“God Love All Them Feelings”: Sex and Spiritual Embodiment in The Color Purple

In Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Shug Avery introduces the novel’s protagonist, Celie, to the concept of religious embodiment. Critic Anne-Janine Morey, in her book Religion and Sexuality in American Literature, defines embodiment as “the unreconciled relation of body and spirit” (3). In Western theology, God (the Word) and the flesh are conceived as binary oppositions, with the divine operating on a metaphysical plane. While popular theology asserts that the body, with all its attendant yearnings and desires, is completely separate from the soul, which is typically associated with spirituality and the divine, analogies and metaphors that link the spiritual with the sexual can be found in the Bible itself, such as in Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians and the Song of Songs. Both of these Biblical texts explicitly and metaphorically compare Christ’s relationship with the Church to the relationship between two lovers. This analogy considerably complicates the Judeo-Christian narrative that spiritual fulfillment and sexuality are diametrically opposed, positing instead that the achievement of the former is largely contingent on the recognition and indulgence of the latter.

Shug Avery’s theological persuasions follow this more sex- and body-positive interpretation of God’s Word. For Shug, God is not an immutable, abstract entity; rather, He is present in all material things, especially the human body. In one of the novel’s key scenes, Shug asks Celie, “[H]ave you ever felt God in church? I never did. […] Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God” (Walker 193). Shug’s articulation suggests that God is other people, and only through human connection can this divine presence be encountered. Shug then asks Celie what she imagines God to look like, to which Celie responds, “He big and old and tall and graybearded and white. He wear white robes and go barefooted” (194). Shug answers, “[T]hat’s the one that’s in the white folks bible” (194), which implies that people make God in their own image rather than the opposite. She sums up her philosophy: “God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God. But only them that search for it inside find it” (195).

Shug’s philosophy influences Celie’s own spiritual rebirth, which is inextricably bound to her sexual awakening. Prior to Shug’s appearance, Celie endures a loveless half-existence with her husband, Albert. Given the sexual abuse Celie endures at the hands of her stepfather, it is unsurprising that she never imagines sex as a conceivably pleasurable experience. When Celie describes her sex life with Albert to Shug, she remarks, “Why, Miss Celie. You make it sound like he going to the toilet on you” (77). Only through Shug does Celie finally experience the possibility of a pleasurable sexuality and unearth her own latent lesbianism. It is Shug who initiates Celie’s transformation from an oppressed and sexless housewife to a liberated woman, represented by the scene in which Shug compels Celie to inspect her own vagina in the mirror. By uncovering the source of her femininity and the nexus of her repressed desire, Celie begins the process of finding God through self-knowledge.

Celie’s newfound sexuality complements her spiritual transformation. The aforementioned scene in which Celie finally looks at her vagina echoes Shug’s later injunction that only those willing to search inside themselves discover God. For Shug, and, later, for Celie, spirituality is contingent on a healthy sexuality. When Celie reprimands Shug for speaking suggestively during their theological conversation, Shug rebuts, “God love all them feelings. That’s some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves ‘em you enjoys ‘em a lot more. You can just relax, […] and praise God by liking what you like” (196). The two seemingly irreconcilable forces of sex and spirituality become fused in an almost Whitmanesque fashion. Toward the end of the novel, after Shug returns to Celie after a six-month excursion with a new lover, Celie prefaces her final letter with the declaration: “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear everything. Dear God” (285). Celie takes the sexual energy that Shug awakens within her and channels it into an overwhelming love for everything that is both spiritual and physical, thereby uniting the two polar opposites of sexuality and spirituality into a more complete whole. Works CitedMorey, Ann-Janine. Religion and Sexuality in American Literature. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009. Print.Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. Orlando: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2006. Print.

The Definition of a Woman

If asked, most people would say women are strong, passionate, loving, but not all of these positive traits truly define who they are. Their nature is deemed the most difficult to define because they have negative aspects that contribute to their strength, passion, and ability to give love. In The Color Purple, Alice Walker uses foils between multiple main characters, literary devices, and divisive imagery to communicate that femininity and being a woman are both defined by a variety of personal and societal standards.

Walker purposely creates female characters that are different from each other to create a holistic view of femininity. The main character Celie is a woman who embodies the oppression of females. In many instances throughout the book, Celie is disrespected by the male characters. After she is beaten by her father for winking at a boy in church (11), she affirms “I don’t even look at mens. The truth is I look at womens though cause I’m not scared of them” (11). Celie builds her life primarily on the fear of men and their power. Because of this, she quietly serves and does not confront her oppression portraying a cowardice characteristic that most women have tried to overcome. In contrast to Celie however, Sofia is a bossy and independent female who speaks her mind. Celie says “I like Sofia, but she don’t act like me atall. If she talking when Harpo and Mr. come in the room, she keep right on” (27). Sofia, like Celie, is beaten by the men in her life, but she chooses to stand up for herself. Celia admires Sofia’s strength and this foreshadows her desire to emulate Sofia’s attitude in the future. Shut Avery is substantially different from the other women in the book. Shug Avery represents the two familiar characteristics of females, desirability and confidence. As Celie gives her a bath Shug Avery tells her to “take a good look. Even if I is just a bag of bones now” (35). This shows Shug Avery’s comfort-ability with herself. Unlike her, Celie is fond of being called ugly belittling any sense of self worth she has. These three women are different in character, but they play off each other to create a balanced definition of a true woman through the tests of time.

The use of literary devices in The Color Purple further explains factors that make up the definition of the feminine experience. At one moment Celie uses a metaphor to express her situation; “He beat me like he beat the children” (11). Celie is disciplined like she is a small child and gains no respect despite her age. Because of her lack of confidence, she is mocked by Albert’s children, making it hard for her to act as a mother. Celie has hardships, however when she is finally able to break from the patriarchal setting she was living in, she decides to start selling pants. Pants symbolize a sort of liberation from the “ideal womanly look” created by society. Alice Walker also uses God as an allegorical device to have Celie believe in something bigger than her. She begins every letter with the words “Dear God”, asking him questions and hoping for a better future than her present. Most women find strength in their significant others but Celie forms an unbreakable bond with God. The multiple literary devices used in the book form a broad understanding of female struggles and perseverance.

Moreover, Walker uses imagery as an appeal to the reader’s sense of common beliefs to the personal femininity. When Shug Avery is coming back home as a surprise for Christmas Celie is frustrated trying to fix her hair when she hears the motor vehicle outside (61). She says “It too long to be short, too short to be long. Too nappy to be kinky, too kinky to be nappy. No set color to it either…”(61). Celie, like most women, does not appreciate the hair she has. This imagery helps us understand that femininity is in line with caring about outward appearance. In an expression of newly found excitement for freedom, Celie describes Shug Avey’s house to Nettie by saying, “She got statues of folks I never heard of and I never hope to see. She got a whole bunch of elephants and turtles everywhere. Some big, some little, some in the fountain, some up in the tree’s”(101). Celie is shocked at how unique this place is, and I think she was mesmerized that a little confidence could give a woman the ability to build a home as extravagant as she likes. In The Color Purple, imagery thus conveys the personal definition of femininity because it contributes to the explanation of emotions that the main characters face at different moments.

In light of such trial and tribulation, the perseverance and hope for a bright future are the criteria that Walker uses to define a true, dignified woman. If you look at the overall storyline, Celie, the character who was the most oppressed succeeds. Society may put a label on what women are meant to be like and this may affect personal views of femininity. I think the complexity of females that people do not understand is what makes them feminine. Alice Walker uses foils between multiple main characters, literary devices, and divisive imagery In The Color Purple, femininity and being a woman are both defined by a variety of personal and societal standards.

Works Cited

The-color-purple-alice-walker : Ikram BNS : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive.; Internet Archive. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2016.

Performing Despite Prejudice: Female Musicians in the Early 1900s and in The Color Purple

During the early 1900s, an emergence of new forms of music such as blues and jazz brought a host of new musicians, many of them female. These female performers, even when wildly successful, were constantly subjected to unfair scrutiny and judgement due to their sex, and at times also due to their race. Examples of the trials and tribulations that female musicians during this time had to face can be seen through the characters of Shug and Mary Agnes in The Color Purple by Alice Walker.

The Color Purple follows Celie, a poor but resilient woman in an unhappy marriage in the South who falls in love with Shug Avery, the beautiful folk singer and ex lover of Celie’s husband. Throughout the novel, Shug has a very lucrative and successful musical career and inspires another woman in the book, Mary Agnes, to attempt a career in singing as well. However, even as Shug becomes more successful, she is continually seen as attractive before talented, while Mary Agnes is also evaluated for her appearance more than her ability to sing. Female musicians in the early 1900s were forced to overcome sexism, racism and the unfair reality of being viewed in terms of their appearance rather than their talent, which were issues that they commonly integrated into their music. An understanding of the difficulties that female singers had to cope with during this time and the issues that they normally included in their songs further illuminates how Shug and Mary Agnes channeled their frustration from constantly being judged and evaluated on their looks and race into their music.

In order to prove their worth as musicians, female performers not only had to establish their talent, but also demonstrate good looks and sex appeal. Before jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald had achieved mass fame, she booked an audition with Chick Webb, drummer and bandleader of the Chick Webb Band (Stone 41). When Ella was presented to him, Webb refused to hear her sing, as she looked extremely disheveled from having lived on the streets for years (42). However, when others finally convinced him to give her a chance, Ella impressed the crowd at a local club, the Savoy, and within two weeks, she was not only working for Webb, but had also found a manager. Despite the fact that Ella was talented, Webb did not feel as if she would be successful as a performer, because as a woman, her appearance, which was not up to par, was just as important as her singing abilities (45). Many other female musicians were also valued for their looks rather than their talent. Vibraphonist Marjorie Hyams, famous in the 1940s, realizes the injustices she had to face in this regard as she looks back on her time as a performer (Dahl 79). Hyams recalls that as a female musician “you weren’t really looked upon as a musician” because “there was more interest in what you were going to wear” than how you performed (qtd. in Dahl 79). Hyam’s candid interpretation of the qualities necessary to be a successful female musician illustrate the stereotypical gender expectations that these performers had to circumvent at the time (Dahl 79). Blues singer Mamie Smith’s experiences concur with Hyams, as she notes that when she was starting to perform and customers would put money for her on the table, she was told to pick it up “not with your hands but with your thighs” (qtd. in Dahl 119). The suggestions given to Smith to oversexualize her every action demonstrate that an important component of gaining attention from the audience was an open display of sensuality (Dahl 119). The struggles that Fitzgerald, Hyams, and Smith faced to succeed in the music business convey how women were seen as beautiful or sexual before they were seen as talented.

