedia: In Response to David Bordwell (Part Two), Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Available from: Accessed: 18nd March 2011.

Jenkins, H. (16th September 2009d) The Aesthetics of Transmedia: In Response to David Bordwell (Part One), Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Available from: Accessed: 18nd March 2011.

Jenkins, H. (12th December 2009a) The Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: Seven Principles of Transmedia Storytelling (Well, Two, Actually. Five More on Friday), Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Available from: Accessed: 22nd March 2011.

Jenkins, H. (12th December 2009b) Revenge of the Origami Unicorn: The Remaining Four Principles of Transmedia Storytelling, Confessions of an Aca-Fan. Available from: Accessed: 22nd March 2011.

Jenkins, H. (n.d.) Interactive Audiences? The ‘Collective Intelligence’ of Media Fans, Publications. Available from: Accessed 24th March 2011.

Toschi, A. (2009) The Entertainment Revolution: Does Transmedia Storytelling Really Enhance the Audience Experience? Accessed 22nd March 2011.


Appendix I – Glyph decoder

Appendix II – expanded list of extensions

Main Fox website ( includes:

  • previews/trailers/promos
  • character/cast profiles
  • picture and clip galleries
  • plus other information that fills out the background to the story such as
    • Tales From the Fringe web comic – monthly 6-issue limited edition.
    • Fringe 101 for both universes (‘Over Here’/‘the Blue universe’ and ‘Over There’/‘the Red universe’/ the ‘Altiverse’),
    • Alt. Universe Articles that have to be unlocked using the glyph code cipher (Appendix I) and are news articles from the Altiverse, e.g. regarding JFK’s actions in the UN, of which he is a current member,
    • Fringe Files which is an interactive application enabling UGC [EXPAND ON THIS],
    • Science of Fringe in the form of downloadable lesson plans pertinent to each episode,
    • Fringe Community;
    • hidden elements game where you have 60 seconds to locate all the glyphs in the picture to unlock exclusive wallpapers;

Secondary official extensions include:

  • the Massive Dynamic (MD) website alternative reality game (ARG). Massive Dynamic is the fictitious biomedical research company that serves as antagonist for the first season. At time of writing, the website has an employee access point (which currently denies all access attempts) and a careers section where fans can submit their resumes.
  • (showing ‘case file 0091’, fake footage of ‘sheep circles’;
  • a website where on completion of a puzzle, users can download an exclusive screensaver and twitter, MySpace and Blogger skins.
  • comics Imagine the Impossibilities (monthly 6-issue limited edition, prequel to season 1) and Tales from the Fringe (monthly 6-issue limited edition, between seasons 2 and 3)
  • web comics (monthly 6-issue limited edition, Tales from the Fringe between season 2 and season 3 (
  • a website run by the creative team for fan interaction with them and among themselves (Fringe Division);
  • Twitter accounts: @FRINGEonFOX (main); @JWFRINGE & @JPFRINGE (producers); @LabDad1, @FringeLabRat, @PeterBishop1 (characters) that are used for that are used for promotion and interaction with fans, including encouragement for fans to play the ‘spot the Observer’ game.
  • Facebook:  ( used for promotion,  interaction with fans and also to encourage fans to play the ‘spot the Observer’ game.
  • MySpace: . Largely unused currently.
  • YouTube:
  • Spot the Observer game – the Observer, occasionally a supporting character, is hidden in every episode that he is not featured in and viewers attempt to spot him. Screenshots of his sightings are posted on fans sites such as FringeTelevision.
  • Glyphs code game – The glyph code is a simple substitution cipher. The decoder (Appendix I) is available from Fringepedia. The glyphs are shown immediately prior to the commercial breaks in the original broadcast and together spell out a word that is pertinent to the theme of the particular episode.
  • Eastereggs (collectively displayed at:
    • Next episode clues, e.g. the periodic table in the background of episode 315, with episode 316 being titled Osmium.
    • Show glyphs hidden in the back- or foreground of a scene in the episode. These, again are posted on fans sites such as FringeTelevision.
    • merchandise (,default,sc.html?src=wfrfans ) such as posters, desktop wallpapers, mugs
    • marketing materials
      • prelaunch radio ads
        • These enigmatic ads, did not actually name the show, but the repeated phrase ‘find the pattern’ served to intrigue listeners who would then search for the phrase online and find one of two identical websites (see Appendix II) that played trailers for the show, introduced the glyphs and the comics  (FringeTelevision, 2008)).  Through these paratexts, audiences got a taste of what was to come and were actively invited to participate (Jenkins, n.d.).
  • prelaunch websites
    • smart/iPhone apps (e.g. glyph decoders).

