The Color Purple
The Fight For Female Independence As Portrayed In Alice Walker’S “The Color Purple”
This paper discusses early american feminism in the 1910s as portrayed in Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”. The novel draws strong parallels to Virginia Woolf’s theories and introduces the true meaning of the feminist notion. As stated in Woolf’s critical essay “A room of one’s own”, social and economic independence are the founding pillars of female advancement in a patriarchal society. This essay is an exploration of the female struggle and fight for independence. Keywords: Female Independence, Early feminism, Social freedom, Economic freedom. Introduction Virginia Woolf writes “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction. ” (Woolf, Virginia. A room of one’s own. 1929) This is possibly one the most famous lines from her critical essay “A room of one’s own” in which she argues that women need economic and social freedom in order to advance in society as equal counterparts to men.
She refers to freedom and independence as a metaphorical room in which women have the space and time necessary to grow. The often-preconceived notion that the female contribution to science and literature is inferior, is relative to their circumstances. As the author proposes “It would have been impossible, completely and entirely, for any woman to have written the plays of Shakespeare in the age of Shakespeare. ” (Woolf, Virginia. A room of one’s own. 1929)1. Being stripped of rooms of their own, women have little to no opportunity to participate as equals in society. Women are habitually denied opportunities and forced into the duties of a wife and mother. They are routinely instructed to submit to, condescend and rely on the patriarchal figures in their life. The importance of economic freedom and its ability to aid in feminist development is emphasized throughout the entirety of the essay. Virginia Woolf states that “Intellectual freedom depends upon material things. Poetry depends upon intellectual freedom. ” (Woolf, Virginia.
A room of one’s own. 1929)1 Without money, the author implies, women will continue to remain in second place, overshadowed by the “more capable sex”. In other words, women must be able to afford their education and space to truly become independent. However, Woolf also hints that this equality of opportunity does not directly result in the melting away of differences between male and female. Discussion Throughout the entirety of Alice Walker’s novel “The Color Purple”, the reader experiences the violence and agony the protagonist, Celie, faces. She is obliged to trade the little independence she has, both economic and social, for a life of abuse and submission at an early age. As seen in the quote below, Celie’s desperation is prominent as she gradually becomes numb and accepts the harm she is exposed to. “I’m poor, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook. (. . . ) But I’m here. ” (Walker, Alice. The Color Purple, 1929)Walkers original character truly portrays the female oppression in a male dominated society. Women like Celie were expected to marry, raise children and run the household without receiving support from their male counterparts. These rigid rules and norms deprived most women of education meaning, they could never achieve one of Woolf’s most emphasized necessities, economic independence.
The novel also highlights women showing the complete antithesis of Celie’s characteristics. The revolutionary figure, Shug Avery, is introduced early in the novel and portrays all aspects of independence as defined by Virginia Woolf. Unlike Celie, Shug Avery works as a singer and earns money giving her the sought-after economic independence. This allows for her to live out of wedlock which, in turn gives her social independence. “Good thing I ain’t your damn wife. ”(Walker, Alice. The Color Purple, 1929:47)2The quote above shows Shug Avery’s response to Celie’s husband in regards to how he treats his own wife. Shug Avery has “a room of her own” and fulfills the two requirements Woolf deems most important. Due to this, she is able to freely express herself in a more outspoken manor without any restraints. Celie is initially thrown aback and intrigued by Shug’s attitude which, indicates the rarity of independence amongst females during the 1910s. However, being independant comes at great cost for Shug Avery. She is routinely judged and disliked by many due to her profession and social standing. This adds a layer to the hardships women had to face in terms of becoming autonomous.
Examples of this can be seen in the way Celie tells her son in law to treat his “disobedient” wife. The quote below shows the ironic situation in which, women themselves encourage female abuse, either it be jealousy or fear. “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. ”(Walker, Alice. The Color Purple, 1929)2Shug Avery may be economically and socially independent but she will never be truly as free as any man. As Virginia Woolf herself states, equality of opportunity does not directly result in the melting away of differences between male and female. In a patriarchal society these changes happen slowly over extended periods of time. Shug Avery’s character portrays the beginning of the feminist movement which, eventually will spread and reach even the most oppressed women. ConclusionHistory and literature have taught us that economic and social independence are two prerequisites for the improvement of female rights. Through the years, the feminist movement has helped create a stronger social support for women and fought for female freedom. However, before equality between the sexes can truly be claimed, most customs and norms must become a memory of the past.
Review of the Character of Shug and Celie in Alice Walker’s Book, The Color Purple
‘Examine the developing relationship between Shug and Celie, from the moment Shug arrives to Sofia’s arrest’
From the first moment that Celie sees Shug (which is in picture form) she is immediately mesmerised by her, describing her as “The most beautiful woman I ever saw”. She even places her above her mother “She more pretty then my mama” which shows already how important Shug has become to Celie to the point where she compares her to her mother. She then begins to start dreaming about Shug in the picture “all night long I stare at it. An now when I dream, I dream of Shug Avery”. These descriptions mark the beginning of Celie’s obsession with Shug, and her aspiration to be with her. Whilst Celie is having sex with Mr, her thoughts of Nettie’s safety are taken over by the image of Shug having sex with Mr and says “I know what he doing to me he done to Shug Avery and maybe she like it. I put my arm around him”. As she is influenced by Shug, Celie thinks about how Shug would act and tries to copy her by attempting to enjoy it as well. Soon after this happens, Celie finds out that “Shug Avery is coming to town!”, however, Mr is going alone and Celie says “Lord, I wants to go so bad. Not to dance. Not to drink. Not to play card. Not even to hear Shug Avery sing. I just be thankful to lay eyes on her” which shows her desperation just to be able to finally see Shug in the flesh, instead of only in her dreams.
Celie hears about Shug being sick and having nobody to take her in because she’s a “tramp” and has “some kind of nasty woman disease” Despite hearing all these bad comments about Shug, when Mr suddenly brings Shug into the house, Celie writes “Come on in, I want to cry. To shout. Come on in. With God help, Celie gong to make you well”. This shows how Celie doesn’t care about anybody else’s opinions on Shug as all her thought processes revolve around Shug. It also shows Celie’s maternal instincts; just as how she is like a mother to Nettie, and wants to welcome her into her arms and keep her safe to herself. This is a crucial point in the relationship between Celie and Shug as Celie no longer has to dream about her, she can now be with her in real life and grow further as a person as she aspires to be as free as Shug is.
Celie is shown to have sexual thoughts for the first time when she says “First time I got the full sight of Shug Avery long black body with it black plum nipples, look like her mouth, I thought I had tuned into a man.” Celie is shocked as she notices she is starting to think like a man, showing how in this time setting, only men were allowed to express sexual thoughts, whilst women were not even expected to even think sexually – Shug is an exception to this as she expresses herself sexually, which Celie looks up to and compares herself to a man thinking about Shug. This quote also confirms to reader that Celie and Shug have a sexual one-sided relationship, with Shug none the wiser about Celie’s feelings whilst Celie is completely besotted by Shug.
The relationship between Shug and Celie begins to develop even further when Shug makes a song inspired by Celie whilst Celie is doing Shug’s hair, saying “Something came to me…Something I made up. Something you help scratch out my head”. This is the first significant time that Shug devotes something to Celie and shows the start of Shug beginning to see Celie as a friend. After spending time with Shug sewing cloths together, Celie says “For the first time in my life, I feel just right” showing how Celie is truly happy for the first time in her life now she is spending time with Shug and has been able to get closer to her. It also marks the building up of Celie’s identity as she is finally starting to over on from her unfortunate past that has held her down and look to the future now Shug is in her life.