The necessity women musicians felt to keep up appearances in order to gain work explains Shug’s constant attempts to look beautiful even in dire situations. The first image that the readers receive of Shug appears on a poster for a concert she is giving, and Celie describes her as “standing upside a piano, elbow crook, hand on her hip” (Walker, 25). Celie also notes that Shug appears as if “nothing seem to be troubling her mind” (25). Just as people took more interest in what Marjorie Hyams was going to wear or Smith’s sexual actions than what they sang, Celie’s depiction of Shug, which also represents the ideas of the general public, notes that Shug is not just a performer, but also a beautiful, carefree woman. Celie’s observations also reveal the importance of these qualities for female musicians in order to gain attention from potential audiences. Similarly, when Celie first meets Shug, she is coming home from her tour and is extremely sick. Celie notes that Shug “look so stylish,” but on closer inspection realizes that she has “all this yellow powder caked up on her face” and is also wearing “red rouge” lipstick (45). Similarly to how Fitzgerald’s managers expected her to look put together despite being homeless, even when Shug is on the brink of death, she is forced to keep up appearances as a performer by attempting to dress in a “stylish” manner and wear “powder” and “rouge” so that potential audiences will still approve of her. Celie’s evaluations of Shug’s appearance sheds light on the necessity for female musicians to appear attractive at all times.

African American women who hoped to become successful artists had an even more difficult time than white women, as not only did they have to defy gender stereotypes but also deal with a racist industry as well as the low socioeconomic status that normally came from being black during this time. At the beginning of her career, Ella Fitzgerald was not only poor as many African Americans were during this time, but was a homeless teenager who either relied on strangers or a deserted movie theatre for both food and shelter (Stone 35). Homelessness was not the only problem that Fitzgerald was struggling with, however. Even after she had successes, Fitzgerald still felt the need to conceal her way of speaking, and tried to improve her diction when singing to hide the fact that she had never been educated because her family could not afford for her to go to school (Stone 157). Fitzgerald’s emergence from poverty as well as her insecurities about her speech demonstrate the added difficulties that black performers had to face.

The additional struggles that African American musicians had to endure can be seen in the comparison between Shug and Mary Agnes, for while Shug’s dark skin sometimes hinders her ability to connect with an audience, Mary Agnes’s part white status allows her to have better opportunities as a musician. When Shug and her husband Grady discuss Mary Agnes’s possible music career, Mary Agnes admits that she feels as if no one would want to hear her sing. Shug contradicts her, and replies that if “you dress Mary Agnes up the right way” she would make “pisspots of money” (Walker 116). She then adds that Mary Agnes’s “stringy hair and cloudy eyes” combined with her “yellow”complexion would make the men “crazy about her” (116). Shug’s notion that Mary Agnes could make “pisspots of money” just from being dressed up “the right way” indicates that being part white allows Mary Agnes to make money while Shug, like Fitzgerald, cannot benefit from the same financial opportunities. While being part white benefited Mary Agnes, being African American could complicate Shug’s career. When Celie offers to accompany Shug on her tour, Shug turns her down. Celie then speculates that while Shug “can act like she not bored in front of a audience of strangers,” especially when “a lot of them white,” she would never “have the nerve to try and act” while Celie was around (211). Celie’s thought that Shug must “act like she not bored” when she’s in front of a mostly “white” audience suggests that this audience is not giving her a good response because of Shug’s race. Similarly, Celie’s idea that Shug must “act” in front of this audience concurs with how Fitzgerald covered her way of speaking, and implies that Shug would not feel comfortable being herself around a white audience, a problem that Mary Agnes would not have to face. Mary Agnes’s ability to impress audiences based on the way that she looks in contrast with Shug’s unresponsive crowd suggests that being African American can hinder musicians from connecting with an audience.

Many female musicians at the time channeled the frustration they felt due to their unfair circumstances into music. Ida Cox, a famous blues singer during the 1920s, focused her lyrics on the pain she was feeling about different struggles in her life. “Western Union Blues,” a song she wrote during her ascent to fame, depicts the rejected women trying to find work, while “Tree Top Tall Papa,” another one of her hits, laments one of her unfaithful lovers (Dahl 106). On the same note, many African American artists such as Billie Holiday used their music to illustrate the pain they felt from the racism they received (May 68). In response to her unfair treatment as well as the unfair treatment of African Americans throughout the country, Holiday wrote “Strange Fruit,” a song which depicted the lynchings happening in the South. (Miller) The lyrics to the song, which include the graphic images of “blood on the leaves and blood at the root” of trees as well as “Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze” portray the unjust results of racism in America (Miller 73). Both Cox and Holiday’s lyrics express the sadness they feel over the different struggles in their lives.

The therapeutic aspect of songwriting for female musicians sheds light on the music that Shug and Mary Agnes choose to sing. When Shug first performs at Harpo’s juke joint, Celie recalls that she sang A Good Man is Hard to Find “by somebody name Bessie Smith,” (72) and when Shug sings, “she look over at Mr. ___” (73). Shug’s glances at Mr. ___ while singing a song about the struggle of finding a nice man indicate that she can relate to Bessie’s frustrations, because Shug never got to marry Mr.___ even though she was in love with him. Similarly to Cox, Shug finds solace in singing music that expresses her frustrations. Mary Agnes also articulates her pain in her music, and like Billie Holiday, Mary Agnes expresses the angst she feels about her race. After Mary Agnes gets raped by her white uncle, she begins to think about the complexities of her being mixed raced, so she then writes a song to express her confusion and pain. One line, “They calls me yellow like yellow be my name” (99) alludes to how she feels defined by her “yellow” coloring rather than who she really is. Another lyric, “But if yellow is a name why ain’t black the same” (99) expresses Mary Agnes’ confusion as to why she is defined by her skin color, but all the other people she knows, such as Shug and Celie, are not defined by being black. Both Shug and Mary Agnes find ways to express their feelings through their music. Shug and Mary Agnes’ encounters with sexism and racism on their path to musical fame mirror the struggle of so many other female artists of their time as well as illustrate that although the early 1900s are considered to be a time of positive changes for women, many old ideas and stereotypes have not changed as much as they are believed to. Despite these unfair circumstances, many women at this time were able to circumvent these challenges and achieve success in the music industry. Shug and Mary Agnes embody these women and illustrate that achievement is possible even in the face of great adversity.

Reconciliation Between Public and Private Spheres: Mrs. Dalloway and The Color Purple

The ‘public’ and ‘private’ spheres are often held as two separate entities, both representing opposing positions of social freedom or restraint. Whereas the public realm is the more conformed-to and socially hegemonic of the two, the private is associated with an unseen process of identification, allowing private thoughts to remain free. In spite of this, the authors of Mrs Dalloway and The Color Purple attempt to reconcile the two spheres, developing initially private thoughts into the public realm in their texts by removing personal privacy altogether. Although the public advancement of restricted characters demonstrates the authors’ success in moving the focus from private to public, some concerns arise as to whether reconciliation is truly achieved or whether it even can be. Whilst both authors view the shift into a public society as the path to liberation, the violation of privacy opens up both the authors’ and characters’ personal opinions to public criticism. The complete destruction of the private sphere – and what it represents – then appears as the only way to progress into the public realm, as Walker’s and Woolf’s characters adhere to the conventions of the public sphere in order to release themselves from the alienation of the private sphere.

In an attempt to reconcile the public and private realms, Woolf violates the mental and personal privacy of her protagonists to integrate her characters into a public society that is reliant on sociability and union. The free indirect discourse of the narrative removes the privacy of thought, as it provides no separation between individual thoughts and vocalized speech, instead portraying the narrative as a shared voice. When an important car passes characters in the street, “nobody [in the crowd] knew whose face had been seen”; the use of “nobody” aligns the group as sharing one perception and integrates her protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, into society’s voice when she “comes to the window”. It brings her individual character to be lost as she enters into a shared narrative. The preceding question wondering whose car the group saw – “Was it the Prince of Wales’s, the Queen’s, the Prime Minister’s?” – is then constructed as a communal query, which removes the privacy of individual thought to place Clarissa immediately within the public sphere of thought. A mental violation is created, shifting all private affairs – such as Septimus’ ultimate expression of mentality that he is said to share with Clarissa – to public affairs, which reflects the feeling of Woolf at this time. Whilst private thoughts regarding her depression were concealed within her diary, where she writes, “My depression is a harassed feeling”, this illustrates how she felt attacked by society, as she mirrors in Septimus’ publicized mental illness. Therefore, an indication to Woolf’s ability to reconcile the public and private spheres can begin to be perceived as being hindered by her own alienation from a public society.

In comparison, Walker’s breach of mental privacy in The Color Purple initially appears as a positive way to transfer the otherwise hidden voice of her main character into the public sphere as part of Celie’s mental healing. However, similar to Woolf, concerns arise regarding the violation of privacy being the only way to let her protagonist’s voice exist within society. The use of an epistolary narrative allows the voice of Celie to be transferred through another mode of communication, as she is speaking to “nobody but God” due to her father’s threat to her before the narrative starts to remain isolated from society. As the reader of Celie’s private letters, it is us who force the voice of Celie to be publicized, consequently reconciling her with the public sphere once more, which is reflected by the progression of the plot, where Celie begins “writing to [Nettie] instead of God”, which could be seen as Celie finding a harmony with a public society. However, this simultaneously implies that the reader breaches her mental privacy in order to achieve public unification too, as Celie’s private letters were not constructed to be viewed, as we see in the confessional tone that Walker uses when Celie expresses opinions, such as “I don’t never git used to it”. Although Walker has stated that, “If knowledge of my condition is all the freedom I get from a ‘freedom movement’, it is better than unawareness”, advocating the black female voice in America, her approach to reconciling this unheard voice with the public realm leads to a violation of personal privacy, which, like Woolf, does not successfully achieve reconciliation.

