Celie’s first great and enduring female relationship is with her younger sister, Nettie. Such is the bond between the two sisters that when their stepfather threatens to rape Nettie, Celie offers herself in her place. Celie’s life of drudgery and sexual degradation continues into her married life with Albert, a man who she initially fears so much she can only refer to him as Mr. He treats her like a slave and he does his best to end the sisters’ relationship by intercepting Nettie’s letters. Walker’s portrayal of Celie emphasises the hardships of life that a woman can experience and overcome.
In contrast, she depicts Nettie, who becomes an African missionary, as a woman who is more of a feminist and is more aware of the harsh realities of a patriarchal society. Through her letters Nettie tries to guide Celie and make her realise that she deserves a better life. She highlights the cultural differences and the similarities between American and African society. The Olinka women she works with seem happy to share their husbands with each other and their lives centre around work, their children and their relationships with each other since, “a woman cannot really have a man for a friend without the worst kind of ostracism and gossip”6.
In a similar way, Celie shares her husband with Shug Avery, works on the land and in the home and has a group of female friends. The sisters are both first person narrators and Walker clearly shows that they write as an act of faith, keeping up their spirits and reaching out to each other, confiding in each other, educating each other and supporting each other through the difficult times. Blues singer, Shug Avery, is the love of Celie’s life and also her husband’s mistress. However, it is clear, long before Celie meets Shug, that she prefers men to women, “I look at women, tho, cause I’m not scared of them”7.
Celie becomes besotted with a photograph of Shug, “An now when I dream, I dream of Shug Avery”8. They eventually meet and fall in love, beginning an on-off long-term lesbian relationship. Shug is a talented, independent woman and shows Celie an escape route from the drudgery of her life. She shows her that if she wants to be treated well and with respect she needs to stand up for herself. Celie only feels truly sexually loved after her discovery of lesbian pleasures, marking another step towards her independence.
As she gains more self-confidence from being with Shug, she confronts Albert, “You a lowdown dog is what’s wrong, I say. It’s time to leave you and enter into the Creation. And your dead body is just the welcome mat I need. “9 Another ally is strong-minded and strong-bodied Sofia. At first Celie is envious of Sofia’s intelligence, confidence and independence and dislikes her pity of her and so betrays her by advising her husband, Harpo to beat her. The next time she sees him he is battered and bruised and it is clear that Sofia stood up for herself and hit him back.
Celie feels guilty of her betrayal and Sofia is furious but they are able to talk and clear the air and they laugh together when Sofia advises Celia to, “bash Mr. head open”10. To cement their friendship, they begin to work on a quilt from the “messed up curtains”11 Celie made for Sofia when she got married. This traditional quilt is symbolic of women’s solidarity with each patch representing a woman – on its own small and insignificant but when bound together creating a strong unity and sense of togetherness. Another reference comes when Mr. and his brother, Tobias, are on the porch with Celie and Sofia, who are quilting.
Shug enters to hear the two men belittling all the women they know. She joins in with the quilting and her action places her firmly united with Sofia and Celie. There’s little doubt this quilt, with the pattern Sister’s Choice, and its message, will be passed on to daughters and granddaughters. When Sophia is sent to prison her network of female friends rally round to help and support her. That she survives her imprisonment, separation from her children and subsequent ‘enslavement’ is a testament to this support and her own personal strength.
One of her main allies during this period is Mary Agnes and this is another female character that grows in strength throughout the story and achieves her dream. Celie’s growing independence is emphasised when she starts to wear pants, previously a men-only garment, and her financial independence is secured when she starts her own successful tailoring business, ‘Folkspants, Unlimited’. When Nettie eventually returns home, reuniting Celie with her children that Alfonso had taken away from her so many years’ ago, Celie’s life is complete.
Both stories are about the passing on of experience and whilst the reader never knows if Kincaid’s Girl took the advice offered, in The Colour Purple, the reader sees the evidence of feminine advice and support being given and taken – like the Olinka women “the women are friends and will do anything for one another”12. 1503 words.
References: 1. Carter, A. (ed) (1986) Wayward Girls and Wicked Women, Virago, pp. 326-7, Girl by Kincaid, Jamaica 2. Ibid. 3. Ibid. 4. Walker, Alice, (1983) The Colour Purple, The Womens Press Limited 1983, p. 3 5. Ibid., p. 3 6. Ibid. , p. 141 7. Ibid. , p. 7 8. Ibid. , p. 8 9. Ibid. , p. 170 10. Ibid. , p. 39 11. Ibid. , p. 39 12. Ibid. , p. 141 Bibliography: Carter, A. (ed) (1986) Wayward Girls and Wicked Women, Virago, pp. 326-7, Girl by Kincaid, Jamaica Goodman, Lizbeth (ed) (1996) Approaching Literature:
Literature and Gender, Routledge in association with The Open University, Milton Keynes Padley, Steve (ed) (2001) Approaching Prose Fiction, The Open University, Milton Keynes Walker, Alice, (1983) The Colour Purple, The Womens Press Limited 1983, London.