Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The color purple

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The Color Purplean In Depth Look

In 18, Alice Walker published The Color Purple, a chronicle of the struggles of a young black woman, Celie, in rural Georgia during the early 10s. The novel brought an outburst of controversy with its publication. Its black cultural representation made many feel that the novel endorsed old stereotypes of the African American community, more specifically black males. Through the novel, Celie learns the power of communication, the power of sisterhood, the nature of racism and sexism. Walker uses numerous symbols and motifs to help develop these major themes.

Throughout the novel, Alice Walker emphasizes that the expression of thought and feeling is critical to the development of a sense of self. In the opening of the novel, Celie is completely unable to protect herself from those who abuse her. Phrases such as, "It all I can do not to cry. I make myself wood. I say to myself, Celie you a tree. That's how come I know trees fear man," characterize her voice in the beginning to the novel (Walker ). She seems to have little consciousness of injustice and show no anger, despite her abuses (Guitierrez). She says, "I can't even remember the last time I felt mad" (Walker 4). She is able to plainly tell about the events, but she is unable to interpret them. Celie feels that the only way to survive the abuse is to remain silent. Celie's stepfather warned her that she "better not never tell nobody but God" about his abuse (Walker 1). From the belief that she could tell no one, but God, about her abuse, comes the basis of the novel. The letter-writing form of the novel emphasizes the power of communication. Celie writes letters to God, and Nettie, her younger sister, writes to Celie. Both sisters gain strength from their letter writing. However, they seem only to find redemption when they receive responses to their letters from each other. This demonstrates the need for an attentive audience for self-expression. Initially, Celie sees God as her listener and helper. However, Celie's image of God "don't seem quite right" (Walker 01). Celie's faith is immature. Her image of God is distorted by the many negative male figures in her life, and by racism. She thinks he's white. As Celie learns to stop thinking of God as the she does the other men in her life, she begins to see Him in everything around her. This new perception of God symbolizes her move to an independent woman. It also reveals that she is now empowered to communicate freely. After Celie's religious awakening, she describes never noticing the wonders that God has made, such as "the color purple" (Walker 0). Throughout the novel, brighter colors appear to indicate the redemption that various characters experience. On several occasions, Walker uses colors to depict the mood of the atmosphere. In the beginning of the novel, when Celie's sister-in-law, Kate, takes her shopping for a new dress, the only colors to choose from are dull colors. Later in the novel, Celie and Sofia use yellow fabric from Shug's dress for the quilt that they make together after they reconcile their differences. When Celie's husband changes, he paints the entire house "fresh and white" (Walker 60). Color can be regarded as a sign of renewal and rebirth in these scenes.

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Throughout the novel, Walker depicts female friendships as a means for women to gather the courage to express themselves. These stories allow the women to deal with the oppression and dominance. Relationships with women provide a refuge in a world of violent men. Some of the female friendships took a familial form, perhaps motherly or sisterly. When Celie takes care of Shug, she seems motherly. At other times they act as though they are sisters. Others are sexual; while still others are mentoring and still others are simply friendships. Sofia, Celie's daughter-in-law, states that her fighting abilities come from her relationships with her sisters (Walker 4). Nettie uses her relationship with Celie to help her through the years of living in Africa. Samuel, a minister who adopted Celie's biological children, says that the Olinka women can only bear polygamy because of the strong relationships that they have with one another. Most importantly, Celie's attachment to Shug helps to bring about her liberation and her achievement of a sense of self. Sewing in The Color Purple represents the power that women can gain from directing their energies to something productive. Sofia suggests making a quilt with Celie after they have an argument. Her gesture signals a truce between the two. The quilt that they make is composed of diverse patterns; this could symbolize different people with different personalities coming together for a purpose. With Shug's help, Celie's pants-sewing business demonstrates how sewing can be used as an empowering source of income, instead of simply being an unimportant woman's task.

Celie's abusers are somewhat stereotypical, violent men; however they can not be dismissed as simply evil. Her abusers are violent because they are also victims. Harpo, Celie's stepson, begins to beat his wife, Sofia, after his father suggests that he is lesser man because Sofia resists him. Surprisingly, Celie advises Harpo to beat Sofia. Later the reader finds out that it is because she is envious of Sofia's energy and boldness. Celie's husband is abusive because of the way his own father treated him. The characters are aware of the cycle of violent behavior. Sofia tells Eleanor Jane that pressures from society make it almost unavoidable that her little boy will be racist (Walker 7). Only by standing up to the men who abuse them do the women of The Color Purple interrupt the cycle of sexism and violent behavior. Celie tells her husband, following her discovery of herself and freedom

"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… You better stop talking because all I'm telling you ain't coming just from me… The jail you plan for me is the one in which you will rot in" (Walker 1).