Throughout Mrs Dalloway, the protagonist’s shift into the public realm demonstrates the way that a social emancipation, and not solely the abolishment of mental and personal privacy, is used to reconcile the private with the public. Woolf portrays Clarissa’s liberation through her use of empowering language when introducing her. Clarissa is written as “an indescribable pause” and “a suspense (…) before Big Ben strikes”, with the importance of her position being reflected through the emphasized anticipation in the words “pause” and “suspense”, which is seen to figuratively pause the time of “Big Ben”. As the main focus of the story, Clarissa’s social position is important in the narrative to illustrate the reconciliation of the previously private role of women with the post-war public position that they rise into. Her importance as a woman against the pressures of society was important to Woolf, who knew how important it was for women to write themselves into the public world. The post-war society of the 1920s saw many women trying to remain in a work process that no longer needed them after the war had ended. Woolf constructs a society that is pressuring Clarissa into the private realm in contradiction to her protagonist’s public social position, as opposed to occupational position. Social emancipation does not successfully liberate women into a public realm founded upon business, which the women have been alienated from once again, therefore it suggests that the public and private are still antagonized and not fully reconciled.

Walker’s establishment of a public position for her female protagonist appears to be more emancipating than Woolf’s, as the liberation from the novel’s oppressive male figure, Mr.___, allows Celie to reconcile her private ambitions with the public realm. The female characters’ destiny is usually shown in opposition to man and society, pre-determining their life to be contained within a suppressed private sphere. Celie’s speech, “I’m pore, I’m black, (…) a voice say to everything listening. But I’m here,” portrays a diversion from this restricted private bracket as a move into public activism, with “I’m here” asserting the supremacy of speech and a voice opposing the pattern of female suppression in society. Walker’s attempt at reconciling the private with the public can therefore be seen as a consequence of women’s emancipation. However, Walker’s exertion can still only be defined as an attempt at reconciliation, as Celie’s newfound affirmation-of-self places her individual voice within a public patriarchal society at the expense of her independent womanhood. If her liberation is a response to men, with Mr.___’s actions being the cause of her speech, the activist voice of Walker that appears in Celie’s character does not appear as reconciling private thoughts with the public. Instead, her voice, still concealed within her letter, remains as opposed to the public patriarchal society. Both authors also shift the private into the public in an attempt at reconciliation through broadcasting the private sphere of the family home into society.

In Mrs Dalloway, Woolf exploits family life as a public and social affair, removing the privacy attached to family life and suggesting once more that destruction of privacy surpasses reconciliation. The character of Miss Kilman is important in the novel to recognize the decay of the family unit, as the absence of parental figures leaves Clarissa’s daughter in the hands of a “prehistoric monster”. The faded description of her “crumbled” appearance emphasizes the poor state that social reconciliation has brought upon the family and implies that dragging the two realms into reconciliation had led to this consequence. Furthermore, due to the demands of Clarissa’s social position, Miss Kilman adopts the mother-figure role for Clarissa’s daughter, Elizabeth, turning her into a pawn in their struggle for social dominance. The way Clarissa reminds her daughter about the party “with violent anguish” portrays how destroying family privacy leads to competition and violent tendencies, which does not successfully reconcile the public and the private. Snaith notes how Woolf found difficulty harmonizing her own public and private life as two separate entities. Woolf’s self-sacrificing nature in order to achieve Bloomsbury publication denied her freedom within her private family endeavors, which is reflected in Clarissa’s establishment of her social position compromising her relationship with Elizabeth. Therefore, whilst shifting the family position into the public sphere is portrayed as an attempt at reconciling the two spheres, the opposite effect occurs and privacy diminishes.

Walker explores how family life is essential to public establishment in a way contrasting to Woolf, as the completely private information of Celie’s children led to the lack of family existence, yet family became re-established after the whereabouts of her family became publicized. Celie’s discovery of Nettie’s letters, and the knowledge they granted her of children containing a “resemblance” to her, emphasizing a physical connection, provide a reconciliation of private information with public knowledge. Shifting family into the public sphere can then be suggested as a successful reconciliation in The Color Purple. However, the novel’s archetypal family unit appears disjointed, possibly due to the mayor’s public position, implying that a reconciliation of family privacy and the public sphere has not been achieved. Similar to Elizabeth in Woolf’s novel, Eleanor Jane turns to an outsider, Sofia, who has been granted access to the family through their public establishment, for emotional maternal support, as she “felt something” for her and not her own mother. This suggests that reconciling private family life with the public realm eventually destroys the foundations of a good family unit due to the public connection with society. Walker herself depicts this as the change in social culture of generations, suggesting how the archetypal family portray a family more integrated with society and constructed for public criticism, whereas black women are living the legacy of their suppressed grandmothers and are breaking through social barriers, such as maintaining a family in a public society, that have not yet been destroyed. The inevitability of a family in the public sphere being without privacy demonstrates the way that public and private reconciliation can never be achieved, despite the authors’ attempts to do so.

Overall, both authors attempt to reconcile the public and the private realms throughout their novels, yet the extent to which they successfully do this is questionable. Although they often manage to remove the social restriction placed upon their characters, it is usually at the expense of the private sphere, which is destroyed during the authors’ liberation of their protagonists. The attempted reconciliation manages to create a new version of the public sphere to replace the private, as the voice that characters find through removing privacy opens them up to criticism. Therefore, whilst reconciliation of the private and the public is attempted, the violation of privacy during public progression and pre-construction of the two separate realms stops reconciliation from ever being truly achieved.

Female Marginalisation Embodied in The Color Purple and The Yellow Wallpaper

Female marginalisation is a major theme in The Color Purple, with Celie’s emancipation from repressive male patriarchy being the culmination of the plot. When discussing the way narrative method and perspective are used within the novel to address these themes, it is useful to make comparisons and contrasts with a different text. Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story The Yellow Wallpaper was written almost a century before The Color Purple but shares similar themes of female repression by men, the major difference being that whilst Celie overcomes her restrainers, the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper is overwhelmed by them. Both authors tried to express this marginalisation through the form and style of the narrative; not simply through the development of the plot.When looking at narrative method in The Color Purple, we are immediately drawn to the fact that it is written in epistolary form. Novels being made up of a series of letters has historically been a popular style with women authors, having been used by some of our earliest women writers including Aphra Behn and Mary Shelley. It offers a female author the chance to express the thoughts and actions of her characters without the medium of an omniscient narrator. This is a very important thing when discussing female marginalisation, as the expected narrative voice of the omniscient narrator (at least before and during the nineteenth century, if not today) would have been expected to represent the prevailing masculine voice of society. By employing the epistolic method of novel writing, the female author is able to freely reject the ‘objective’ male voice of an omniscient narrator, in favour of the subjective voices of the characters. But the text is still considered mainstream and acceptable because it does not openly reject accepted social mores by subverting the objective masculine narrator, or by claiming the superiority of the female narrative voice. Readers expecting the familiar masculine narration do not reject a female narrative when in epistolic form because it works within the expected position of women in society, as especially sensitive to the personal and familiar. But one could say that in The Color Purple this convention is used ironically. Walker uses the form traditionally thought of as best suited to female authors and manipulates it in order to portray a character that breaks her bonds to abusive men. Celie starts her letters as an address to a masculine God (although not specifically stated, one assumes the patriarchal biblical god), which shows her total dependence on, and belief in, the superiority of men. The continuation of such a view is evident throughout the beginning and middle of the novel with her refusal to name her husband Albert, instead referring to him as ’Mr______’. Its only after the arrival of Shug Avery and then the discovery of Nettie’s letters, that Celie begins to refer to her husband as Albert; this occurs as she switches the object of her letters from the father figure of God to her sister, representing a growing awareness of her part within, and solidarity to, the feminine. One of the most successful ways in which The Yellow Wallpaper achieves a true understanding of female marginalisation in late nineteenth century New England is through its use of stream-of-consciousness narration. It isn’t through direct omniscient revelation of desire that we learn of her repression, but through the presentation of her conscious through the medium of her reasoning. These thoughts are still very restrictive and only allude to the male domination that she is being put under; her thoughts being in line with what would be expected of her outward speech: ‘I get so unreasonably angry with John sometimes. I’m sure I never used to be so sensitive. I think it is due to this nervous condition.’ It is possible that Gilman used the stream-of-consciousness method in this way in order to show that the reason why the narrator has totally broken down by the end of the story is that even in their minds many women have no freedom of thought or expression, but are unconsciously subject to a male orientated and dominant view of themselves.The Color Purple arrives at the opposite conclusion. This is because a fully emancipated (open to debate of course, but in comparison to Gilman there is no doubt Walker can be called emancipated) author gives her character Celie far more freedom of thought than might have been the case for a real person in Celie’s position, as such a person’s thoughts would most likely be far more in accord with those of their social superiors. If Celie did not have this freedom of thought (and expression through her letters) then she may never have gradually freed herself from reliance on men in a healthy manner (as opposed to the freedom born of madness that Gilman’s narrator finds). It could be possible to suggest that the voice of Celie within the letters is in fact the voice of Alice Walker within the character of Celie; as such a character would be unlikely to express themselves in the way that is presented to us. It is useful to note the portrayal of the social perspectives of the characters in the two texts. They are both faced with female marginalisation, but they are not both from the same social environment. The narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper is suggested (by the description of her lifestyle and her style of language) to be a white middle-class woman, her thoughts and opinion being held secondary to those of white middle-class men. Beyond this single repression there is very little evidence to suggest any other forms of social marginalisation. The case of Celie in The Color Purple is much more complicated; there are a host of different reasons why she is inferior to those around her. Not only is she a black woman in nineteen thirties Georgia (reason enough to feel marginalised), but she was a physically and sexually abused motherless child. Walker presents Celie’s social position by using informal colloquial language in Celie’s letters, through this we immediately learn in the first letter that she is poorly educated (through this we assume financially poor also) and from a black community in the American deep south (although only those that are familiar with the particular geo-social dialect might be able to glean this from the text): ‘But I don’t never git used to it. And now I feels sick every time I be the one to cook. My mama she fuss at me an look at me. She happy, cause he good to her now. But too sick to last long.’ By using such stylised language in the narrative not only do we come to comprehend Celie’s marginalisation through simple understanding of the text, but through the very sound (phonology) and look of it (graphology). Both texts make use of symbols. Obviously, the colour purple is a key symbol in The Color Purple, representing the beauty and love of god in a less than perfect world. There are other symbols within the text, like the making of patchwork quilts and Celie’s career in trouser making (‘people’s pants’), which represent the traditional outlets of female creativity. In The Yellow Wallpaper we are confronted with a myriad of symbols that could be read in numerous ways; the colour of the wallpaper, the pattern and the illusions that the narrator sees within to name a few. The importance of symbolism within both texts lies in their ability to engage directly with the readers’ problem solving skills, which in turn leads to a development of thought concerning the subject of the symbolism. When the symbol is related to female marginalisation the reader is encouraged to view the issue in an abstract fashion (as colour, shape, sound etc), often challenging the assumed opinions of the reader and hopefully (for the author) bringing about a reappraisal of their views. As we can see, there are many different methods within prose narration that can be used in order to bring the issue of female marginalisation to the attention of the reader. The important thing that we can see is that the very act of writing itself is heavily influenced by issues of gender; any text can be discussed with gender on the agenda, even if the subject of the text has little or nothing to do with such themes. But both The Color Purple and The Yellow Wallpaper are explicitly about these gender issues, and both authors have addressed their subjects using innovative and subversive narrative methods, so that the reader becomes aware of the difficulties women have had in expressing themselves and their female perspective when bound to a patriarchal society.BibliographyGoodman, Lizbeth. Literature and Gender (1996) The Open UniversityGilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper (1892) The Open UniversityWalker, Alice. The Color Purple (1983) Penguin Classics