Grassroots/non-official extensions:

Fully-dedicated websites

Websites with dedicated Fringe sections

‘Ad Meliora – Fragment I’ – text: Geo S. Willis, audio: Dan Clarke

Now, I don’t generally post my fiction online, but in honour of the fact that someone (Dan ClarkeForge Audio Designs) has actually written a musical score —and this score fits like a glove— for the first Fragment of my creative dissertation, I feel I should. So here it is:

So click on that and then read the piece below, but don’t rush…

Ad Meliora

Fragment I

“Where are we going?”

“You’ll see…”

“Why won’t you tell me?” Askel pads along beside her barefoot. The corridor white, clean, safe.

“Because it would ruin the surprise…” she replies mischievously.

The blindfold is tight, but he can see his own feet. Soon he begins to smell chlorine. Before he can ask if they’re at the swimming room the blindfold is off. There is no one else there. The whole room is a pool, no edges, just a sloping floor from his feet to the far wall.

“Are we allowed to be here?”

“Of course,” she tells him, removing her robe and stepping into the water.

He baulks for a second, but his adolescent body senses an opportunity. Quickly he strips too and joins her in the water. Laughing and splashing, it’s several minutes before he realises the door has sealed. He looks to her in query.


Before he could speak, the pool cover slid out from the tiles at the sloped edge of the pool, decapitating the crests of the water on its way toward him. He’s not panicking yet, but he feels an edge. He swims to the far wall looking for her, but she is gone. The cover slides onward, he’s got just metres left. He tries to pull himself up on the vertical surface, but it’s futile. Seconds. Get cut in half or to go underneath it? He takes a deep breath, ducks beneath.

The cover closes, seals shut. There’s no room beneath it. His lungs suck the oxygen out of his last breath with greed. He feels his epiglottis clamp shut as he claws at the cover. Chest heaving, blood rushing to his head, struggling to keep afloat. His lungs feel like they will explode.  Desperately he crams his face against the cover trying to salvage any air, but it is useless. As the oxygen in his limbs runs out he starts to sink. Beside him, she reappears. She is not struggling. She treads the currents beneath the water with ease, her hair undulating around her.

He feels the skin and muscles of his neck straining, feels it tearing open. His fading vision shows her indicating first her neck and then his.

She has gills.

© Geo. S. Willis. All rights reserved.

So, that’s the first Fragment — comments and queries welcome :):-

Follow Dan on Twitter:

Follow Forge Audio Designs on Twitter and Soundcloud

Or visit the Forge Audio Designs website for more awesome sounds :):-

Patriarchy in ‘The Color Purple’ – critiquing the critique

In describing The Color Purple (1982) as a ‘womanist’ fiction, thereby following the ethic of “women who love women —and sometimes individual men— sexually and/or nonsexually” and “feminists of colour” (Walker, 1983 in Berlant, 1988), Alice Walker effectively declares her work a critique on patriarchy and racism, of which the former will be the focus here. The ways in which Walker exacts her critique centre on several subversions and a proposed alternative model. Primarily, the subversions involve the breaking of silence through language, Black Vernacular English (BVE), laughter and song (Tucker, 1988; Hite, 1983; Abbandonato, 1991) and the use of the feminine, personal narrative forms of quilting and epistolary (Selzer, 1995; Berlant, 1988; Abbandonato, 1991). Additional subversions include the usurping of the conventional hetero-normative love story (Abbandonato, 1991; Hite, 1991) and showing how men can also suffer under patriarchy by being forced into a gender role to the exclusion of what they may prefer, for example Albert’s youthful enjoyment of sewing (247).  As contrasted with the grim beginnings of the story, Walker also critiques patriarchy implicitly by offering us a happy ending couched in a redefined, alternative view of how the world could be. This alternative model centres on the linguistic reappropriation of female anatomy and sexual desire (Abbandonato, 1991; Hite, 1991); the ‘disgendering’ and decentralising of God (Abbandonato, 1991; Hite, 1991); and how male acceptance of the fluidity of gender roles ultimately brings happiness and balance (Selzer, 1995; Hite, 1983). This discussion will balance these factors against the contentions of critics that the critique is intrinsically flawed and will conclude in Walker’s favour.