Celie's resistance to her husband's abuse shows her new found independence. Many characters shatter the traditional boundaries of male and female gender roles. Harpo's lack of confidence, Shug's sexual boldness, and Sofia's strength are key instances of differences in a character's gender and the behaviors they exhibit. Harpo, like Celie, is a victim of his hather's abuses, both physically and emotionally (Guiterrez). He tried to beat Sofia, but she would hurt him more than could hurt her. This is unusual, since the woman is usually thought of as being the weaker vessel, especially in domestic violence. The hazing of gender traits and roles sometimes allows one to find happiness in places never thought about, previously, for example, the relationship between Celie and Shug. The sexual relationship between Celie and Shug gives Celie a sense of empowerment. Her experience with Shug marks the first time that sex actually has a meaning for her. Previously, it was simply something that was done to her, something used to degrade her. Her feelings didn't matter to her husband; he would "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" (Walker 6). This new experience and meaning gave her the power to break free from the restraints of male supremacy. The disturbance of gender roles can also cause problems. Harpo's lack of confidence leads to problems in his marriage with Sofia and his efforts to beat her. Similarly, Shug's confidence and opposition to male control causes her to be regarded as a tramp. Walker emphasizes throughout the novel that sexuality and gender are not as simplistic as most believe. The novel challenges the conventional ways that men and women are understood to behave.

Walker attempts something new and different in The Color Purple. Some react positively to the portrayal of African Americans in the novel, while others disagree with its depictions. Barbara Smith states in her review of the book

"Most gratifyingly, no Black novelist until Alice Walker in The Color Purple has positively and fully depicted a Lesbian relationship between two black women, set in the familiar context of a traditional Black community. The Color Purple is a breakthrough in Black literature, because Walker so succinctly names the unnameable that Black women have at times been brutally and matter-of-factly oppressed by Black me, that they have suffered from sexism as well as from racism, and that Black women's love for each other has formed the bottom line of our survival. The quality of our love has made all our livesBlack women's, men's and children'sworth living. Period" (170).

Jacqueline Bobo's article, "Sifting Through the Controversy Reading The Color Purple" states that "the objective of the criticisms against The Color Purple is to protect the turf of those who have set themselves up as 'guardians of the Black image'" (8). Also in Bobo's article, it is cited that Pauline Kael of The New Yorker declares that Alice Walker "got away with 'rampant female chauvinism'" (4). Walker is also criticized for identifying social issues such as race, sexism, and domestic violence in the novel.

"Sophia's violent behavior obviously foregrounds issues of race and class, as even critics who find these issues marginalized elsewhere in The Color Purple. But it is not only through Sophia's dramatic public battles with white men that her story dramatizes issues of race and class. Her domestic relationship with Miss Eleanor Jane and the other member of the mayor's family offers a more finely nuanced and extended critique of racial integration, albeit one that has often been overlooked" (Selzer 7). Elliot Butler-Evans praises Walker's treatment of sexual oppression saying "that Celie's personal letters serve precisely as a 'textual strategy by which the larger African-American history, focused on racial conflict and struggle, can be marginalized by its absence from narration'" (Selzer 67).

Trudier Harris offers some interesting comments on the criticisms of Walker's novel

"…the novel has been so much praised that critics, especially black women critics, have seemingly been reluctant to offer detailed, carefully considered criticisms of it. While that may be explained in part by the recent publication of the novel and by the limited access black women critics traditionally have had to publishing outlets, these possible explanations are partly outweighed by the fact that the novel has been so consistently in the public eye that it takes great effort not to write about it. The Color Purple silences by its dominance, a dominance perpetuated by the popular media. Those who initially found or still find themselves unable to speak out perhaps reflect in some way my own path to writing about the novel…To complain about the novel is to commit treason to black women writers, yet there is much in it that deserves complaint" (155).

Marcellus Blount states in her review that, "Although ignorance, poverty and moral fallibility litter the various landscapes of the world…faith in God's sense of beauty reveal both how the novel's characters manage to survive and why" (118).

In Alice Walker's The Color Purple, Celie, a young African American woman, speaks to her audience, God, to give the chronicle of her life. This chronicle of her life casues the reader to address serious social issues, such as racism, sexism, and abuse. As the novel progresses, one may see the change as she matures, finds freedom, and gains insight on life.

Works Cited

Blount, Marcellus. "A Woman Speaks". Callaloo, No. 18. (Spring-Summer 18), pp.


Bobo, Jacqueline. "Sifting Through the Controversy Reading The Color Purple".

Callaloo, No. . (Spring, 18), pp. -4.

Gutierrez, Hialy. "The Color Purple Literary Techniques Employed by Alice Walker to

Develop Celie's Character". 1 September 00. http// July 00.

Harris, Trudier. "On The Color Purple, Stereotypes, and Silence". Black American

Literature Forum, Vol. 18, No. 4. (Winter, 184), pp. 155-161.

Selzer, Linda. "Race and Domesticity in The Color Purple". African American Review,

Vol. , No. 1. (Spring, 15), pp. 67-8.

Smith, Barbara. "Sexual Oppression Unmasked." Callaloo, No. , Fiction A Special

Issue. (Autumn, 184), pp. 170-176.

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