Cyclical Curses: The Victimization of Black Masculinity and A Historical Look at the Legacy of Intraracism in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple

The Color Purple is arguably the most influential and well-known book of Alice Walker’s literary opus. It won the Pulitzer Prize; it was adapted into a successful film; and it has continued to spark controversy and debate since its publication. Most of the controversy surrounding this piece centers on the role of African American men in Walker’s writing. She appears to have an unrestrained anger towards black men, and those men may well be stripped of power in her writing, but I would posit that this portrayal of black men is due more to the amount of social, legal, and historical detriments weighing down on them than to Walker’s personal vendetta. She is portraying a certain aspect of black masculinity associated with the time period and setting of the novel. The men—volatile and malicious as they are—are just as victimized by their circumstances as the women are. The racial confines of a white power structure relegated these men to a bestial existence, and this relegation was so powerful and complete that it became self-sustained in the psyche of many African-American communities—a self-perpetuating curse. This is proven in The Color Purple by the fact that almost all of the violence and depravity is directed towards an African American by an African American; the Caucasian community is largely unrepresented, only appearing at key moments to initiate violence in the black community in order to keep the black characters in a self-sustained submissive role. The male characters are, in effect, simultaneously cursed by both the exterior white society and their own black society. They become the victims of a cycle of degradation and disenfranchisement that spreads to all around them and whose repercussions span far beyond the annals of history and the confines of Walker’s novel.

One of the most poignant moments in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple occurs as Celie, the book’s protagonist, is leaving her abusive husband Albert—a man she submissively refers to as “Mister.” After years of abuse and neglect at his hands, Celie leaves him with a curse: “I curse you … Until you do right by me, everything you touch will crumble … Until you do right by me … everything you even dream about will fail … Every lick you hit me you will suffer twice … The jail you plan for me is the one in which you will rot … Anything you do to me already done to you” (Color Purple 213-214). If he is to be judged by his actions, Albert is deserving of a much harsher jinx: he attempts to rape Celie’s sister Nettie, whom he wished to marry initially; when Nettie fights off his attack, he swears that neither sister will ever hear from the other—a promise that he keeps for years as he hides the letters that Nettie sends from Africa (131); and he makes Celie do the majority of the work around the farm (27-28). Couple all this with his constant physical and mental abuse (23), and the character of Albert is unforgivable. The problem here is that Albert is just one in a succession of unforgivable male characters. As Stacie Lynn Hankinson puts it: “He explodes into an archetype—one in which Pa, Harpo, and all other men are also cast” (323). It would appear that Walker has taken all of the erroneous, racial stereotypes associated with men of color—idleness, brutality, mental ineptitude, etc.—and personified them in the men in her book. Celie’s stepfather rapes her multiple times and gives the resulting children away (1-4), and her stepson Harpo is too stupid to realize that his wife needs love and support rather than discipline and abuse (37-39). In her article “On The Color Purple, Stereotypes, and Silence,” Trudier Harris discusses the reaction of one of her male students to the portrayal of these men. She writes:

This student maintained that Walker had very deliberately deprived all the black male characters in the novel of any positive identity. From giving Albert a blank instead of a name, to having the only supportive males be young and potheads or middle-aged and henpecked … to giving Du Bois’ last name a different spelling, this student thought black men had been stripped of their identities and thus their abilities to assume the roles of men. … All the men, the student concluded, fit into that froglike perception Celie

has of them. And the problem with these frogs? None of them can turn into princes. (158-159)

Harris shares this view. She says, “The novel gives validity to all the white racist’s notions of pathology in black communities. For these spectator readers, black fathers and father-figures are viewed as being immoral, sexually unrestrained. Black males and females form units without the benefit of marriage, or they easily dissolve marriages in order to form less structured, more promiscuous relationships” (157). This argument appears even more valid when viewed through the lens of Walker’s own womanist ideology. In In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, Walker defines her term thusly:

“Womanist: A black feminist or feminist of color. . . . A woman who loves other women, sexually and/or nonsexually. Appreciates and prefers women’s culture, women’s emotional flexibility . . . and women’s strength. Sometimes loves individual men, sexually and/or nonsexually. Committed to survival and wholeness of entire people, male and female. [emphasis added]” (xi).

Walker uses the plural in regard to “other women,” thus connoting that all women are included in this decree, yet she uses the terms “sometimes” and “individual” in regards to men, limiting their interaction and importance. That is, all women are automatically included in Walker’s philosophy, but only certain “individual” men are welcomed, and only at certain points. It would appear that Walker is maliciously painting a picture of male ineptitude and depravity, and other critics have spoken out about her perceived animosity towards black men.

One such critic is Candice Marie Jenkins, who says, “Perhaps even more significantly, however, Walker’s writing, and particularly her 1982 novel The Color Purple, also engages in a project of ‘queering’ the black family, reshaping it in unconventional ways that divest its black male members of a good deal of power, thereby reconfiguring the very meaning of kinship for black sons, brothers, and especially fathers” (970). While Jenkins’s idea is understandable, she does fail to recognize that these black males had long been divested of power by the social structures around them. Their relationships had been undermined and reconfigured by the institutions of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation long before Alice Walker presented these characters in print.

Another writer points out that Steven Spielberg’s movie version of the novel re-empowers the male characters in order to appeal to a mainstream audience, thus supporting the idea that Walker’s original portrayal of black masculinity is unappealing: in “The Return of the Father in Spielberg’s The Color Purple,” Carol Dole says, “The added subplot [of Shug Avery’s reunion with her father]. . . embodies the return in the film of the patriarchal structures that Walker’s novel works to undermine. In reinscribing such structures, it helps to undercut the novel’s unacceptable ideology. [This] is just one of several modifications that make the film more palatable to the mainstream viewer. (15)

While all of these arguments against Walker’s portrayal of black men are justified, none of them takes into account the notion that the men presented were acting in these horrific ways because they were victims of horrific circumstances. The first glimpse of African American male victimization we see in The Color Purple is in the story of Celie and Nettie’s biological father. Walker writes that their father was a “well-to-do farmer” who “decided to open a store.” His store was prosperous, so he asked his brothers to help him manage both it and the blacksmith shop behind it. His enterprise became more and more successful; he eventually began to take both white and black customers away from the local white businessmen. Because of this, he and his brothers were hanged, and the store and smithy were destroyed (180-181). This is the moment that begins Celie’s descent into hardship, for it can be conjectured that her life would have been at least somewhat easier if her wealthier and more industrious father had lived. This is also the moment when the white power structures first commandeer the story of the novel. According to Edward Hatfield:

…whites resorted to lynching to maintain the region’s racial caste system. Between 1882 and 1930, Georgia’s [the setting of The Color Purple] toll of 458 lynch victims was exceeded only by Mississippi’s 538 … In Georgia and throughout the rural South, lynching assumed enormous significance, not only because it functioned as a form of vigilantism but also because it provided a visible and ritualistic reaffirmation of white supremacy.

The male characters in the novel would be all too familiar with this type of “vigilantism;” they would see, through Celie’s father’s murder, exactly where hard work would get them and exactly how quickly the white power structure could strike down any African American advancement. Of course, there are countless examples of men who are victimized by racial hatred who do not turn into abusive, neglectful husbands and fathers, but those men are not found in this particular setting in Walker’s novel, primarily because they were not found in Walker’s personal life. Cynthia Cole Robinson describes Walker’s father as a hard man who “sometimes hit [Walker’s] mother” and who took her brothers to the fields so they could watch animals mating. Robinson says, “He saw this as a certain bonding between he [sic] and his sons since it prepared them for their lives as ‘men’” (298-299). Robinson, paraphrasing Walker, continues: “This desire to sexually conquer women can be described as phallocentricism, and in regard to African-American men, it is viewed as a way for them to claim power in a patriarchal society that has not allowed them the means to define themselves in the traditional patriarchal sense, i.e., through financial avenues” (299). There had been a direct assault on the African American family beginning with slavery, an institution which was abolished a mere seventy to eighty years before the initial events in the novel take place. That legacy, coupled with the various rules and mores established to keep African American populations in a powerless state, is what makes the novel’s men what they are. Walker is simply writing what she knows to be her own personal truth, but it is a truth shared by many African Americans.

The racially charged history of masculine disenfranchisement leading to masculine depravity was established by a racist white culture, but it has been perpetuated by a racist black one. Barbara Omalade says, “…family members have used skin color, hair length and texture, body size, and African-ness of features to evaluate Black girls. . . . Adult Black women recall that heavier and short-haired girls received more negative feedback from family members about their looks and personality than lighter, thinner and long-haired girls (141). The men are cursed by white society to be powerless and destitute, the women are then cursed by the men who have limited outlets to express their anger, and thus the victimized women, in retaliation for their abuse at the hands of both white society and black men, curse their male oppressors. The cycle is complete, and the white power structure fades into the background as the black social structure keeps the cycle spinning.