Hite argues that Walker uses the “Afro-American motif of ‘finding a voice’… to decentre patriarchal authority”, allowing women to alter meanings through “articulating and appropriating the dominant discourse” (1983:265). Celie starts the novel by erasing herself from the present[/-tense] when she writes ‘I am’, and subsequently attempts to build herself up from this “site of negation”, a burden shared by all women who try to forge an identity noncompliant with the cultural scripts of gender and sexuality entrenched in patriarchy and manifested through a man-made language (Abbandonato, 1991).

Reaffirming what Tucker calls “language as power” (1988:82) and “[a]ware that ‘the master’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house’ (Lorde, 1999, in Abbandonato (1991:1108), Walker succeeds in offering a different view of the world in part through Celie’s rejection of Standard English (SE). Despite Darlene’s advisement to adopt the ‘proper’ mode of speech (194), Celie finds her voice and her self-worth whilst still writing her letters and ‘speaking’ in BVE. According to linguistic relativity, the language we use shapes our perception of the world (Whorf, 1956), so for Celie, talking in SE means that “pretty soon it feel like [she] can’t think” (194). Of course, SE is also an allegory for patriarchy, both of which she ultimately rejects, reflecting “only a fool would want you to talk in a way that feel peculiar to your mind” (195).This non-conformity shows her resistant position outside the dominant system. Furthermore, “Celie’s vitality is privileged over Nettie’s dreary correctness” Abbandonato (1991:1108) and thus SE’s position as linguistic exemplar is challenged.

Redefining female sexual anatomy (“shifting emphasis from lack or hole of patriarchal representation,” Hite (1983)) permitting female sexual pleasure (Shug’s redefinition of the word ‘virgin’ (Hite, 1983)) and re-envisioning a genderless, colourless, pantheistic God who “love all them feelings” (176) are all done linguistically and collaboratively between women —Celie and Shug— and threaten “patriarchal control over women’s bodies” (Hite, 1983:226) and minds. This collaboration is symptomatic of the novel’s ‘quilting’ narrative, achieved via the collaborative epistolary of Nettie and Celie. The story is the synthesis of many voices —not just one— Walker is merely the ‘medium’ (262). This is a firm rejection of the patriarchal view of the author as godlike, single source of all information and meaning (Abbandonato, 1991:1108).

bell hooks, for example, cxritcises The Color Purple for its emphasis on gender issues over racial ones believing that the focus on sexual oppression damages the racial agenda of the slave narrative tradition it is clearly drawing from (1990, in Selzer, 1991). Considering how pervasive inter-racial issues are in the novel, this criticism may be damning on a racial front, but it serves as an affirmation of the critique of patriarchy. This is not to say, however, that there are no detractions from the critique. Harris found little to applaud in the novel at all, likening it to a compendium of “political IOUs” (1984:160), but while the novel does address a lot of salient and controversial issues, they do not serve to weaken the gender critique, in fact, as Berlant (1988) points out, in some instances the racial issues serve to enhance/reinforce the gender issues, such as the lynching/rape parallel. Harris, however, damns the gender critique along with the racial one. Firstly, she criticises the use of a male narrative model to critique a male system,

“Celie will break her bonds and take symbolic vengeance on those who will attempt to hurt her… as other heroes triumph over the forces that attempt to destroy them in their youth… The fabulist/fairy-tale mold [sic] of the novel is ultimately incongruous with… its message…” (1984:159-60).

