Freedom from Racial Barriers in ‘The Color Purple’
Rape, incest, sex, forced labor, and a little reefer on the side. These are all of the components of a novel by Alice Walker. All of these views are illustrated proficiently in Alice Walker’s third novel, “The Color Purple.” Each one of these aspects had a lasting impression upon the ideals and notions of the time. Walker’s writing’s helped to break the racial barrier that existed in some people’s minds.
One way that the barrier was destroyed was through Walker’s depiction of an imperfect black person. If a white person wrote about a less than perfect black person than it was considered racist. Now that a black person is writing about other blacks that are foretaking in acts that are, in their eyes, immoral and corrupt, the subject is brought into a new light. These actions are discussed out in the open, and the idea that all people have their own flaws, is thought to be more fisable. Walker combines all of these issues in her story in a deceptive way.
They all are linked together by way of a semi-believable story line with one major overlaying theme. Prescott sums it up nicely, Love redeems, meanness kills(p74). This is illustrated in many ways in Walker’s novel. One perfect example of this is Mr. _____. Mr. _____, as he is called throughout the novel, was a wife beater, who, having been denied Celie’s sister, marries Celie to look after his children. He beats her and rapes her and is just plain nasty to her. Finally, one day, after Celie discovers another mean thing that Mr. ____ did to her, she leaves with her girlfriend to start a new life. Mr. _____ is left all alone. He starts to fall apart. He becomes afraid of the dark, and just gives up on life. That was his meanness that started to destroy his life. Now, just as Mr. ____ is nearing death, his son Harpo, starts to take care of him. Mr.___ starts to love him again. Now Mr.____’s life takes a toward revival. He becomes a new man. Once he starts to love his life starts to look up again. His and his son’s love redeemed him.
The more I wonder, he say, the more I love.
And people start to love you back, I bet, I say.
They do, he say, surprise. Harpo seem to love me.
(Walker, pg. 290)
Walker’s novel is very unique in regards to style. Her use of black idiom is very effective and adds the extra fragment of actuality and authenticity to the story line. Walker’s use of language, especially Black idiom, is masterful and adds poignancy and depth to the narrative. (Another characteristic of Walker is the inclusion of highly controversial and unique circumstances in her novel. For example, many authors of the time, black or white, would address the idea of either inter-racial or same-sex relations. Walker was an active feminist and her voice and opinions show through in many of her novels. The Color Purple includes many dynamic characters throughout.
Mr._____ is a good example of one such character. In the beginning of the novel he is a mean, strange old man who only marries Celie because he needs somebody to look after his kids. Mr.______ is really in love with her sister, but their father decides that her sister Nettie is too young for marriage so he settles for Celie. This shows how unfeeling Mr.____ is in the first portion of the novel. He beats his wife and overworks her and rapes her and abuses her. He is an all around bad guy. First he put this thing up gainst my hip and sort of wiggle it around. Then he grab hold my titties. Then he push his thing inside my *censored*. When that hurt, I cry. He start to choke me, saying you better shut up and git used to it. (Walker, pg. 1,2) However, Mr.____ comes upon a big change in his life when Celie finally leaves him. Mr.____ is left all by himself and forced to survive and maintain himself on his own. Here is where he runs into some problems. Here is where the big change takes place. Mr.____ changes his evil ways and begins to show some compassion and love. The end of the novel depicts a markedly different Mr.____ then the beginning of the novel portrays. In the end of the novel Mr.____ and Celie actually have a civilized conversation and begin to see face to face. They become friends and often visit each other’s homes and chat on the porch while sewing. Mr.____ look at me real thoughtful. He not such a bad looking man you know, when you come right down to it. And now it do begin to look like he got a lot of feeling hind his face. (Walker, pg. 280) Mr.____ is not the only character that changes during the course of this novel, Celie also takes a drastic turn in her realm of thinking.
Celie starts out in the beginning of the novel as the slave to her father. First allowing herself to be raped and bearing his children and taking his abuse. Then on to the abuse that her husband, Mr.____ shows towards her. Celie takes all of this treatment in stride, this is the only life that she has known. She thinks that since she is only a woman this is the way that she is supposed to be treated. Then, all of the sudden a certain event causes her to dramatically change her course of thinking. This change is caused by the influence of a character that is new to the book. This character gives Celie the love and the respect that she always lacked. Celie was given the sense of being, a sense that she was a real person. A person with feelings, with a heart and a soul. A person that could love and be loved. This person gave her all of these feelings as well as a fresh new start and a new outlook on life. For Walker, redemptive love requires female bonding. (Prescott) This person became her lover. This person was Shug Avery.
Shug Avery was an old lover of Celie’s husband, Mr.____. She had been brought back to Mr.____’s house because she was sick and Celie was to look after her. Shug was also a different person in the introduction of her character. She was a snobbish, high class brat. The Stereotypical rich, spoiled woman. At first she treated Celie and Mr.____ as if they were nothing but her hired help. Then she began to take a liking to Celie. At first they talked and sewed together. Then there relationship moved to the next level. Shug is the one who gave Celie her new outlook on life. She began to treat Celie as a real person should be treated. She offered her love and warmth and gave her a reason to be. She single handedly turned Celie’s life around for the better. Shug knew of all of the opportunities that existed out in the world, she had seen a lot of it because she was a singer that toured around a lot. She told Celie of these prospects and began to start Celie thinking of leaving Mr.____ in search of a better life. The final straw that led to convincing Celie to leave was the horrifying act that Mr.____ had been withholding letters to Celie from her sister Nettie.