The same black-on-black hate is found in The Color Purple in the story of Harpo and Sofia. Their relationship begins with love and passion: “Used to be when he touch me I’d go all out my head,” Sofia says, “…I used to chase him home from the field. Git all hot just watching him put the children to bed” (Walker 69). Their relationship has changed because of Harpo’s obsession with Sofia being an obedient wife. Harpo asks his father how “to make Sofia mind,” and Albert responds with “You ever hit her? … Wives is like children. You have to let ‘em know who got the upper hand. Nothing can do that better than a good sound beating” (37). This scene illustrates how brutality against African Americans by their own culture is seemingly hereditary in this novel, as Albert is passing down his own brutish ways to his son just as he presumably received them from his own father. This is an element only hinted at in the book, but developed more fully in the film. According to Dole it is during the dinner party scene, when Celie expresses her anger and hatred towards Albert, that his father chides her by saying, “You can’t talk to my boy that way!” Sofia cuts in with “Your boy? Seems like if he hadn’t been your boy he might of made somebody a halfway decent man” (13). Dole concludes this analysis by saying, “The film’s vilification of Mister’s father thus removes part of Mister’s responsibility for his mistreatment of his wife” (13). But this leads viewers and readers to wonder who is then responsible for Mister’s father’s villainy. As a black man from an older generation, he was arguably exposed to more virulent forms of racism. He, like countless others, was born and raised in the shadow of ancestral slavery while simultaneously seeing the effects of Jim Crow law in Georgia. He was part of an outcast group who were taught to avert their gazes from white women, to never even offer to shake hands with a white man, to always remove their hats in the presence of whites, and to always refer to whites as sir or ma’am, no matter the age of the speaker and the addressee (Kennedy 209-216). These are but a few of the unwritten statutes used to negate the humanity of people of color during the time period of The Color Purple.

All this hatred had to find an outlet, and the most readily available one was the women. Thus racism effectively altered the natural affection between husband and wife/father and child for many (though certainly not all) black men. Walker had seen this alteration first-hand. In In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens, she states that “[her father] did fall in love with [her] mother partly because she was so light; he never denied it.” (330) Furthermore:

Mamie, Walker’s oldest sister, was considered to be his favorite among what she calls his first set of children because of her complexion, “Mamie was favorite among the first. In her case the favoritism seemed outwardly caused by her very light color . . .” Walker was considered ‘Daddy’s Favorite’ among the second set due to her ‘good hair.’ “In my case, my father seemed partial to me because of my ‘smartness’ and forthrightness, but more obviously because of my hair, which was the longest and ‘best’ in the family.” (qtd. in Robinson 301)

Second-class citizenry based on physical traits had been such an integral part of African American existence that both Walker’s family and her characters begin to believe it and promote it with little influence from white society. It is such a strong force in their minds that it reaches into the spiritual realm as well. Shug Avery says it best when she responds to Celie’s statement that Jesus had hair “like lamb’s wool”: “Well . . . if he came to any of these churches we talking bout he’d have to have it conked before anybody paid him any attention. The last thing niggers want to think about they God is that his hair kinky” (202).

Perhaps the most shocking example of intraracism is when Celie gives Harpo the same advice that Albert had given him. “Beat her,” she says (Color Purple 37-38). This is another pivotal moment in the book because it shows how Celie has come to accept her treatment at the hands of men as normal and acceptable, and how she has no reservations in seeing violence against other women of color around her. For this brief moment, she has given into the same racist mentality to which the men in the book acquiesce. She has started to believe that she is something less than human because she is an African American and a woman. She is jealous of the happiness that Harpo and Sofia share and the independence that Sofia has, so she caters to her baser side and wants to see Sofia brought low. She has fulfilled a cyclical curse of black-on-black hatred with no interference from the white community at large. The racism is largely self-inflicted at this point.

The character of Harpo is an excellent example of African American male victimization in The Color Purple as well. He is introduced to readers as a violent young man who “laid [Celie’s] head open” with a rock on her wedding day, yet he is also given a tender side. We know that his mother died in his arms (Color Purple 13) and that he has tenderness for Sofia, as evidenced by his tears when discussing their marital problems with Celie (66). These tears are symbolic of his internal struggle. He wants a wife that will “mind” because that is what his society and family have dictated that he must have, but he also shows an ability to transcend these stereotypes in his love of Sofia and in the fact that “he love cooking and cleaning and doing little things around the house” (63). The pressure of the opposing forces within him—that is, the desire to have a loving relationship with a woman and the desire to live up to sexist social expectations of how black men and women should behave and interact—creates the stress that he expresses in tears and binge eating (62-64). Sofia and Celie have a telling conversation which shows that Harpo has given in to his father’s/society’s dictates. Celie quotes Sofia as saying:

I don’t like to go to bed with him no more. … Once he get on top of me I think bout how that’s where he always wanted to be. … Now I feels tired all the time. No interest. … You know the worst part? she say. The worst part is I don’t think he notice. He git up there and enjoy himself just the same. No matter what I’m thinking. No matter what I feel. It just him. Heartfeeling don’t even seem to enter into it. She snort. The fact that he can do it like that make me want to kill him. (69)

This is a direct juxtaposition to Celie’s intimate experiences with Albert. “Mr.______ clam up on top of me, do his business,” she says, “in ten minutes we both asleep” (69). Harpo has started to imitate his father, a man who tries to imitate his own father who was ultimately trying to hold on to what little vestiges of power were left to him by white society at large. As if to underscore the root of this cycle, Sofia—the muse of Harpo’s kinder qualities—is beaten and imprisoned for defending herself against a white man who slaps her for speaking harshly to his wife (90-91). That is, Harpo is incapable of escaping the masculine brutality of his society as dictated by the men who came before him, and his reason for trying in the first place—Sofia—is thrown in jail because of her strength and pride.

The connection between male victimization and intraracism is one of social expectation and mimicry. Men in the time period represented in the book were expected to be the leaders of their homes and families. The African American men in The Color Purple, being stripped of any power outside of their own familial circle, created toxic relationships with the women and children in their lives by embodying the perceived attributes of the white establishment. Celie’s stepfather explains the desires of the white power structure thusly: “But the fact is, you got to give ‘em something. Either your money, your land, your woman or your ass. So what I did was just right off offer to give ‘em money” (Color Purple 188). The men in the novel adopt the desires they have seen in their own oppressors: it can be inferred that Celie’s stepfather marries her mother for her money and land (181), and all of the main male characters demonstrate a loveless sexual desire fueled by domination more than affection (62-64, 69, et.al.). They are driven by these desires—money, land, and sex—and the female characters bear the brunt of their dominance. This is why there is not a single long-lasting monogamous relationship in the novel; this is also why the intraracist concepts are so prominent. The female characters are victimized by both white society and the patriarchal confines of their own families; with no recourse for attacking the white society, they turn their hatred to their closest oppressors: the African American men around them who are mimicking white racist ideology. Candice Jenkins gives a perfect example of this mimicry and its immediate effect. She says that the title “Mister” is a “subtle reminder” of white supremacy; “… if every southern white man is ‘Mister’ and every black man ‘boy,’ then the black men in Walker’s text are scripted into a pattern of titular naming that even without direct reference to whiteness is informed by racial hierarchies” (981). Celie refers to nearly every man in the novel as “Mister” (Jenkins 981), thus expressing her subordination to them through the racial terms of her day.

While no major Caucasian characters can be found in the novel, the presence of white power structures is constantly lurking in the background to remind the reader of the source of the novel’s intraracism. Celie’s stepfather’s lynching—he was murdered solely because he was more successful than his white contemporaries—is the first example, but Sofia’s beating, arrest, imprisonment, and forced servitude is another. While on an outing to town, Sofia, her prizefighter boyfriend, and her children are approached by the white mayor and his wife, Miss Millie. After condescendingly commenting on how “clean” the children are and how they have “such strong white teef [sic],”and after noticing Sofia’s car and wristwatch, the mayor’s wife asks her, “Would you like to work for me? Be my maid?” Sofia responds with a curt “Hell no” (Color Purple 90). At that moment, the mayor steps in to defend his wife; he slaps Sofia, and Sofia knocks him down. Six policemen attack her; they crack both her skull and her ribs, put out one of her eyes, and “rip her nose loose on one side” (91). She is so swollen that her tongue protrudes, and she is held in prison for eleven years (92). It is no coincidence that this occurs at a moment in the novel in which the black characters are prospering. Harpo has a moderately successful juke joint (84-85), and Sofia, if the mayor’s wife’s noticing of her car and timepiece is an indicator, is financially secure. To keep the concept of the cyclical curse in motion, Walker chooses this point to have the white power structure step into the rising action of the novel. To reiterate the concept of the cyclical curse between the African American characters, though, Walker shifts the blame for Sofia’s predicament in part to Harpo. Celie says, “If you hadn’t tried to rule over Sofia the white folks never would have caught her.” Harpo says it is a lie, to which Sofia responds with “A little truth in it” (207).

This exchange takes place in yet another important dinner scene. This scene is noteworthy because it is the moment in which the women—Shug, Celie, and Mary Agnes, specifically—stand together to announce their imminent departure (Color Purple 208-209) and to show their independence from the men. Their dinner is suddenly interrupted by “Eleanor Jane, the white girl Sofia used to work for” (210). Eleanor Jane’s appearance causes an abrupt end to the discussion, thus, even for just a moment, silencing the conversation of the women’s liberation. She brings Sofia out to the porch for a conversation readers are not privy to, but the characters can hear her “really boo-hoo” (210). All readers are told is that there is “a lot of mess back at the house” (211). In this subtle, symbolic way, Walker is yet again showing how the white power structure is perpetually lingering, waiting for a moment of strength or camaraderie among the African American community to present itself for attack.

The final instance in which a Caucasian character abruptly appears is during the subplot of Nettie and Samuel. On their ocean voyage with Adam and Olivia to England, the missionaries meet Doris Baines, the daughter of a wealthy British Lord. She is on her way home with an African child to whom she refers as her grandson. She explains that, while she came from wealth and luxury, she always wanted to be her own independent, educated woman. She refused to marry, despite her family’s multiple requests, and she used missionary work as a means of escape. She tells Nettie and Samuel that she is a well-known writer under the pseudonym Jared Hunt, and that her entire missionary career in Africa was spent writing novels; at the same time, though, she used her finances and fame to better the natives to which she was assigned without interfering with or altering their native ways. She built “a hospital…a grammar school” and “…a college” (Color Purple 234-236). The young man with her is actually the child of one of two native women whose educations she sponsored (237). She is the antithesis to the rest of the Caucasian characters in the book. She serves as a counterpoint to the men who lynched Celie’s father and to Miss Millie, but her status as a foreigner takes her out of the cycle. She is external to the American racial paradigm, and the fact that Walker had to create a foreign white character in order to have a likable white character is further proof of the prevalence of an American white power structure. Nettie and Samuel’s response to her story is telling as well. They become “bored” with it eventually (235) and listen in “more or less respectful silence” (237). They are unaffected by her story because they too are outside of the cycle; they have been away from the Americas for so long that they no longer see the peculiarity of this woman’s situation. Thus, all of the white characters—despite their being the subject of so few pages—serve either to show directly the white power structures covertly operating just out of sight or to highlight the idea that these structures are unique to the American zeitgeist at this point in history. The cycle of white supremacy resulting in intraracism is by and large an American ordeal.

