is a major character or merely an asterisk to the action, the white woman is, by virtue of her symbolic importance in Southern history and culture, a significant presence in novels about the Civil Rights Movement. This might be counterintuitive since the white man would seem the likely arch-adversary in the civil rights dilemma—or worse, focus on the white woman might appear as an attempt to usurp the centrality of African Americans in favor of the group furthest removed from civil rights issues. And yet, the white woman was at the center of those issues.
The white woman is central to civil rights issues and to fiction that specifically and substantially depends upon the Civil Rights Movement for material because she was the supporting beams and pillars of the culture the Movement sought to dismantle. That the relationship between the white woman and the Civil Rights Movement has been neglected suggests only that the significance of this relationship has been somehow overshadowed, not that it is insignificant.
In 2002, a novel hit the New York Times best-seller list. The setting was the rural South in the late sixties, just after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. The main characters, take refuge with a family of women who live in a house on the outskirts of town. The book is Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees. Its heroine, Lily Owens, thus achieves spiritual transcendence through communal living with a family of women, self-styled religious rituals, and racial integration. Kidd’s novel exemplifies the two trends that have emerged most clearly in American women’s fiction over the last quarter of the twentieth-century: the move on the part of women writers to a creative and individualized religious practice rather than a traditional institutionalized one, and the examination of the intersections of religion, gender and race as they shape identity.
Everything from the novel line to the references of the Civil Rights Movement occurring in 1960’s ...
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