Celie begins to question the practicality/normality of her love for Shug as she realises both her and her husband Mr are in love with Celie, leading Celie to be “confuse”. As it was unheard of for people of the same-sex to be in love with one another at this point in time, Celie has noticed that and realises “that the way it spose to be”, as she knows she cannot be with Shug even though she loves her. However this despair is quickly changed for the better as Shug sings to Celie, which Celie says in response, “First time somebody made something and name it after me”. Celie is final happy and content as Shug cares about her more than anyone else has before.
The roles in the relationship are reversed as Shug becomes the maternal figure in the relationship when trying to protect Celie after being shocked to find out that Mr beats Celie. Shug says “I won’t leave… until I know Albert won’t even think about beating you”. This is the opposite of Shug’s previous role in the relationship in which she was cared for by Celie when she first arrived very unwell, and knowing how she helped her, Shug now wants to protect Celie like how she did to her before.
Internalization and Externalization of Color in The Bluest Eye and The Color Purple
Internalization and Externalization of Color
In Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Pauline experiences the beauty of life through her childhood ‘down South;’ extracting colors in which translate into her most fond memories. This internalization of color serves as a pivotal action, providing insight into Morrison’s ideals of beauty and self-image. Steven Spielberg’s film, The Color Purple, utilizes rather the externalization of color to highlight character development and major themes.
Although a stark contrast in technique is present, both works succeed in providing a clear fluctuation in character worth and image while ultimately overcoming the notion of prejudice. Morrison allows this sense of internalization to exist overtly.As Pauline describes purple berries, yellow lemonade, and “that streak of green them june bugs made on the trees the night we left down home,” she continues on to state “all them colors was in me” (Morrison 34). Morrison continues to describe the accumulation of colors, detailing how Cholly releases in Pauline all the colors of life which were “sealed down in her soul” (Morrison 34). The description of their life in early marriage is vivid; true even of Pauline’s sexual experiences with Cholly, suggesting a both orderly and beautiful life.
A move in location disrupts this process, as Pauline and Cholly eventually choose to reside in the state of Ohio; although, it is obvious that despite the geographical contrast, the ‘colors’ Pauline acquired ‘down home’ hardly persist to be accessible. The movement and separation of Celie and Nellie in The Color Purple mirrors this. In this case, because the colors are externalized rather than internalized, Celie loses all sense of their beauty very quickly. She finds self-worth an image through validation of the outside world and those surrounding her. While both Pauline and Celie find themselves to be somewhat lost due to separation, there is a distinct difference in the avenues they choose to lead them back to identity.The alteration of Pauline’s surroundings causes her to struggle; she fails to generate new sources of beauty and color after moving up North, although, it is important to note that rather than all color draining from Pauline’s life, she rather longs for her old home, reminiscing on the environment that provided such a beautiful blend of stimulus: “I missed my people. I weren’t used to so much white folks…Northern colored folk was different too” (Morrison 57). Furthermore, Pauline notes that Cholly only became “meaner and meaner and wanted to fight all of the time”(Morrison 62). This instability serves as a strong contribution to Pauline’s increasing dissatisfaction and disillusionment; a neglect that results in compensation by watching the ‘silver screen-’ providing a new outlet in which Pauline internalizes color. The perfect ‘white’ world of Hollywood eventually creates an entirely new sense of longing, which carries an unbelievably negative impact.
A strong parallel exists between Celie and Pauline at this point in the development of both characters. While vivid color fills the beginning of Pauline’s life, these colors fade and become less prominent as the plot progresses. Celie’s beginnings are dark, accumulating color and light as the film unfolds.At the midpoint of each work, both Celie and Pauline are on the brink of major transformations, although in opposite directions. The birth of Pecola highlights that, while the colors have not completely disappeared within Pauline, they are not nearly as intense as they once were. As Willis noted, “Polly Breedlove lives in a form of schizophrenia, where her marginality is constantly confronted with a world of Hollywood movies, white sheets, and blonde children” (Morrison 76).
It is in the ‘white’ home, that Pauline takes a new identity: Polly. She separates from her physical self, and enters into a new, neat and orderly world. This new perception challenges what she knows and feels concerning her family, characterized by disorder. The previous environment in which once brought a plethora of life and color is now a mere black and white. As Pauline ceases to search for these colors, Celie begins. It is through Pauline’s new outlet that Pecola obtains her desire for “the bluest eyes;” yet it its Celie’s outlet that fuels a pride and acceptance of culture and self-identity. Both Spielberg and Morrison use colors as a catalyst of character development, serving as a foil to the meaning of the work as a whole. In both cases, the focus on specific colors plays into a much deeper meaning; the color in which one sees with his or her eye is only a reflection of what was not absorbed. This contrast of externalization and internalization ultimately stresses the importance of equality and self-worth.
Self-Reflection and Maturity in the Transformation of Celie in The Color Purple, a Novel by Alice Walker
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker tells a story of a young girl named Celie. The book is formatted as an journal so that daily experiences can be shared through the voice of Celie. In the beginning, readers learn that she lives in a life of recurring hardship, confusion, and turmoil. Readers also learn that she is insecure, but hopeful in finding a way to get through these hardships. However at the end of the novel, readers see a transformation that one would call inspiring. Some would say that what made her through this transformation is self reflection and maturity. However, from what readers can see it was because of the growing relationships with Nettie, Mr__, and Shug. Due to them, Celie is able to have a sense of dependency with her sister, forgive the people that hurted her, and to love someone else and herself.
In these entries of her journal, readers can see a shift from speaking about Nettie to God to where she actually has conversations with Nettie and they discuss many things as they write to each other. However the most compelling thing about some of these conversations, is that readers see how Celie has become more attached and more dependent on Nettie. . For example, in the ending of one of her entries she writes “ Pray for me, Your Sister Celie”, it shows that she looks for Nettie’s guidance as she is facing an adversity, similarity when she was looking guidance from God ( Walker 3). This shift also shows that Celie who she thought needed to protect her sister from adversity , has realized that she can not be strong all the time and can now look for protection in her sister because Nettie ended up being her strength.
Also in these entries, readers learn about what Mr____. feels about Celie. He explains to Celie, “ I wanted to kill you, said Mr___ and I did slap you around a couple of times. I never understood how you and Shug got along so well together and it bothered the hell out of me. When she was mean and nasty to you, I understood. But when I looked around and the two of you was always doing each other’s hair, I start to worry..” ( Walker 10). This quotation gives light to Mr______ and the his issues of acceptance toward Celie not meeting up to his expectations of her. Due to this conversation, readers see that Celie and Mr___ are similar in where they have issues of acceptance. In Celie learning about this, she has exclaimed that she does not hate him because by saying that discussion, this has made him into someone who she describes as “ when you talk to him now he really listen” ( Walker 7). Therefore, this discussion with Mr___, it has enable her to later to forgive Mr___ and anyone else that has harmed her.
In the beginning, readers learn that Celie finds a picture of Shug Avery and she makes the goal to be as beautiful as she is and finds herself embodying her in her marriage to Mr___. As she is a lot older now, readers start to see that Shug is with her and they a strong bond to each other. In this quote “ What I love best bout Shug is what she been through, I say. When you look in Shug’s eyes you know she been where she been, seen what she seen, did what she did. And now she know.” it shows that this relationship is embedded in understanding each others struggle and coming back from it with a new pair of lenses. Due to this, sees Shug as an strong, independent woman that she would like herself to be. This bond later taught Celie how to love someone else and potentially herself. In this quote “ My job just to love her good and true myself….I have love and I have been love and I thank God let me gain understanding enough to love can’t be halted just cause some people’s moan and groan….I have love Shug Avery all my life ” it sheds light on how through this relationship it has made her realize that God helped her understand that in order to love someone and herself , it should not be broken because of not so good experiences ( Walker 10).
Through out The Color Purple, readers see the development of Celie from a young girl to a mature woman. They see that as a young girl, she was insecure and she depended on God to help herself and help her cope through her disturbing experiences, but can also see her resilience and her dedication to the things that mean the most to her. Now as a mature woman, readers also see that her transformation would not have been as inspirational if it wasn’t through the influences of her relationships with Nettie, Mr___ and Shug. Through Nettie’s relationship she is able to have talk to Nettie, which enabled Celie to be more open with her sister and have dependence on her . As for Mr__’s she is able to understand him a lot more through their discussions, therefore, teaching her acceptance for the people that have harmed her. Lastly, Shug’s relationship is focused on the love they have for each other, therefore, teaches her how to love someone else and eventually love herself through God’s eyes. In conclusion, in any transition in life, people fail to recognize that relationships are crucial to the overall development of an individual. Whether these relationships are good ones or the bad ones, ( bad ones in Celie’s case) it teaches lessons that can not be taught through self reflection or maturity, but lessons that can be taught through the relationships of other people.
The Color Purple and The Boys in the Boat: Two Perspectives on American Culture
Throughout the years, people have had many different experiences in the United States. Differences in people, the era, and many other factors cause the ways of life to change in a country giving us different perspectives about what the United States used to be like. Although the main characters in the novels, The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, and The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown, go through completely different lives, they were both able to give an insight about the American experiences, culture, and the society that they lived in.
To begin with, the two novels described what the American Culture that they each lived in was like. In The Color Purple, the main character, Celie, was a poor African American girl who was given to a man to be his wife but Celie had explained that, “He beat me like he beat the children” (Walker 22). In American culture during the times that Celie was working for her husband, African American men were dominant over the African American women. The men treated their wives as slaves even though they were all lower class in America. In The Boys in the Boat, Joe did not grow up in an ideal household as he was told by his father that, “…he would have to move out of the house. Joe was ten” (Brown 36). Joe’s dad chose his new wife over his own child. At this time, the Great Depression was going on, so many people did anything they could to cut back on spending money, and this was one way to do that. These two books have completely different plots, however they both demonstrate how American culture had an effect on their lives.
Furthermore, in each book there is information about the American society as it was when the story took place. In The Color Purple, it is obvious that the white people have priorities over the African Americans when the mayor’s wife, Miss Millie, asked Sofia, “…would you like to work for me, be my maid?” (Walker 85). This shows how the African Americans in the United States were treated very poorly by the Caucasians. The discrimination and segregation in the American society was at an unbelievable rate at this time and was getting worse and worse as time went on. Society was also seen in The Boys in the Boat when it had explained that “It was the fourth year of the Great Depression” (Brown 8). At this time, one in four Americans, ten million people, were out of jobs. The society in America was at a very unstable state. The amount of stability changes often in every country and this is seen when these two books are compared to each other.
Lastly, these character both go through different American experiences. Celie, for example, had very few opportunities in life so when she got the chance to when Shug said, “You coming back to Tennessee with me,” she quickly agreed (Walker 177). Celie did not get many choices in life, like many African Americans at this time. The African American people in the United States were in much lower class and social status during this era. In the book The Boys in the Boat for example, they young men in the boat had a dream and they, “…worked harder than ever before to finish first at the 1936 Berlin Olympics” (Brown 351). The only thing that these boys had to do, in order to reach their dreams, was have pure dedication and commitment to their team. In this generation in America, there were many difficulties with money however, people knew that in order to pursue their dreams and goals, they to work hard and never give up, which was their American experience. It is obvious that everyone has different experiences with their lives, the same goes for experiences in America, none of which are the same.
All in all, there is a lot to learn from the experiences the characters have, the society they live in, and the culture around them. Change happens often, which is why, we as human beings, all have something to learn and think about when we consider other people’s life styles in the United States over time. Learning from the people around us today and the people in the past, are what have caused the world to evolve immensely over time.
Triumph in the Face of Adversity in The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Alice Walker, most famous for her novel The Color Purple, is the first African- American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction (Alice (Malsenior) Walker). As well as writing bestselling books, Walker is a staunch defender of human rights, racial equality, and respecting all forms of life. Her written work and political activism have made Alice Walker’s writing famous among females and African-Americans alike. Her characters are revolutionary because Walker depicts them so different than other authors of similar subject matter have. Instead of writing about broken souls and lost causes because of an unfair and racist society, Walker writes uplifting, hopeful stories and, in the case of The Color Purple, shows characters who triumph in the face of adversity. Many powerful themes such as the dominance of men, the underestimated power of women, and sexism in relation to racism appear throughout her work and have caused her to be known as one of the most powerful female authors in history.
Unlike many female African-American children growing up in Walker’s time, her family thought it very important that she seek a college education. Born in Eatonton, Georgia, Walker was the daughter of a sharecropper, a profession which many of her fictional characters also share. As one of eight children, Walker was very poor in her early life. When she was eight years old, Walker suffered a rather serious injury due to an air gun accident. Unable to obtain a car due to severe poverty, her parents could not bring her to the hospital until much later, when it was too late to salvage sight in the injured eye or prevent the noticeable scar from appearing on her face. Her self consciousness and partial blindness forced her withdraw and become a reserved child, unknowingly aiding her future career by becoming a “meticulous observer of human relationships and interaction” (Alice Walker). She began writing poetry and short stories to cope with the loneliness.
In her twenties, after receiving a scholarship, Walker got involved in the Civil Rights movement at Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence College. While boarding the bus on the way to Atlanta, a white woman complained to the bus driver because Walker was sitting in the front of the bus. After being forced to move to the back of the bus, she realized she “would never have the luxury of only writing poetry,” but she needed to also “be politically active in order to achieve enough freedom to write at all” (Alice Walker Biography).
Much of Walker’s early life issues and her experiences with civil rights movements materialize in the personalities and struggles of her characters. She writes about strong and independent characters who are vulnerable nonetheless, often touching on a central theme of “a quest for freedom” (Voices of Power: African-American Women). Her works depict emotional, physical, and psychological torment that devastated many women and people of color in the past. In the well known poem “Be Nobody’s Darling” she writes, “But be nobody’s darling;
Be an outcast,” encouraging her readers to not be purely defined by who their husband happens to be, but to live their own lives.
Her work is also incredibly revolutionary because she was one of the first women to focus mainly on colored women’s struggles. She practically ignored the traditional views of feminism as liberating upper class white women from the kitchen and instead coined the term “Womanism,” specifically supporting women of color (Feminist/ Womanist Aesthetics and the Quest for Selfhood in the Black American Novel. A Special Reference to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and Zora Neal Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, 13). Walker believed there was not enough literature supporting the average black woman and wrote many novels and poems about this, exploring topics such as race in relation to marriage, sexual power, and violence towards women. This subject matter resonated in many readers who seemed to have little in common, but were reassured that the discrimination they were faced with was not a personal issue, but a societal one.
Through her most well known work, The Color Purple, Walker expands on the problem of racial strife, and rape. The story follows a young, poor, black girl lacking an education held down by an abusive father. Throughout the novel, the girl, Celie, gradually realizes her worth and learns to love herself and others. Touching on so many controversial issues and exploring the idea of a character who overcomes such adversity while still managing to be strong, independent, and driven made The Color Purple a revolutionary and empowering novel. The Color Purple assures the reader that “these women may be uneducated and unappreciated, they may be abused, but they survive and they affirm themselves” (Alice (Malsenior) Walker).
Lines such as “I loves Harpo, she say. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me” (Walker, 113), are the reasons why Alice Walker’s writing had such an immediate popularity with women and African Americans around the globe. Walker educates her readers on oppression while also inspiring them to embrace womanism along with feminism. Walker’s stories continue to encourage women to be brave and powerful while allowing themselves to admit their weaknesses.
Analysis of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple
“No one is exempt from the possibility of a conscious connection to All That Is.” Alice Walker explores this quote through the story of Celie. Just like the color purple, the truth, no one is exempt from. No one can run away from the truth. It is inevitably inescapable. Starting off in a rather harsh setting, Celie starts off her story at the time she is raped for the first time by her own father. Rather straight forward, Walker captures her reader’s interest right in the beginning of her novel.
Blood is thicker than water. This saying is most exemplified throughout The Color Purple. Love, the tale of two sisters reconnecting, was one of the major themes of the story. In depth, love was not always romantic, but existent. There were different types of love depicted in the novel: love between family, friends, and couples. Love, in turn, helps with creating and development of relationship between characters.
Many other themes are depicted in this great work of fiction: Race, racism, African American women and men, abused wives, sexuality, and relationships.
These many themes are illustrated throughout the novel through different settings and people. Structuring her writing in short journal entries to God and the family of Celie, the round character, Walker employed them as one of the three symbols throughout the work of fiction. Traumatizing and explicit events occur during the entries which lead to the internal and external conflicts that will take place through the duration of the novel. In addition to these graphic events that were both inconceivable and horrific in every sense for Celie, the events described in the entries led to the novel being banned within some high schools.
In The Color Purple, Alice Walker writes in a southern dialect and low level diction. The setting takes place in rural areas of the south where race played a huge part during the time when discrimination was more prevalent in America. Based on the level of diction, Walker writes in an uneducated, southern style. By writing in this type of style Walker is able to fully exemplify Celie’s thoughts creating a better understanding for the reader by revealing her level of education and social class. Sequentially, this adds
verisimilitude to the novel.
Born on February 9, 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia; Alice Walker was nurtured by two sharecroppers and was the youngest of eight children by Minnie Tallulah Grant and Willie Lee Walker. When she was young she suffered from a traumatizing experience of being shot by a BB Gun in the eye by her little brother. She was bullied at an early age because of the scaring of her eye which was finally removed by her doctor eight years after the incident occurred. Before having the scaring removed, Walker wrote in order to escape her reality, similar to Celie. She attends segregated schools throughout her adolescent years and achieves success by graduating from high school and then attends Spelman College, a college founded for African American women.
While attending Spelman, Walker also gets involved in the Civil Rights Movement. By furthering her education, she attended Sarah Lewis College and continues to be apart of the Civil Rights movement. After college, Walker got a job and soon after ironically married a White Civil Rights lawyer named Melvyn Leventhal two years later. The irony of it all is that she marries a Jewish and Caucasian male when all her writing consists of racism, African American struggles, and abuse. Ultimately, the marriage ended in divorce after having conceived their first and only child, Rebecca.
Not only recognized for writing novels, Alice Walker is also recognized for her collections of poetry. Her first collection is titled, Once. After publishing her first collection of poetry, she began teaching at Jackson State College where she taught in the Black Studies Program. She continued to teach and eventually started publishing novels while continuing to publish poetry too. The Color Purple was Alice Walker’s third novel. The struggles that Alice Walker had to endure herself as a child are what helped manifest her development of The Color Purple. This proclaimed book and later motion picture, earned two prestigious rewards: the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award. The novel achieved a tremendous amount of success and was made into a film that was produced by Steven Spielberg in 1985. Years after, in 2005, its first Broadway musical was produced.
Alice Walker continues to be known for her novels about African American women and her work definitely describes the effect that abuse in the home has on individuals. Which goes to show when it comes to The Color Purple as Celie was emotionally and physically abused by her father. The constant telling that she was too ugly, making her quit school at a young age, and being raped were some of the ways that created the lack of trust within Celie’s family circle. Celie writes letters to God which illustrated a contrast between her spirituality and lack of faith. Evident, since she does not write to God in hopes of being saved, but out of her misery, despair, and lack of hope that life will never work out in her favor.
Essentially, Walker chooses to record thoughts of the protagonist with a low level diction and southern dialect allowing Celie’s thoughts to be fully expressed. Based on Celie’s writing technique you know she is uneducated and she admits to it when she says how her father took her out of school and let her sister, Nettie, keep going. Reading The Color Purple can be described as confusing by those who are not used to such low level and amateurish writing style. Many might stumbled upon Celie’s choice of words and order of her thoughts. Alice Walker captures Celie’s true feeling and the way she actually thinks by spelling word wrong like ask. She spells ask like “ast” which further exemplifies that Celie is far from being smart.
Further into the novel, diction becomes more advanced once the point of view is change from Celie alternating to Nettie. Then the letters are from Nettie writing back to Celie. The switch in diction earned some scrutiny by the New York Times, “If Alice Walker’s celebrated and prize-winning earlier novel, “The Color Purple,” had a glaring flaw, it was Nettie’s letters from Africa, which tended to a certain monotonous didacticism.” Although appraised for this, by writing with better grammar and a higher level diction, Walker reminds the readers that Nettie is educated unlike her sister. You are able to compare Celie’s writing to her sister and it creates more realism for Celie’s character as it defines her lack of education. In contrast, Nettie’s letters speaks to the audience revealing purpose not out of despair, yet quite different than Celie’s letters. She talks about the civilization of Africa, politics, issues on racism that Celie was not very familiar with. Also, Nettie’s letters adds more credibility to Celie’s character.
Clearly, the diction and dialect show Celie’s lack of intelligence, but it also help you understand where the setting takes place. The way Celie speaks and the word choice she uses gives you insight on the rural areas where the setting takes place. The setting often paints an image of a farm as Celie writes in her journal entries how she and Harpo would work in the fields. The setting, taking place in the rural areas of Georgia helps to create atmosphere and establishes credibility and verisimilitude. In turn, this creates realism. Walker uses cultural circumstances of African Americans to help shape her setting. The upsetting, stressful, and tragic tones create a rather sympathetic and emotional atmosphere.
Race plays a huge role in The Color Purple. All African Americans were viewed as the weaker race, but African American woman were represented as the weaker gender between both sexes. The males take on an overpowering role and abuse their wives to keep them under their control. After the constant abuse Celie looses pride in her own race, self, and gender. It is not until she learns about some of the wealthy societies of Africa and essentially the color purple that she regains some of her pride that was taken away by the males in her life.
Racism against Blacks inflicted by Whites, another theme depicted, was just as essential to race as it was to the dehumanization of African Americans. Setting the tone, such blatant, unfair and harsh treatment during early times serves for the foundation of how Blacks treated their own kind. “They have the nerve to try to make us think slavery fell through because of us, say Sofia. Like us didn’t have sense enough to handle it” (102). Unlike most in the novel, Sofia had pride in her race. She did not let racism change her outlook and reflection of herself and race. Seemingly, a sense of pride that one could only wish that most African Americans exhibited.
Another theme expressed in The Color Purple is African American women and abused wives. Walker paints a picture that all Black males are controlling and disrespect their wives. To some Black males the way Walker portrayed them was offensive. According to the New York Times, critics claimed that Alice Walker “portrayed black men harshly.” Many Black men felt that Walker expressed prejudice views toward them especially since she married a White man. With that being said, others commended her for her portrayal.
In essence, many felt that The Color Purple encouraged lesbianism not only offended African American men. This is confirmed in an article on race and domesticity in The Color Purple. The article states that the novel was “degrading to Black men and promoting lesbianism among Black women.” The males in the novel were Celie’s antagonists. Some felt that Walker had something against African American males and that she thought they were all bad. Likewise, sensing any hostility toward Walker against African American males is understandable. Furthermore, the author was just trying to tell a story of the love of two sisters and the hardships of African American women and wives down south in the early 1900s.
Due to the disturbing events that Celie had to endure through her childhood especially she does not even label men in her journal entries. Celie always referred to them as “Mr.___.” Perhaps in a way this was her way of taking away power from males. The only good feelings and sexual ones are given to her by females, one in particular Shug Avery. The constant and explicit talk about sexuality is one of the many reasons why there are high schools who banned the work of fiction from school curriculums.
According to the School Library Journal, “The Color Purple ranks 18 on the American Library Association’s list of 100 most frequently challenged books.” With that being said, high schools forbid their school libraries from ordering the book. The incestual scenes between Celie and her father alarmed the parents of Little Axe High School and they force the school to ban the novel (Norman). Although there are some overtly explicit experiences Celie dealt with, it is nothing that should be banned. Some high schools, usually those with a predominantly Black population can relate to this story, but schools like Little Axe High School probably would find a harder time relating to the story since their school is predominantly White. However, that does not mean someone White would not enjoy reading the novel. A Caucasian student, attending Warren Mott high school as a senior this year, actually enjoyed reading the novel in her English 11 class her junior year.
To help enhance the understanding of African American culture and history, The Color Purple has been put in many high school curriculums. A case study written by Rob Baum states that, “Woods High School added The Color Purple to its curriculum to rectify its balance of gendered and raced texts.” Adding on, reading The Color Purple for opposite races and even African Americans themselves can give much insight on some of the oppressed, abused, cultural backgrounds of African Americans.
Throughout the novel, Celie struggles with her sexuality. This is an example of the internal conflict within Celie. All her life she was beaten and raped by the men, including her father and husband. Dealing with much abuse causes Celie to have no confidence. Celie has no sense of her own actuality. She has no self worth, inner beauty, or formal intelligence. As Celie works through her internal conflict, the symbols employed throughout the novel are shown. The conflicts worked through the novel to add to the tragic and upsetting atmosphere.
Along with internal conflict, there was also some external conflict. There was external conflict between Celie and the men in her life. Her father and husband are just some of the examples of external conflict. Not only did the protagonist have external conflicts between men, other supporting characters such as Sofia and Harpo did as well. The males in the story try to dominate their women, while some succeed in doing so and others do not. Celie is an example of the women who accepted the oppression and just tried to survive. Day by day, she never fought back until given the courage in the end. Sofia, on the other hand, was an example of how women fought back against the sexist ideas that men could do whatever they wanted to overpower their wives, including beat them. Relationships were significant in the development of the novel.
The relationships between women and women, men and women, and people and God were illustrated. Just like there was love among the women, there was also jealously. The bond between Shug and Celie started off with jealously as Shug was prettier and was able to get the attention of Celie’s husband and stand up to him. The women stayed within competition of one another until they were finally able to ban to together and rise against the men in their lives that were keeping them down. The relationship between Celie and Shug was one the most prominent relationship in the story. After their bond was formed Celie learns many life lessons that ultimately help to liberate her from the captivity of male dominance in the story.
Next, the relationships between men and women often lacked love and passion in their marriages. The men were too busy following after their fathers that they never learned how to truly love their wives. Depicted in the novel, Black men felt they had to “wear the pants”; this idea transcends through The Color Purple as the men fail to break away from the tradition of trying to tame and train their wives. In doing so, some lost their wives respect and love in some circumstances.
Instances such as when Harpo observed his father’s relationship between him and his wife. Harpo formed the conclusion that by beating his wife like his father did to Celie, he might create a more controlling and accepting relationship between him and his wife. Trying to earn her respect by watching his father’s relationship with Celie, he beats his wife, Sofia. In response, Sofia lashes out and fights back. She was the perfect example of women who were true to themselves in mind and physique. Additionally, the males in the novel let their violent fathers dictate how they handled their own relationships.
Furthermore, the relationships that Celie encounters with men in her life cause her to feel no type of attraction or passion from men. “Naw, I say. Mr.______ can tell you, I don’t like it at all. What is it like? He git up on you, heist your nightgown round your waist, plunge in. Most times I pretend I ain’t there. He never know the difference. Never ast me how I feel, nothing. Just do his business, get off, go to sleep”(77). In this excerpt, Celie describes how she felt about having intercourse with her husband. Unfortunate enough, no love or passion is felt, just abuse.
Last, but not least, the relationship among people and God was exemplified through Celie and how she views God. After being raped Celie loses her sense of love with God. To Celie, God was a male therefore, she lost faith in him like all the other males she had to encounter in her life. Writing to him out of loss of hope, she loses sight of the color purple and the liberation of life. By the end of the novel, Celie realizes the color purple is nature and the two combined is God as well. Viewing the two as one, she grasps the feeling of joy and being free.
Symbolism takes place throughout the novel. Like God, the color purple, represented nature. It stands for all the beauty that nature beholds and one of the unrecognized truths Celie had yet to understand. Celie had no idea of what the color purple was in the beginning. She lived life only to get to the next day. It was not until Shug came into her life that she gets a sense of the color purple. Then she is able to liberate herself from the control of her husband and move forward in life. “Until you do right by me, I say, everything you even dream about will fail. I give it to him straight, just like it come to me. And it seem to come to me from the trees” (206). This quote is evident of Celie’s transformation. Once wounded, she is now a warrior. Unrecognized, the color purple was the main idea of the story carried forward, hence its name.
Later on in the novel once Celie is living her life freely without the strong hand of men, she begins to make pants. Gaining a sense of actuality, beauty, and confidence in herself, Celie wears the pants as well as making them. The pants symbolized how Celie overcame the sexism she always was subjugated to. Since pants, culturally was a male article of clothing in the early 1990s, wearing and producing them gave Celie a sense of power she never felt before. The idea that men wore the pants was no longer a belief of Celie and it proves true in the novel. She no longer felt oppressed and afraid emotionally or economically. Her clothing business consisting of only pants was one of the starting blocks in her life that she was not afraid of men and she did not need them to support her emotionally or financially either. Therefore, pants being symbolic of manhood in many ways, making them was liberating for Celie.
God was also a symbol, not just the color purple and pants. Writing to God is what kept Celie life moving. Her letters to God were an indication that she was still alive and sane. Furthermore, the letters added to the verisimilitude of the novel. The employed symbol was used to give insight to the setting through Celie’s eyes which helped to create realism.
The Color Purple expresses the theme that everyone has a story to tell. Celie’s story was told in the novel. Going more in depth, the plot of the story helps enlighten readers on all the themes discussed in the previous paragraphs. The plot shaped the Walker’s story into a tragic love story that of two sisters trying to reunite once again. The violence, abuse, and sexuality of the plot are told from Celie’s perspective and through her writing of letters the other themes in the novel are revealed: symbols, marriage, and race.