Both laws and social stratification have kept people of color in a minority status for generations. The idea that Alice Walker’s writing is anti-male and misrepresentative of masculinity is far from a new notion as well, but the concept that Walker’s representation of men in The Color Purple is accurate for many in rural African American communities and that those men were victims of their circumstances as well is largely absent from the literary critical dialogue surrounding the novel. This is well worth the discussion for a few reasons, the largest reason being that the repercussions of self-inflicted racism can be seen in day-to-day life.

My role as an educator affords me a daily interaction with students of all ethnic backgrounds. By seeing the lack of racial awareness between race groups, I am constantly reminded of how far we have come as a nation in regards to race relations; however, one aspect of my daily interaction with students is chilling. While the racial stratifications of yesteryear are largely disappearing from the minds of youth in general, they are as present as ever in the interpersonal interactions of young African Americans. The majority of the insults I hear between youth of color, whether intended for jest or for abuse, center on skin color and hair texture. I still hear these young men and women making decisions about dates and future relationships primarily because of the brightness or darkness of someone’s flesh. I believe this to be the direct outcome of the centuries of oppression and negation inflicted by white power structures, despite the fact that those power structures have been integrated or nonexistent for years. There is no need for a white power structure to suppress rural black communities any longer because the rural black communities—if the young people I have encountered in various geographical locations are any indicator—are suppressing themselves. Of course, this does not mean that white youth are free from racist ideas or that they do not berate one another in horrible ways; it does mean that, from this writer’s perspective as an educator, their barbs never focus specifically on characteristics of color when interacting within a Caucasian circle. This is what the curse of institutionalized racism has created: a young culture whose knee-jerk response to one another is racial stereotyping and what Walker refers to as “colorism.” According to Walker, “colorism” is the “prejudicial or preferential treatment of same-race people based solely on their color” (qtd. Robinson 290). In essence, it is the idea that lighter skin is somehow better or more desirable than darker skin, or that straighter hair is more desirable than kinky or curly hair, in African American people. This of course hearkens back to the days when appearing white meant the difference between employment and unemployment, social acceptability and chastisement, and, in some instances, life and death. . In “The Paper Bag Principle: Of the Myth and the Motion of Colorism,”Audrey Elissa Kerr traces this notion to the time of slavery. She says:

Because the ability to purchase lightskinned fancy slaves with long hair and European features was a marker of wealth (such women went for extremely high prices on auction blocks), light skin was an indication of status for white communities long before light complexion became a mark of status in black communities. It is no surprise that, in every nation that had contact with the African slave trade, there is a version of color politics playing out in terms of economic, political, and social power. (273)

It is understandable that centuries of oppression would mar the psyche of many modern African American youths to the point that they still accept the notion that whiter is better.

The historical record shows that this notion of intraracism was not limited to rural communities, though. Kerr explains how, from the turn of the century to as recently as the 1990’s, color tests have been used to determine membership in social clubs and organizations and acceptance into certain schools and colleges, both those managed by Caucasians and those managed by African Americans. One such test was known as “the paper bag test.” Attendees of these clubs, or students enrolled in these educational institutions, had to have a complexion lighter than a paper bag (281-284). This was particularly true among the quadroon and octoroon communities in New Orleans, but these ridiculous color lines were found (and perhaps originated) in larger urban areas such as New York; Washington, D.C.; Cleveland; and Philadelphia (284). And, according to one of Kerr’s interviews, they were more strictly enforced at historically black colleges: During the late 1980’s, one young woman was studying at Rutgers. She claims that it was well known that the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority had had a paper bag test for its applicants. While the actual testing had disappeared years before, the members were all still noticeably light skinned. This was blatantly obvious in sororities across the country, but especially at those associated with historic black universities (286). The bitter irony of intraracial prejudice is seen in Candice Marie Jenkins’s concept of “the salvific wish.” She postulates that the salvific wish is “an aspiration, most often but not only middle-class and female, to save or rescue the black community from white racist accusations of sexual and domestic pathology, through the embrace of conventional bourgeois propriety” (973). That is, African Americans could rid themselves of the inferior attributes commonly associated with them in years past by embracing typical middle-class etiquette. According to Jenkins, the establishment of this etiquette was brought to fruition in “social institutions such as the black women’s club movement” (973). The irony is in Kerr’s hypothesis that several of these institutions were elitist—only admitting people of certain hues. Thus, the rules of segregation passed from the realm of white racism into the realm of African American social interaction.

A perfect example of this can be found in recent work by the African American artist Nate Hill. His project, entitled Trophy Scarves, involves him carrying semi-nude white women on his shoulders to “tackle the notion of non-White males using Caucasian women to elevate their own social statuses” (Gedeon). One commenter at Vice.com says that this art relates to the idea that many African American men, “immediately upon gaining success,” either marry or have a relationship with a Caucasian woman, and “they do it for a number of reasons: because white women are the beauty standard, because of internalized racism,” and/or “because they want children with lighter skin than their own” (qtd. by Gedeon). If skin tone is such a pressing social issue in modern society that it inspires performance art pieces, one can safely assume that it would have been an even larger issue in the rural, pre-Civil Rights Era setting of The Color Purple.

This cycle of intraracial prejudice is expressed in The Color Purple in several ways—from Harpo’s initial attraction to Sofia because she is “pretty” and has “bright skin” (31) to Mary Agnes’s awareness of her own light complexion when she asks Harpo “…do you really love me or just my color?” (102). There is even a suggestion of intraracism in Sophia’s father’s dislike of Harpo. Celie tells us that Harpo is “tall and skinny, black [emphasis added] like his mama” (24), and Sofia’s father, when asked why Harpo is not good enough for his daughter, responds with “[His] mammy” (30). While he continues with “Somebody kill her” (30), there is a subconscious barrier set to keep Sofia’s “bright skin” from mingling with Harpo’s “black.” There is something in Harpo that Sofia’s father does not trust. It leads her father to listen to every conversation the couple has (30). However, the incident that is most prominent is, in its own way, another curse. As Celie is walking out the door to go with Shug to Memphis, and in the midst of her hurling her previously mentioned curse in his face, Albert returns the favor: “Look at you. You black, you pore [sic], you ugly, you a woman. . .you nothing at all” (213). He begins his retort with an attack on the color of her skin, thus perpetuating the racist notion that blackness is somehow ugly or less desirable. This notion has become part of his mentality in the absence of any outside pressure. This is a symbolic scene, as the primary male character curses and is in return cursed by the female protagonist; in this scene, they have become the perpetrators of their own degradation.

Albert, as a man of color in a time and place where his very skin incriminates him, is jealous of Celie’s newfound voice and power. He has been cursed to an existence in which his only means of expression is to pass the curse on to someone else—specifically, those closest to him. Celie’s extrication from the situation leaves him to ponder his own choices and abilities. Thus, when she returns, she finds an Albert who can cook and clean for himself (—an Albert who collects sea shells and is gentler to those around him (259-260). And she has changed as well—she is successful, communicative, and able to stand on her own two feet (261). It appears that the curse has lifted.

But what does this mean for modern readers, especially those young African American readers who still use race as a weapon against one another daily? As with most questions regarding race, there are no simple answers. To use another personal anecdote, I recall teaching a classroom unit on The Power of Words. I asked a group of tenth graders to give me a list of people known for their command of strong language. I heard “Martin Luther King, Jr!” from a young black woman in the back of the room. “What was he known for?” I asked, to which she replied proudly and enthusiastically, “He helped free the slaves.” This ignorance of the basics of our country’s racial history is astounding, but it is an ignorance I encounter weekly. Many young men and women of color have heard the stories of the oppression their immediate ancestors suffered and overcame, but this oppression is so far removed from them that they do not comprehend the meanings and connotations of the words they use against one another, nor do they fully understand the historical weight of intraracism. The power of Alice Walker’s novel is in its historical testimony. This is one reason that The Color Purple has stood the test of time: it depicts truths that some, such as the above critics, do not want to acknowledge, but it also serves as a testament to the origin of modern intraracism. The interplay between the male victims and their respective female victims is a foreshadowing of the interaction seen in modern youths. By examining the time and the setting of her novel, and the dehumanization associated with that time, perhaps the present generation can come to an understanding of why racially-centered attacks on those closest to them are unacceptable. Perhaps they can break the curse.

Works Cited

Dole, Carol M. “The Return of the Father in Spielberg’s The Color Purple.” Literature-Film Quarterly 24.1 (1996): 12-16. Web.

Gedeon, Kimberly. “Black Artist Wears White Women as ‘Trophy Scarves’ in Bold Statement on Race and Status.” MadameNoire.com. 22 November 2013. Web. 28 November 2013.

Hankinson, Stacie Lynn. “From Monotheism to Pantheism: Liberation from Patriarchy in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.” Midwest Quarterly 38.3 (1997): 320-328. Web.

Harris, Trudier. “On The Color Purple, Stereotypes, and Silence.” Black American Literature Forum 18.4 (1984): 155-161. Web.

Hatfield, Edward A. “Segregation.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. 11 November 2013. Web. 24 November 2013.

Jenkins, Candice Marie. “Queering Black Patriarchy: The Salvific Wish and Masculine Possibility in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.” Modern Fiction Studies 48.4 (2002): 969-1000. Web.

Kennedy, Stetson. Jim Crow Guide to the USA: The Laws, Customs, and Etiquette Governing the Conduct of Non-Whites and Other Minorities as Second-Class Citizens. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1990. Web.

Kerr, Audrey Elisa. “The Paper Bag Principle: Of the Myth and the Motion of Colorism.” Journal of American Folklore 118.469 (2005): 271-289. Web.

Omalade, Barbara. The Rising Song of African-American Women. New York: Routledge

Press, 1994. Web.

Robinson, Cynthia Cole. “The Evolution of Alice Walker.” Women’s Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 38.3 (2009): 293-311. Web.

Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1982. Print.

—. In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens. Orlando: A Harvest Book Harcourt Inc., 2003. Print.

Individualism

The main characters of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Color Purple begin their stories as lonely and confined individuals battling between their own thought versus the pressures and expectations of society. They strive to be self-reliant and free but lack the means and confidence to find it within themselves. Huck and Celie ultimately undertake on adventures to gain their own individuality and discover themselves.

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huckleberry Finn has great difficulty transitioning from an easily influenced person to being independent. In the beginning of the novel the widow and Miss Watson attempt to instill a “dogmatic and technically morality” in Huck while he is living with them (Boone 3). He is also a follower, a loyal friend and follower of Tom Sawyer, willing to follow him into almost all dangerous and adventurous situations because of Tom’s confidence. “Everybody was willing, we’ll start this band of robbers and call it Tom Sawyer’s gang” (Twain 9). In this gang, their business is “Nothing only robbery and murder” (Twain 11). Tom is assured that Huck, without confidence in himself at this point, wouldn’t make his own decisions and would follow whatever Tom said, even taking it to the extremes of robbery and murder. In the beginning, Huck is also demandingly treated by his father, whose relationship with Huck is almost like a slave or indentured servant. At one point in the novel, Huck’s own father tries to cheat and steal money from him claiming “all the trouble and all the anxiety and all the expense of raising Huck” (Twain 35). Huck’s father only wants the money in reality to buy alcohol and not care about life. These attempts fail and instead, Huck’s father treats Huck horribly, abusing and trapping him in his home. Huck doesn’t realize this major issue regarding his father at first, but he eventually tries to get back at his father. “I didn’t want to go to school much before, but I reckoned I’d go now to spite Pap” (Twain 31). Despite the stress of his father, Huck “lights out for the Territory ahead of the rest”, and changes can be immediately seen (Bollinger 1). First, Huck makes the decision by himself to abandon his father and sail the river freely by himself without help. Huck feels special on the raft, “other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft doesn’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft” (Twain 155). This shows that Huck’s mind has opened up and is now making his own opinions and decisions.

At this point, he has started to discover his place in the world. As Huck travels further with Jim, he gains respect for him and looks past the racial differences to form a great friendship. He has developed a moral “code” based off of the maintenance of friendship and not the hierarchy of values that has been forced upon him in society (Bollinger 1).Towards the end of the novel, Huck has gained enough mental strength and confidence in order to convince Tom to follow his own plan instead of the other way around. Huck convinces Tom to help steal Jim from slavery. He says “one thing was dead sure…Tom Sawyer was in earnest, and was actually going to help steal…out of slavery” (Twain 310). Then with the success of stealing Jim out of slavery, Huck builds onto this achievement and discovers everything inside of himself that has been built up inside of him for years while suppressed by his father and surrounding society. Huck’s journey on the Mississippi River gives him the confidence to become independent and make decisions for himself. Although this trip may seem isolated and that Huck is hermetically sealed from others, he stays open to the people he encounters. “Only through this openness is Huck able to successfully navigate the muddy moral waters in which he finds himself” (Boone 2). His moral “pinches” on his adventure, the situations where he has to decide the right thing to do, help him develop as a person and stand up for himself versus the pressures of society and his prior education (Bollinger 4). By the end of the novel, Huck is a boy “courageous enough to stand against the moral conventions of his society, to risk Hell itself rather than conform to the “civilizing process” (Bollinger 2).

In The Color Purple, Alice Walker addresses the dual horrors of racism and sexism through the character development of Celie who transforms from a poor girl lacking in self-confidence to a proud and powerful individual (“Alice Walker”). Celie’s search for freedom and independence differs greatly from Huck’s. Huck is able to flee his familiar surroundings of society, but Celie is forced to remain in a horrible situation until much later into her life because she doesn’t realize she can do anything else, but she is determined to survive and overcome the oppression of her and other African-American women (Dixon 1). For most of her life, she simply believes that since she is a woman, abused and beaten by men since she was young, this is the only type of life she will live and doesn’t try to change it. This abuse causes Celie to retreat into a numb state where she doesn’t react to anything and “drastically curtails her emotional life” (Dixon 4). She develops quietly, honing the ability to judge the type of person people are around her, being unable to do anything in her house where women are thought to be silent. She observes things like “Harpo nearly big as his daddy. He strong in body but weak in will” (Walker 35). Celie successfully observes the people around her but neglects to take the time to think about her own situation and how poorly she is treated in the household. She even says “I don’t know how to fight. All I know how to do is stay alive” (Walker 26). Celie slowly begins to figure herself out when she becomes close friends with Shug Avery, who eventually becomes her lover and sees Harpo’s wife Sofia take to control her own life, not allowing any man to tell her what to do or say. Shug asks Celie the question of why she allows men to control her and her actions and take advantage of her. At this point in the novel, Celie surpasses her degrading circumstances and starts her transformation (“Alice Walker”). She realizes the horrible life she has been living with her husband’s constant cruelty, from holding her sister’s letters from her to not actually being her actual father to having her children living in Africa (Walker 225). Because of this, Celie’s individuality begins to shine through. It takes Celie much longer than Huck to break through from societal expectations and pressure, but she eventually does. Celie is able to sustain herself with her skills and actually forgives her husband for what he has done to her in the past. Celie realizes at this stage that lasting hate is pointless and wastes too much time in the time she has left. Walker demonstrates in this novel that men’s violent, abusive and sadistic behavior intended to control women in certain situations, often can instead and ironically contribute to a women’s growth and individual development, much like Celie developing as an individual after many years of harsh treatment by men. In the end, Celie displays herself honestly to the world without regret because of the confidence she gained through the course of the novel, much like Huck’s individuality coming out during the course of his adventure down the river.

Through depictions of the main character’s transformations, Alice Walker and Mark Twain demonstrate the struggle there is to show individuality and make independent decisions. The authors showed how unhappy the characters are when they didn’t have the freedom to do what they wanted. Huck and Celie, who diversely represent individuals in America, eventually showed their true selves as they developed throughout the course of the novels.

Color Itself: Race, Selfhood, and Symbolism in Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’.

The theme of color is very broad, and reaches strands out to many different emotions and feeling of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple such as sadness, desire and hope. Color also is central to the society that the novel is set in – the color of your skin defines who you are. However, Walker uses the women in her vibrant novel to chart a positive outcome for young black women, making a bold statement that a woman could overcome the hurdle of color.

Our first introduction to color is through Celie; it appears that she has a complex with her identity of being a black woman, and she doesn’t portray herself in an attractive light at all in the first part of the novel. This is shown through her use of her almost derogatory descriptions of her own skin color such as “I’m roasted coffee bean colour now”, the use of the verb “roasted” could be seen as having negative connotations of being damaged or burnt. Furthermore, this could be interpreted as the way she sees herself as being damaged as a cause of her race, because if we look at the treatment of black people when slavery was still practised, they were treated like inanimate objects and not like human beings, and they were whipped, women were raped and often burnt. Therefore we could consider that Celie sees herself as a slave because of her colour as she is certainly treated like one growing up. Contrastingly, we meet Shug Avery in Letter 22, and she utterly embraces her sexuality, she has no problem with her own sexual identity. However, in Celie’s naivity, when she first meets her, she described Shug as having “yellow powder caked up on her face”, but underneath “her face as black as Harpo”. The use of this simple sentence suggests that Shug could have a problem with her colour, the use of the preposition “on” shows us that she is trying to layer over her colour, as if to hide it and make herself lighter skinned. This brings up the discussion that black people were very aware that the lighter you were, the more respected you were, and so possibly, Shug has tried to lighten her skin in order to be more respected, whilst still singing of the hardships of black lives. Shug still spreads her message, but perhaps she is trying to appear wealthier and richer by wearing make-up to lighten her skin. Shug is a blues singer and so is a fictional representation of other black female blues artists such as Aretha Franklin and Bessie Smith, whom all sang of black hardships in order to find their own identity as a black community, something that Shug is doing herself for her race. Additionally, colour is key for Shug Avery as the colour red is prominent in all of her clothes, which is a symbol of many things. In letter 22 when she first enters the house, Celie notes that Shug “got on a red wool dress” and “red rouge” on her lips. The use of this descriptive pre-modifier symbolises Shug’s open sexuality, her desires and her boldness, as it is a very vibrant and attractive colour. Walker uses Shug as a symbol of what a black woman could be – powerful, rich and full of desire. Shug would have been a complete shock to society, as she lives her own life and isn’t willing to be told what to do, a huge contrast to Celie who has always been obedient to “her place” in society because of her colour. This new colour “red” that is introduced by Shug was received by feminist and black activist readers as showing that black women could be different and didn’t have to obey to social order, because Shug’r rebellion meant that she had money and power – something black women could only dream of having in the 1930s. Sofia considers colour a very personal thing, and she rebels against the white people and societal expectations, including “sassin” the Mayor’s wife because she is so proud of her colour, that she refuses to be degraded by white people after her race has been oppressed for centuries. Sofia rejects the traditional role of her colour and gender, and becomes the one in charge in her household as she is not afraid to fight back. Celie tells us the story of why Sofia was sent to prison – “Sofia say she never going to be no white woman’s nothing”. This use of the double negative shows how passionate Sofia is about not slaving away to white people, because to her, the colour white represents oppression and evil. If Sofia would have worked for the Mayor’s wife, she would have been like a slave, and after the abolition of slavery in 1865, Sofia wasn’t going to obey to a modern version of slavery. However, despite Sofia’s pride of her own colour, she is imprisoned, and this shows the importance of colour in the 1930s, because the colour white would always win agains the colour black. The subject of colour is perplexing at times, especially whilst Sofia is in prison and Squeak tries to release her because a part of her extended family is white, and to Celie and the family, that means that there is a way out for Sofia. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go to plan as anyone that had the colour black weaved into their skin would have been abused, just like Mary Agnes was. Before they send Squeak to the police station, Celie says “us dress Squeak like a white woman”. The use of this simile shows how colour meant a different dress code, a different appearance entirely because of the huge racial divide in 1930s society in the USA. Being mixed race during the 1930s would have been very rare as interracial marriage was illegal until 1967, however due to the treatment of black women, white men, like the police officer in the novel, would rape them as punishment and impregnate them. The intertwining of races is portrayed as something so brutal, with such awful connotations of rape in the novel, therefore the mixing of colours is key to the way that Walker portrays the brutality of 1930s society.

Perhaps most importantly, the main colour is in the title – “The Colour Purple”. We learn why the title is called what it is because Shug discusses her own philosophy that God is in everything, and one of those things is the colour purple – “the colour that is always a surprise to me but is in everywhere in nature”. The use of the semantic field of nature here shows how the colour purple is significant in the novel because it is a representation of life, and a way of celebrating the wonders that God has created. Purple is also Walker’s way of introducing Pantheism which is the belief that God is in everything, Walker own personal beliefs shine through here, therefore the colour is significant because it also acknowledges Walker’s own spirituality. Here as elsewhere, colour is a key theme in the novel, as it represents history, hardships and spirituality that contribute to the formation of the black community and its identity.

Celie, Shug, and an Empowering Sexual Relationship

Celie has been a victim of female oppression throughout her life, never believing in herself, and living in fear of men. However, when Shug Avery enters her life, Celie’s quality of life starts to improve on the whole, and her newfound self-belief allows her to challenge societal expectations. Their relationship is based on storytelling, an outlet for Celie to talk of her past hardships, their constant communication is a contrast to Celie’s previous silence and solitude. The sexual relationship between Celie and Shug is important as we see that Shug’s arrival influences Celie greatly, Celie builds a defiance and graving rebellion, and since Shug arrives, it is a climax of Celie standing up for herself.

A good example of a small act of rebellion is when Celie spits in her father-in-law’s water, “I drop little spit in Old Mr__ water”, this is a sign of disrespect in a world where women were supposed to always respect men. Women were continuously oppressed by men in between wars, and Celie was certainly a victim of this, however Celie admires Shug for being different, and tries to follow in her footsteps, it starts with small steps, however it is a positive influence on Celie’s self-belief. Shug and Celie’s relationship is responsible for Celie’s sexual awakening, as this is the first affectionate relationship that she has had. Celie tells Shug “nobody ever love me”. This short simple sentence sums everything up for Celie, and suggests that she is looking for love and comfort after all of her hardships. The relationship is more about love for Celie, that is why some critics received the text thinking that the relationship was more maternal, Celie even says “us sleep like sisters me and Shug”, this simile shows that it is a more familial love, someone to protect Celie. However you could argue that the sentence “Shug don’t actually say make love. She say fuck” tells us that Shug looks for sexual pleasure in the relationship as we see a great contrast between “make love” and “fuck” in terms of connotations. This shows that their relationship is important as it satisfies both needs. Interestingly, ‘Search of our Mother’s Garden’ discusses how Celie would have been looking for a loving, comforting relationship due to her lvoeless marriage, which is compared to being like prostitution, because she was, like many other women, used to bear children and for male sexual pleasure. Along with her sexual awakening , her growing independence is a result of her relationship with Shug as she ends up leaving Mr____ and moving to Memphis independently, and doesn’t hold back when she tells Mr____, she calls him a “lowdown dog”, this derogatory insult shows how Celie’s fear of men has disappeared due to her influence from Shug. Celie even threatens Mr__ by saying “us together gon whup your ass”. The use of the 1st person plrual pronoun “us” shows that Celie feels like she has a family and people to defend and help her, she finally feel a part of something that she didn’t have before, and this self-belief and confidence is because Shug entered her life. The threat of violence from a black woman to a black man in the 1920s was unheard of, as black people had no power, but black women were at the very bottom, as the only way black men could only exert power on black women through beating and rape, and Celie accepted this throughout her life. Now, she is rejecting the racial stereotype and is trying to change her own situation and actually gains control from this. Celie’s independence is also shown through her Trouser Business, fighting the odds of being a black woman, she manages to create her own successful business and be self sufficient, without a need to rely on a man to live. Celie says “I got love, I got work, I got money, friends and time”, the repetitiong of the possessive verb “got” shows how much Celie has earned now that she has left her husband, her life is now so much richer in happiness, as well as materialistically. The asyndetic listing shows the essentials that we take for granted, that Celie never had up until Memphis, making us realise how positive Celie and Shug’s relationship is, and its impact on Celie’s quality of life. Contextually, women would never have dreamed of being financially independent at the turn of the 20th century, as thee would grow up awaiting to marry a man in order to live comfortably, they would be handed from father to husband, not even given a chance to live for themselves. In the Color Purple, Shug gives Celie the chance of freedom, and it certainly has rewards. Shug is key to Celie’s connection with Nettie, as it is Shug that tells Celie that Mr_____ has been hiding the letters, and helps Celie to organise them by saying “I’m gonna put them in some kind of order for you”. The phrase “for you” shows us that Shug really cares about Celie, and that she is determined to find Nettie, Celie’s only blood relative left. Shug helping Celie by going behind Mr_____’s back is totally rebellious against men, as Shug currently has more power and control than Mr____ by invading his privacy, which shows that she is fighting male dominance. This rebellious act is reflected in the music that she sings – jazz and blues, which symbolises her fight against societal expectations and norms, despite her genre of choice could be punishable. Although we’ve discussed what Shug has done for Celie, Celie has also helped Shug in many ways, the most prominent being that she has shown Shug to be generous, which in turn results in Shug sticking by Celie. Shug “donate her old yellow dress” as scraps for the quilting, the use of this verb shows a generous side to Shug that we haven’t seen before, therefore shows that Celie’s kindness has influenced Shug whilst she has nurtured her when Shug was ill. As Shug is a very independant and self-empowered woman, she would have been seen as very harsh and cold, and this is displayed as Celie first meets her and Shug tells her “you sure is ugly”, which is of the semantic field of hate, in contrast to the verb “donate” that is in the semantic field of charity and kindness. The quilting is symbolic of joining together and of sorority, because quillting was something you did with scraps to try and make something better, which is what Celie is trying to do with her life, and the fact that Shug gave something towards it shows that she isn’t purely a rebellious jazz singer like the Preacher said. One of the most crucial parts of the novel, giving it its title, is when Shug introduces Celie to her religion that God isn’t one thing specifically, he is “everything”, this metaphor shows a very comforting philosophy, that ends up making Celie feel a lot happier in herself, adding to her quality of life because of Shug.

The way of life that Walker has set forward is Pantheism, in which you do not look for God in a church, like Celie once did, that you know that is is everywhere and in everybody. This reflects Walker’s personal belief and spirituality which is Pantheism. We must not forget that Shug is a huge catalyst for Celie, as she is the symbol for what woman could be. It is comforting also that at the end of the novel, even though they have gone their separate ways romantically, they still respect and admire each other, showing us how strong their bond is, and how vital it is to the plot of the novel.

Sewing for Freedom

Sewing is often viewed as a proper pastime for married women to engage in, even if it can often be laborious to do for hours on end. Yet, the women in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple managed to turn this monotonous activity into something profitable. Celie begins to use sewing as a way to bond with the other women who come into her life and, eventually, as a way to make herself economically secure without the help of a husband. In this way, the prominence of sewing in The Color Purple is used to symbolize the means through which the women formed a sisterhood and gained independence from the men that were dominating their lives.

One of the first positive interactions between Celie and Sofia is facilitated through the act of making a quilt together. Celie had previously told Harpo that he should beat Sofia because Celie was jealous of Sofia’s strength and assertiveness. When Sofia approaches Celie about her actions, she suggests that they “make quilt pieces out of… messed-up curtains” as a way to start with a clean slate (42). Seeing Sofia and Celie sew together prompts Shug join in, and soon after, the three women are making a quilt together with a pattern that Celie calls Sister’s Choice, a name which represents the sisterhood that Shug, Celie, and Sofia are symbolically creating with this quilt. As the women work on the quilt, Celie begins to feel a sense of empowerment, declaring to God that “for the first time in [her] life, [she feels] just right” (57).

Through her friendship with the other women, especially with Shug, Celie begins to find value in herself and realizes that she can hope for a life without Mr.___. After Shug suggests that Celie should own a pair of pants to wear while plowing the fields, the two begin a daily routine of sewing and reading Nettie’s letters. The fact that Celie is sewing something that she knows Mr. ___ would not consider proper for her to wear serves as a catalyst to speed up the process through which Celie asserts her independence. She begins to question God, one ideal that she always had complete faith in, and when Shug exclaims to Celie, “You coming back to Tennessee with me,” Celie realizes that she not afraid to go with her (177). The fact that Celie and Shug have shared secrets and sewn together has caused them to form a very close bond.

Ever since leaving with Shug to Tennessee, Celie finds herself unable to stop sewing pants to the point where she now has “pants all over her chairs, hanging all in front of the china closet. Newspaper patterns and cloth all over the table and the floor” (212). This mania for sewing is symbolic of how, now that Celie has taken her first step towards being liberated from Mr.___’s clutches, she cannot stop finding new ways to become more independent and self-sufficient. The pants that Celie has sewn are a physical manifestation of how much Celie’s search for independence has inspired the other women to search for happiness as well. Celie first begins to sew pants for Shug and Squeak, two women who were heavily influenced by Celie on their own search for independence. Soon enough, as Mr.___ notes, “everybody in the family just about wearing pants [she] made,” which symbolizes that sisterhood the Celie created with all of the women in the family (254). The most prominent sign that a woman no longer needs a man in her life is when she is able to achieve financial security on her own. Economic independence is something that women, especially black women, rarely possessed in rural Georgia, and it would not have been possible for Celie to achieve had she not embraced her gift for sewing. The start of Celie’s business coincides with her getting her own house to live in. This, along with the fact that Celie is now sewing primarily for profit, shows that she succeeded in creating a life for herself completely independent of men.

Traditionally, the ability to sew was a skill that was prized in wives. Wives could make their husbands’ clothes or they make linens and curtains to make the house beautiful for when their husband had guests over. Not many women enjoyed sewing, yet they spent most of their days engaged in this activity because they believed it was a part of being a good housewife. Celie transformed this feminine duty into something that she could do not just to make her husband happy but herself as well. Through her sewing, Celie was able to create a lifelong friendship with so many women that empowered her and design a path to independence and liberation from her confining past.