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.
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