Nettie was the luckier of the two sisters. She had met the people that had adopted Celie’s children, befriended them and traveled to Africa with them. Once there she lived among the Olinka tribe. All the time that she was in Africa she wrote letters to Celie. She never got any reply but she never gave up hope. Celie really admired Nettie, and she was a powerful influence upon her life even though she wasn’t present. How I’m gon keep from killing him, I say. Don’t kill, she say. Nettie becoming home before long. Don’t make her have to look at you like us look at Sofia. (Walker, pg.150) Nettie always had the insight that Celie lacked. She knew right away that Mr.____ was abusing her. She even wrote to Celie and told her You’ve got to fight and get away from Albert. He ain’t no good. (Walker, pg. 131) The two sisters longed for each other the entire time that they were separated. When they finally were reunited they were so happy that neither of them could say a word. They just stood there and hugged and hugged and emersed themselves in the love that they felt for each other.
In The Color Purple, there are three main characters who demonstrate meaningful traits of women. Celie, the main character, is the most important of the three. She is influenced by other characters in the novel and is inspired to let herself seek their virtues. Celie’s two friends, Shug and Sofia, are both strong women who teach Celie how to achieve the happiness she desires.
Sofia is a woman with authority in her life. Her life has been a constant struggle and can no longer endure conflict. She is strong physically and that gives her confidence in herself. The only opinion of any value to her is her own. Sofia is very upset with Celie when she tells Harpo to beat her and she reveals to Celie details of her painful past. “All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. But I never thought I’d have to fight in my own house. I loves Harpo. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me.” (42). Sofia can no longer tolerate this kind of abuse and she thought that when she married Harpo she had finally escaped it.
Later Celie admits that she told Harpo to beat her because she is jealous of Sofia. Celie is jealous because Sofia can fight back and she knows she can’t. Sofia tells Celie how she feels sorry for her because Celie reminds her of her mother and how she never could stand up against her father. Just seeing Sofia in control gives Celie hope in getting control in her own life.
Sofia does not live up to the standards of being a wife because she has a voice in her relationship with Harpo and most women allow their husbands to manipulate them. People just accept how she lives because she has a strong opinion of herself and is ready to argue it with anyone at anytime. One day, during a meal, Harpo warns Squeak not to laugh because it was bad luck for a woman to laugh. Sofia laughs in his face saying, “I already had my bad luck. I had enough to keep me laughing for the rest of my life.” (208). Sofia has no trouble expressing herself at the expense of others, especially men.
Shug is a woman who does whatever she wants whenever she wants. She is a free spirit but she does have values and is a major contributor in the transformation of Celie. Shug enjoys her life and tries to spread the happiness to those around her. She is aware of her own physical beauty and uses it to control men. For women like Celie, it isn’t that easy. Celie’s father tells Albert, “She ugly. She ain’t smart either.” (9). This is where Celie develops her low self-esteem. Shug tries to make Celie realize that she is a beautiful person by getting to know her and loving her.
Shug is an admirable woman because of her ability to love others. She tells Celie, “If you was my wife, I’d cover you with kisses instead of licks and work hard for you too,” and later says, “I love you, Miss Celie.” (118). Here Celie realizes that she is a lovable person and not the worthless woman she once thought she was.
Celie and Albert share their feelings about Shug and she tells him, “Hard not to love Shug. She know how to love somebody back.” (289). Through her admiration of Shug, Celie learns how significant love is and how it can change a persons life. When Celie wants to kill Albert, Shug stops her and Celie doesn’t understand why Shug would want this cruel animal to live. Later, Celie and Albert create a friendship and find common ground with their love of Shug. This is where Celie realizes what Shug has been saying all along about Albert having a human side.
Celie is an innocent person who is misfortunate throughout her life until she sees hope through her women friends. She learns to stand up for herself against Mr. ______ and discover her own beauty. When Shug tells Mr.______ that Celie is leaving with them he says he thought Celie was happy and wanted to know what was wrong now. Celie responds by saying, “You a lowdown dog is what’s wrong… You took my sister Nettie away from me and she was the only person love me in the world… But Nettie and my children coming home soon. And when she do, all us together gon whup your ass.” (207). This was a breakthrough for Celie, the first time she got her true feelings out to Albert. Celie knew she had Shug there to back her up and expressed the feelings she had stored up in her mind for years.
Shug also teaches Celie how to forgive the men for all of the pain they have caused her. Shug tells Celie about how one must forget all other issues they have and stop to notice God’s creations. Celie says, “Now that my eyes opening, I feels like a fool. Next to any little scrub of bush in my yard, Mr.______’s evil sort of shrink… You have to get a man off your eyeball before you can see anything a’tall.” (204). Celie has been too caught up in her troubles to see the beauty in life right before her. The burdens in her life seem like nothing compared to the splendor of Gods creation.
Celie is a good example of how certain qualities of different people can form a strong woman. Unlike Shug, Celie doesn’t need men in her life and doesn’t have to confront that burden. Celie learns to be valorous and stick up for herself from both Sofia and Shug. She always had the power to love and trust but Shug makes it stronger by telling Celie to look past her hardships and notice the gifts that God has given her. By gaining this knowledge Celie transforms into a whole new woman and she is finally happy with her life. She has a high self-esteem and is surrounded by the people she loves.