As stated in the Masterplots Revised Second Edition, “Alice Walker’s novel is unique in its preoccupation with spiritual survival and with exploring the oppressions, insanities, loyalties, and triumphs of Black women.” Speaking to many unrecognized truths and possibilities of life, The Color Purple employs symbols in order to let those truths become understood. Setting, structure, diction, and dialect serve the purpose of verisimilitude for Walker. She uses them to create realism and credibility for her readers. Although criticized for her portrayal of African American men, the novel is still to this day a classic. The critical analysis of sex and lesbianism caused much uproar in some high school including Little Axe High School resulting in the banning of the novel in the school’s curriculum. Yet, it remains a best seller.
Sexism In The Color Purple
In The Color Purple, Alice Walker writes of a predominantly sexist setting through the frequent beating of women, the stereotypes cast upon people, and the thoughts and feelings of the Olinka peoples. The author writes about the common and frequent beating of Celie by her father as discipline and of Mr. _____ to present a sexist setting. To show the predominantly sexist setting, Alice Walker includes the stereotypes cast upon people such as Celie’s wearing and making of pants and Mr.
_____’s sewing. The writer includes the thoughts and feelings of the Olinka people through their not educating females and their thought of a woman’s ideal role.
The thoughts and feelings of the Olinka people are depicted through their choice to not educate females when Nettie asks an Olinka why she thinks this and when Tashi’s father tells Nettie that there is no place for women to have important careers. While in Africa, Nettie asks an Olinka woman why they choose to not have their daughters educated, and the woman responds, “only to her husband can [a woman] become something” and she later goes on to say that she can become “the mother of his children;” these remarks imply that Olinka women are meant to be mothers and nothing else that they would enjoy (Walker 162).
When Nettie informs Tashi’s father of his daughter’s great intelligence and the great careers she could pursue, he immediately responds “there is no place here for women to do those things;” this shows how the men of the Olinkas have it preset in their mind that women should not have the same career as a man does; this, along with stereotypes, add to the sexist setting.
The stereotypes cast upon people show the sexist setting when it is found out that Mr. _____ sewed as a child with his mama and when Celie predicts what Albert will think if she wears pants. Albert admits to Celie that he “use[d] to try to sew along with [his] mama;” this goes against the common stereotype that men do not sew (Walker 279). When Shug spontaneously decides that she should make a pair of pants for Celie to wear; Celie states “Mr. _____ not going to let his wife wear pants” without even asking him his opinion. Along with these stereotypes, the common beating of women adds to the sexist setting (Walker 152).
The common beating of Celie by her father in her youth and by Albert to dominate her both help contribute to the sexist setting on the book. While in church one day, Celie’s father catches her eying a boy and when she goes home, Celie write in her letter to God that “[she] don’t even look at mens,” and then says the she does look at women “cause [she’s] not scared of them;” this demonstrates the fear that she has of men from her abusive father (Walker 6). When Harpo has a conversation, Celie tells him “[if] you don’t do what he say, he beat you;” this shows that Celie has learned this lesson by simply not obeying a command in The Color Purple (Walker 66).
Through the common beating of women, the stereotypes cast upon people, and the attitudes of the Olinka people, Alice walker writes about a predominantly sexist setting in The Color Purple. Walker writes about his to show how things really were in black as well as white culture in the past. If Alice Walker were to write about something more recent, she would write about sexism and discrimination of other cultures or religions.
Self and Identity in The Color Purple
In African-American texts, blacks are seen as struggling with the patriarchal worlds they live in order to achieve a sense of Self and Identity. The texts I have chosen illustrate the hazards of Western religion, Rape, Patriarchal Dominance and Colonial notions of white supremacy; an intend to show how the protagonists of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple as well as Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, cope with or crumble due to these issues in their struggle to find their identities.
The search for self-identity and self-knowledge is not an easy task, even more so when you are a black woman and considered a mule and a piece of property. Providing an in depth analysis of these texts, this essay attempts to illustrate how both of these Afro American writers depict and resolve their respective protagonists’ struggles.
Religion is believed by many to serve as a means to achieving or finding self or identity. However, in the Euro-influenced Christian religion especially, directly after ‘finding one’s self’, one is called to deny one’s self in the name of a white ‘God’.
‘Humble yourself and cast your burdens to God’ they say, for ‘He will make all wrongs right’. Logically however, one must ask…what interest does the white God (who is especially portrayed in Afro-American writings such as The Color Purple and The Bluest Eye as a further extension of Patriarchal values) have in black people? Moreso, if the Christian bible is so heavily influenced by white man, what interest does the God it portrays have in black women?
In The Color Purple, Celie’s original intended audience is a white, male God who does not listen to her prayers, and her letters remain anonymous. Celie explains that she stopped writing to God because he gave her ‘a lynched daddy, a crazy mama, a lowdown dog of a step pa and a sister [she] probably won’t ever see again.’ Celie distrusts a white male God because he does not listen to ‘poor colored women.’ Shug encourages Celie to reject ‘religious beliefs which reinforce sexist and racist domination’ and insists on ‘the primacy of a spiritual life’. If Celie looks for God in a white church or a white written Bible it is inevitable that she will encounter a white God, therefore she must look at her immediate environment for guidance. Celie then accepts and employs Shug’s ideology that ‘God is inside you and inside everyone else.’
In her rejection of the Euro-central God who doesn’t listen to her prayers, Celie liberates her ‘Self’ and finds identity – evident in her signing of her letters which she now addresses to Nettie. For the first time in Celie’s life, the colour people (purple) are recognized by God and she is liberated with the belief that the colour purple/people is/are noticed as a part in God’s majestic composition, and that this God is everything and everywhere. It is thus possible to identify Celie with the color purple by realizing that she has gone unnoticed and is finally being noticed as she asserts her existence. This existentialist epiphany becomes manifest when Celie writes, “I’m pore, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook, a voice say to everything listening. But I’m here.”
In The Bluest Eye however, the Eurocentric images and influences of the Western God have a lasting negative effect on many of the black characters. There is colour people playing a part in this God’s composition, instead, focus is on the colour blue – that his eyes are portrayed to be. This colour suggests coldness and blindness towards people not sharing in His whiteness. Pecola Breedlove is the prime character that is influenced by these negative images of God, and the influence of the Western religion’s ‘values’ shown in the novel pushes her into an unfortunate type of lack of ‘Self’. This comes about in this novel due to the interactions with white and pseudo-white characters who have subscribed to the idealized notions of white superiority. The first instance of this is Pecola’s encounter with Mr. Yacobowski – the shopkeeper, who basically ignores her existence because she is black, his attention instead focuses on a picture of the Virgin Mary.
This leaves Pecola with the view that it is the white God itself disregarding her existence through the symbolic Mr. Yacobowski, as he is said to be religious but ignores her very presence. This negative image of the Western God lends greatly to Pecola’s self hatred and her eventual destruction. If she is not even acknowledged by the white people in her community then she must have no worth. She sees this as a situation in which she cannot prosper thus beginning to hate herself and her color, as, if these supposed ‘representatives’ or followers of this white God won’t accept her, who is she to think that He will?
This view is strengthened when Pecola visits the pseudo-white character Geraldine’s house, whereby she is cursed by this woman and chased from her farcical ‘Dick and Jane’ style home. Home is where the ‘heart’ is, but all Pecola sees as she flees from this place she admires is a “portrait of the [white] angelized Jesus looking down at her with sad and surprised eyes…” This white figure of Western religion is perhaps “unable to help her” as she is not of his kind, thus giving substance to Pecola’s belief that she has no worth nor hope for acceptance by this idealized white world and its ‘God’.