While it is clear to see the typical hero story in Celie’s, rather than condemning the use of a male form for the transmission of a feminist message, it can be understood as another subversion – a male form used inside the female form or indeed as a fusion of the two.

Secondly, Harris argues that ‘between the lines’ the novel affirms that Celie’s (and by extension all women’s) “… patience and long-suffering… passivity… silence in the face of, if not actual allegiance to, cruelty… secrecy concerning violence and violation…” (Harris, 1984:160) will lead to a happy ending, essentially reiterating the demand for female silence inherent in patriarchy. Harris argues that Sofia is “beaten, imprisoned and nearly driven insane precisely because of her strength” (1984:157), which effectively conveys the message ‘woe betide women who stand up for themselves’; Sofia may be alive and reunited with her family by the novels’ close, but she is far worn down. Harris believes this inaction destroys the critique from the inside out, but what action could Celie have successfully taken until she had support and somewhere to go? When these criteria are met, she does act. Harris is also critical of the African sections of the book. However, they actually serve to highlight women’s inequalities across cultures, for example being denied education. Furthermore, that Nettie reaches the same conclusions in Africa— about things such as God— as Celie does in America also reinforces Walker’s critique.

Inversely, does The Color Purple go too far the other way in portraying a totally matriarchal society? After all, there is only one example of a ‘good’ (and unchanged) man who exists under the new regime, Sofia’s brother-in-law Jack. As Harris points out, “…all the bad guys are dead or converted to womanist philosophy.” Really, though, that is the point: the only way for the oppressed to be happy is to eradicate all the oppressors or convert them. Moreover, by presenting a fairy-tale element to the final Edenic (Hite, 1983) utopia where everyone is happy Walker emphasises the difference between the patriarchal status quo and her new vision, thus enhancing the critique.

From the beginning of the story where patriarchy’s pervasive, quotidian oppression of both women and of men is shown to keep everyone by-and-large miserable, to the ending with a re-envisioned, redefined world in which the characters are happy, The Color Purple successfully critiques patriarchy and shows how language can be as equally the instrument of freedom as it has been the instrument of captivity.

© Geo. S. Willis

To cite this post in Harvard style:

Willis, G. S. (2011) Patriarchy in ‘The Color Purple’ – Critiquing the Critique, The Third Word. Available from:


Abbandonato, L. (1991) “A View From ‘Elsewhere’”: Subversive Sexuality and the Rewriting of the Heroine in The Color Purple, PMLA, Vol. 160, NO. 5 (October 1991), pp. 1106-1115. Available from: Accessed 19th January 2011.

Berlant, L. (1988) Race, Gender and Nation in “The Color Purple”, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 4, No. 4, (Summer, 1988), pp. 831-859. Available from: Accessed 19th February 2011.

Harris, T. (1984) On The Color Purple, Stereotypes and Silence, Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 18, No. 4 (Winter, 1984), pp. 155-161. Available from: Accessed: 19th January 2011.

Hite, M. (1989) Romance,, Marginality, Matrilineage: Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” and Zora Neale Hurston’s “Their Eyes Were Watching God”, NOVEL: A Forum on Fiction, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Spring 1989), pp. 257-273. Available from: Accessed 19th January 2011.

Selzer, L. (1995) Race and Domesticity in The Color Purple, African American Review, Vol. 29, No, 1 (Spring 1995), pp. 67-82. Available from: Accessed 19th January 2011.

Tucker, L. (1988) Alice Walker’s The Color Purple: Emergent Woman, Emergent Text, Black American Literature Forum, Vol. 22, No. 1, Black Women Writers Issue (Spring, 1988), pp. 81-95. Available from: Accessed 19th February 2011.

Whorf, B. L. (1956) Language, thought and reality, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press. Available from: Accessed 25th February 2011.

A twist of ‘Fringe’: amidst tragedy an unexpected love story blooms | the TV addict

A Twist of FRINGE: Amidst Tragedy An Unexpected Love Story Blooms | the TV addict – by Tiffany Vogt.

There’ll be more from me soon, particularly on Fringe, which I have been watching from the edge of my seat since Christmas, but haven’t had the time to post about.

%d bloggers like this: