Theme Of Oppression Of Women In Alice Walker’s The Colour Purple

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer


The Color Purple is an award-winning epistolary novel written by Alice Walker in 1982. The book takes place in the 1930s and mainly depicts the life of African-American women in the Southern United States, mainly Georgia. However, The Color Purple is an epistolary novel and consists of letters written from one character to another in different places which therefore defines the setting of the story. The lives of these women are portrayed through the main characters in the story, Celie and Nettie. The story travels through time as the characters age throughout the novel while their life experiences, achievements, failures and introspections are laid in front of the readers. This paper focuses on the extent of oppression faced by the African-American women, how they vanquished their fears and anxieties and emerged as strong independent women in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The entire agenda of oppression faced by women is to give the readers a taste of the reality which took place in America in the 1930s.

Life in South America

The position of women in the social culture was significantly low in that era. This was commonly faced by the African-American women at the time. Women were not given many opportunities in the industry hence most of them were trapped in their households. This was followed by the Great Depression which lasted for almost a decade and was known to be the most drastic economic plummet suffered by industrial America. This led to massive unemployment and overall decrease in the nation’s economy.

The story is packed with incidents that bring out oppression of women and harsh or brutal behaviour towards women which are not glorified but only represent the gruel reality which existed in that era. The entire story gives a glimpse of the oppression faced by the African-American women in America. The real extent of oppression at the time is unknown.

Oppression of Women

In the story, the African-American female characters are shown as victims of oppression several times due to domestic violence or rape. Celie became so weak from being treated brutally so often that her reaction to violence was compliance. She describes the torture through the letters which makes it clear that she does not want to feel what she does and will never get used to it which resulted in her being mentally turned down. “He beat me today cause he say I winked at a boy in church. I may have got somethin in my eye but I didn’t wink. I don’t even look at mens”. Alphonso would beat Celie for the smallest reasons which showed that he wasn’t mentally stable. Celie is then given away to be married to Mr. ___ who is equally as disparaging as Alphonso. Mr. ___ married Celie to attain someone who could take care of his four children and the household work. He considered Celie to be a maid rather than a wife. Celie realised that he is not any different from Alphonso. Mr. ___ had no respect for women in general and would often beat Celie. “Harpo ast his daddy why he beat me. Mr.____ say, Cause he my wife. Plus, she stubborn. All women good for — he don’t finish. He just tuck his chin over the paper like he do. Remind me of Pa”.

When Nettie travels to Monrovia with missionaries, she comes across a village called Olinka. In the village of Olinka, women are described in terms of their relationships with their husbands. Girls are not provided with education. A common belief that runs in the Olinka village is that women must not relish sexual pleasure or seem to be physically attracted to men. These patriarchal examples define the history of America.

Raising voices against oppression:

Some women who face abuse take a stand for themselves while some break down and can’t seem to break through this boundary of injustice. Gaining confidence and courage after being ill-treated several times shows how powerful women really are. The fictional characters of The Color Purple are examples of real-life African-American women who gained independence on account of their own willpower and might.

Mr. ___ had always been abusive, irrational and threatening towards Celie. When she asks him if there are any letters from Nettie, he says even if there are, he won’t give it to her. When Celie and Shug find out about the letters Mr. ___ had been hiding, Celie finally understands the limit the abuse and cannot stay silent anymore. Instead of being timid and apprehensive, she decides to leave him.

Sofia is a very powerful character in the novel. Unlike Celie, she fights back when abused by Harpo. “I open the door cautious, thinking bout robbers and murderers. Horsetheives and Hants. But it Harpo and Sofia. They fighting like two mens. Every piece of furniture they got is turned over. Every plate look like it broke. The looking glass hang crooked, the curtains torn. The bed look like the stuffing pulled out. They don’t notice. They fight. He try to slap her. What he do that for? She reach down and grab a piece of stove wood and whack him cross the eyes.” Sofia never backed down from engaging in arguments and serious conversations with Mr. ___ and Harpo. She was fearless.

Celie’s strength and courage build up as she not only talks back to her abusive husband but also gives him orders. The women leave him and settle in Celie’s original house after Alphonso’s death. Celie has attained freedom by raising her voice against Mr.___ on time. Eventually, Mr.___ emerges with a changed personality which is accepted by Celie. This change in Mr.___’s personality could have occurred because of Celie’s revolts. Her courage and might opened his eyes. Mr. ___ sees women in a different perspective now. The looks at these women with the respect they deserved.


Women all over the world face difficulties which break them physically and emotionally making their lives full of sorrow. The Color Purple has numerous incidents that show how badly African-American women were treated in the 1930s in Southern America. The physical damage made them feel like they had no control over their own bodies while the emotional damage made their minds numb and silent. This novel sensitizes its readers about the struggles faced by real women. The oppressed women should never be looked upon as feeble or impotent. They possess extraordinary strength and have the ability to fight back when abused.


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