This Euro-influenced religion with its patriarchal God may thus be found guilty of a discursive rape of the values of black people, and to a greater extent – black women. This is another critical aspect in these examples of Afro-American literature, as rape is no stranger to the black women in these texts – guilty of undermining their sense of self as well leading to a loss of identity, whether the rape is discursive, or actual. Bell Hooks holds that rape is portrayed as a positive force in The Color Purple because Celie ‘accedes to the violation of her body in order to protect her sister Nettie from the sexual advances of their stepfather’.
Squeak also uses her body to help free Sofia from jail, sacrificing her body in efforts to aid Sofia’s circumstances although Sofia knocked her teeth out. This rape in particular – of a black woman by a white man is depicted, according to Hooks, as a positive force because ‘even though it acts to reinforce sexist domination of females and racist exploitation’, it is also ‘a catalyst for positive change’. Not only does the act free Sofia; it also empowers Squeak, as, when Harpo says “I love you, Squeak” (84) she stands up for her own identity by replying “My name Mary Agnes” (84).
In the case of The Bluest Eye, Pecola’s rape by her father leads to her becoming “the town’s scapegoat and places her in company with the books other outcasts; the prostitute Miss Marie and the quack mystic Elihue Whitcomb, dubbed ‘Soaphead Church’. It is through the whispers about Pecola and the spurning of her that the town ‘justifies’ the image of good and beautiful. It is because Pecola becomes pregnant with her father’s child that she no longer has the ability, if such ever even bore a remote chance of existing, to be beautiful in the eyes of society. The pregnancy has also destroyed any chances of her ever receiving her mother’s love and approval forever, as she is now even dirtier than before in her community’s eyes.
The rape by her father is the final evidence Pecola needs to completely believe that she is an ugly, unlovable girl. While in most modern cases a father figure is one to whom little girls should be able to look to for guidance and approval, Cholly is the exact opposite. He hurts Pecola in a physical way that in one attempt measures up to the years of hurtful mockery. He took away from her the one thing that was utterly and completely hers. After the rape, Pecola was never even remotely the same: her appearance was met with utmost disgust. Adults looked away; children, those of which who were not frightened by her, “laughed outright” (204). The damage done was immense and she spent her days, walking up and down her head jerking to the beat of a drummer so distant only she could hear. Elbows bent, hands on shoulders, she flailed her arms like a bird in an eternal, grotesquely futile effort to fly. Beating the air, a winged but grounded bird intent on the blue void it could not reach – could not even see – but which filled the valleys of the mind (204).
In short, after the rape, Pecola went insane. Her ‘discursive rape’ was delivered at the hands of the society in which she lived, where her blackness was met with disgust. This rape made her wish to be white – to possess blue eyes, as this was the accepted quality of ‘beauty’ in her society, the physical rape only serves to further push her completely over the edge. Pecola’s society is in turn ‘raped’ by Colonialism and concepts of white supremacy, leading them to act with ‘insane’ disgust towards their own blackness and to aspire for their own ‘bluest eyes’ i.e. Geraldine and her house/way of living.
Martha J. Cutter, in her article Philomela Speaks: Alice Walker’s Revisioning of Rape Archetypes in The Color Purple, argues that Like Pecola Breedlove, who ends the novel “flail[ing] her arms like a bird in an eternal, grotesquely futile effort to fly” (204), Celie also appears to have been “driven into semiotic collapse by the rape.” She notes that The Color Purple also uses bird imagery imagery to “connect Celie with her mythic prototype, Philomela as well as to revise the mythic prototext.” Cutter is of the view that the ancient Greek story of Philomela has resonated in the imaginations of women writers for several thousand years … mark[ing] the persistence of a powerful archetypal narrative explicitly connecting rape (a violent inscription of the female body), silencing, and the complete erasure of feminine subjectivity.
Cutter holds that in The Color Purple, Walker “paradoxically [uses] … birds … [in the following scene] …[as a] positive symbol to Celie of how nature persists in displaying its beauty despite the despoiling patterns of humanity.” The example Martha Cutter highlights is
where Celie tells Albert that she loves birds (223), and Albert comments, ‘”you use to remind me of a bird. Way back when you first come to live with me…. And the least little thing happen, you looked about to fly away”‘ (223).
Cutter concludes, “Unlike the archetypal narrative, then, Walker’s novel uses bird … imagery to suggest Celie’s metamorphosis not from human to subhuman, but from victim to artist-heroine.” Thus the novel differs from the myth as well as from Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, as it commences rather than ends with the incident[s] of rape and that “the rape becomes not an instrument of silencing, but the catalyst to Celie’s search for voice.” By writing about her rape, Celie externalizes her experiences thus escaping destruction whereas Pecola internalizes (in the form of a dialogue with an imaginary ‘friend’) them and is thus inadvertibly destroyed. Thereby Walker “revises the archetypal paradigm [which] depict[s] rape as an event that encapsulates women in patriarchal plots as the site of silence, absence, and madness” thus giving her back her sense of agency and voice.
Also evident in the texts is the theme of migration, whereby characters emigrate to the North from the South in order to escape, or better themselves – thus further finding or losing their sense of identity and self. According to Elena Shakhovtseva in her article «The Heart of Darkness» in a Multicolored World, “Walker retells a mythic story of the movement from the South to the North as an ideal embodiment of freedom, and back to the South for reconciliation.” Shakhovtseva argues that Celie’s eventual move to Memphis symbolically marks the black community’s twentieth century migration to the North with the emphasis both on the economic liberation the North provides (Celie’s “folkpants” business) as well as the threat it presents to black cultural identity (attempts to change Celie’s dialect, etc.).
Thus, the return of Celie to the South through her successful business and attainment of a home, Shakhovtseva notes, “represents Walker’s argument for black reclamation of a Southern homeland.”
Celie’s migration to the North represents both liberation and potential loss of identity. This is seen when her employee, Darlene, makes an effort to ‘improve’ Celie’s dialect, to make a more ‘refined’ (different – once again views tainted by white supremacy) person out of her. However, Celie is mostly disinterested and maintains her creole way of speech, suggesting comfort in her sense of identity. When she returns to the South, Celie accomplishes a ‘wholeness’ of her physical and spiritual existence, and reclaims the family home, farm and store in Georgia, which she rightfully claims after her stepfather’s death. In essence, Celie migrates from oppressed ‘slave’ to her husband, to strong, independent, black woman – land and store-owner nonetheless, Walker’s obvious inversion of race and gender.
Walker is accused by many of subverting realist concepts, her novel’s ending… lacking verisimilitude. It can be argued that she appears to have been influenced by Shakespeare’s romances, possessing a like Utopian and somewhat unrealistic vision. The opposite is seen in Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, where when Pecola’s parents – Cholly and Pauline, moved North everything changed. The colours went out of Pauline’s life. She states “I missed my people. I weren’t used to so much white folks…Northern colored folk was different too.”
Additionally, she continues by saying that their marriage became “shredded with quarrels” as she developed a desire for new clothes which Cholly disapproved of, money becoming the “focus of all their discussions, hers for clothes, his for drinks” (118). To make up for the neglect and her own insecurities, Pauline sought comfort through movies as she sat and watched the perfect “white” world of Hollywood. Here she attempted to re-find her colours on the “silver screen” (124). However, the colours she does find and have a longing for end up having a negative effect on her life and the lives of her family until it destroys them, especially Pecola.
In conclusion, using the two texts studied, with emphasis placed on their respective protagonists, this essay has attempted to illustrate the treatment of Self and Identity in African-American works, showing the similarities as well as profound differences between the two writers used to illustrate the hazards to, and responses to black self and identity – namely that of the black woman whose struggle is most critical. Morrison holds strong to the Afro-American pattern of destruction of black female by Patriarchal society and the white supremacy ‘values’ it holds dear, thus denying their self and losing their identity. Walker on the other hand, a little too fantastically, provides an inversion of these patterns in the form of an almost unbelievably (Utopian) happy ending for her black female protagonist, who overcomes all the hazards she undergoes, finding her ‘Self’ and strong sense of identity – coming out on top in a brutal, patriarchal society. The Epistolary form Walker uses provides an “instruction” to her readers as well as to her protagonist Celie, seen also in the epigraph by Stevie Wonder provided
Show me how to do like you
Show me how to do it (1).
Whereas Morrison utilizes the Eurocentric primer of a white nuclear family that is burned into the minds of black children, as she distorts and fragments it to illustrate the confusion white ideology causes in the minds of blacks as it contrasts sharply with their own lives. Removing the punctuation, then applying this primer to the story of blacks and namely Pecola’s lives, proves that the story is far from the truth and gibberish. In a sense, by speeding up the machinery of the Dick and Jane story to show how it does not work, Walker proves that it degenerates into meaninglessness under any kind of scrutiny. But in the descent into senselessness, it also parallels Pecola’s descent into madness – a sharp contrast to the similarly Euro-influenced and patriarchal epistolary form used by Walker – a sharp contrast because, Walker’s protagonist uses this… the only form available for her, the voiceless, to overcome the patriarchal oppression and gradually find her ‘Self’.
The Color Purple
Alice Walker’s epistolary novel The Color Purple demonstrates how the mistreatment of a woman cannot prevent her from fulfilling her destiny. The protagonist and narrator of the novel, Celie, is a young, uneducated black girl who is verbally and sexually abused by her supposed father, Alphonso. He fathers two children with her, kidnapping both and presumably killing one, if not both. Because of the unwarranted trauma, she struggles for the rest of her life to recover from his abuse and establish her own power.
Celie has a much smarter and prettier younger sister Nettie, whom she loves, and of whom she is very protective. Celie saves Nettie from marriage to a suitor referred to only as Mr. when their father forces her to marry him instead. Celie’s stepson Harpo, weds a strong-minded woman, Sofia, who is the complete opposite of Celie. Sofia’s refusal to be abused by anyone, – man or woman – sparks a curiosity that makes Celie take a closer look at herself.
The catalyst of the story is Mr. ’s lover, Shug Avery.
Although Celie realizes Shug is her husband’s lover, she does not resent Shug; in fact, Shug becomes Celie’s best friend, lover and even mentor. These influential women, each trying to find their own happiness, fighting their own personal demons, tremendously impact Celie’s life. The women help to educate Celie, whose natural intelligence and talents have been stunted by years of constant humiliation and abuse by her father and husband. It is through each character’s definition of life and struggle within The Color Purple that Alice Walker is able to tell the story of victorious transformation.
Walker’s narrative symbolically illustrates a woman’s psychological journey rising from the mentality of an abused victim of poverty to become a strong, independent and confident woman who establishes her own place within her society. The sexual abuse Celie endures at a very early age leaves her powerless with nowhere to turn. Alphonso’s (Pa) sexual abuse is taken a step further when he gives Celie’s two children away to a family. Celie’s ignorance, due to her age and poor education, prevents her from understanding why the children were taken from her, but she does not believe they are dead.
Alphonso entices Mr. , a widower with four children, to take Celie instead of Nettie, so he will not have to care for her anymore, by throwing in a cow with the deal. Walid El Hamamsy characterizes the combination package of Celie and the cow as further “patriarchal oppression” and a way to continue to “dehumanize” her. Her brutality is continued in her loveless marriage to Mr. , who beats and uses her for sexual convenience. One way to endure the torture is to tell herself “Celie, you a tree” (23). The other way she is able to tolerate her plight of isolation and despair is through writing letters to God.
The letters affords her a voice which otherwise she does not have. Celie’s relationship with her sister Nettie goes beyond just a sisterly bond. Nettie turns out to be the first person to show Celie true unconditional love. With Celie’s children being taken away from her, Nettie fills her void of motherly obligation. Celie wants to guarantee Nettie’s well-being and puts Nettie first for everything. Celie’s view of Nettie as someone filled with potential is in direct contradiction to how Celie sees herself; however, it never stops Nettie from trying to teach Celie so she can open her mind to what is going on in the world around her.
When Celie’s husband tells her Nettie has to leave, it is like a ton of bricks lands on Celie. Nettie is the only person from whom Celie ever felt love. When Nettie leaves, she encourages Celie “to fight,” but Celie is so broken she says she only knows how to “stay alive” (18). Celie’s mental state is still that of an abused victim: she is encapsulated in a world of deep despair, but Nettie has planted a seed that will grow and eventually take her to a place of confidence.
Alice Walker introduces Sofia, a bold, headstrong woman that illustrates assertiveness and self-dignity. Mr. ’s son, Harpo, marries Sofia because he loves her, but later tries to make her succumb to him through brutal force. Harpo has grown up seeing his father physically abuse Celie in order to get his way and when he asks Celie what he should do to get his headstrong wife to submit to him, Celie tells him he should beat her. Celie sees little or no value in herself. She survives victimization by accepting that fighting back will only cause more harm than good.
Anyone can do or say anything they want to Celie since she has accepted her place and submits to the violence. With telling Harpo to beat his wife, Celie is once again showing her abused mentality: she truly believes that physical oppression by husbands is normal. Critic Stacie Lynn Hankinson contends Celie portrays “a survival-of-the-fittest perspective, which pitted her against, rather than aligning her with, other women. ” After Sofia learns of the betrayal of Celie, she boldly confronts her only to figure out Celie is actually on her side.
Sofia tells Celie “All my life I had to fight” (40). Sofia embodies something that would not allow her to be a victim, no matter who she has to fight. Celie professes her jealousy of Sofia because she unfortunately did not have the strength to fight and was continuously a victim. Sofia offers something to Celie she never had before; moral support. Sofia’s constant retaliation against Harpo assists Celie to understand that rebellion, fighting, is a way to escape victimization. Celie’s lack of confidence resides in her fear of not being loved.
When Shug Avery, a Blues singer and her husband’s lover, enters Celie’s life, Celie become conscious of an intimate, trusting love, which empowers Celie to assert herself. Shug enables Celie to freely express herself and talk about all the unfortunate things that have happened to her over the years. Shug also helps Celie find her voice and change how she views herself. After Shug tells Celie “you still a virgin” Celie starts to look at herself less as a victim and gradually lessens her acceptance of ill treatment and stands up for herself (78).
Shug shows Celie how having a powerful voice can be pivotal in changing their life. Walker uses the relationship between Shug and Celie as a way to emphasize consistency and a strong bond. Shug is not only Celie’s confidant but there is a role reversal and Celie becomes Shug’s confidant. Their conversations bring up points not only do they think about, but the reader might as well. “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it” (197).
After her conversations with Shug Celie realizes she must strip her mind of the impression of God that her male-dominated society has placed on her and replace it with a holistic one. Celie’s recognition of God as a Creator allows her to establish a place in her society and finally love herself, just as she is. Marc A. Cristophe agrees as he writes in his essay The Color Purple: An Existential Novel, “she has rejoined the community of men and women; she has found herself, her own place …and is able to marvel at the creation, at life itself. ”