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The Colour Purple is a one of the most beautiful and touching books I have read in some time. Alice Walker tells us the story of Celie, a black girl living in the rural American South (specifically, Georgia) who is at the bottom of the social heap in every way. Her father Pa is abusive towards her as a child. She has to take care of Pa's other children and she has one love in her life, her sister Nettie, but they are separated when Celie is forced to marry. Later she is forced to marry an abusive husband, Albert, who she calls Mister. A lot of the unkindness towards Celie comes from the general view that she is ugly- Albert tells her this often: "Look at you. You're black, you're poor, you're ugly, you're a woman, you're nothing at all!"
Celie eventually experiences kindness from Shug Avery, a talented singer and Albert's occasional mistress. When Shug is on the scene, a huge change comes over Albert, and Celie comes to love her in place of her missing sister. Shug is a beautiful and independent woman who knows how to handle Celie's childish husband. She also knows how to love herself, and although they are stark opposites in nature to begin with, their relationship strengthens as the book progresses.
The title of the book comes from Shug, who comments that: "I think it pisses God off when you walk by the colour purple in a field and don't notice it." She finds the colour purple so beautiful that it represents her entire philosophy of life. She talks to Celie openly about this, and she refers to this beauty as 'God', although Celie is dubious of the idea of God as part of the book is written as letters from her to God, yet her life has not improved ("What God do for me? I ast."). Shug teaches Celie to celebrate life through love and appreciation of beautiful things: "Here's the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God... God love all them feelings. That's some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves 'em you enjoys 'em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that's going, and praise God by liking what you like."
Sofia is another strong black woman in the book, though not in the same way that Shug is. She is a different kind of woman entirely- dark skinned, foul-mouthed, with a heavy temper and a strong fist that she is not afraid to use. She has a large family, however her husband Harpo is constantly being bated by his father (Pa) to put her in her place. Sofia says, "I loves Harpo, God knows I do. But I'll kill him dead 'fo I let him beat me." Her life has been a hard one too- "All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my uncles. I had to fight my brothers. A girl child ain't safe in a family of men"- and life becomes harder for her in the book. Walker makes a poignant point about power and independence in A Colour Purple, specifically for black women living in the American South, in the following exchange:
Albert: "Sofia and Shug not like men, he say, but they not like women either."
Celie: "You mean they not like you or me."
Albert: "They hold they own... And it's different."
Celie's empowerment comes from her opening to love and self-acceptance, including sexual experiences, which perhaps help her to overcome the abuse she experienced as a child. Again, this comes from Shug's teachings:
Shug: "You never enjoy it at all? she ast, puzzle. Not even with your children daddy?"
Celie: "Never, I say."
Shug: "Why Miss Celie, she say, you still a virgin."
Above all, though, Celie is strengthened by the realisation that she has found her own independence and made peace with herself, or with God. We see this happen when she finally stands up to Albert, and also in the changes his characters goes through after that.
This is a moving and feel-good book, though it does cover some heavy issues. Celie's journey is one of growth and self-discovery, of finding one's own voice and also of overcoming patterns of destructive behaviour that are usually passed down through generations of families. We realise that Celie has broken this cycle when Albert stands up to his own abusive and sexist father.
I thought the end of the novel was incredibly satisfying, and I felt good after reading it. Although tragic events occur throughout the book, in the end Celie is empowered and speaks her mind in order to say exactly what needs to be said. The reader feels a kind of justice at this. Even Sofia is empowered by Celie at this point: "I know what it like, Ms. Celie, to wanna go somewhere and cain't. I know what it like to wanna sing... and have it beat outch'ya. I want to thank you, Miss Celie, 'fo everything you done for me."
I found the book easy to read, though it is written is the dialect of the American South, so some readers might potentially struggle with that. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes depth in a novel and also beauty. Walker has a beautiful writing style and a sense of place really stood out to me as I read the book. If you like books with happy endings but also with depth, then this is the perfect read.
My 72 year old mother recommended this book to me a few months ago and while usually our taste of books is very different on this occasion she was actually right.
The story starts out with a girl called Celie writing a letter to God, the basis of the entire book is her writing letters to God and to her sister Nettie. The young girl leads quite a terrible life, pretty much no education, a father who rapes her and a life of continual cleaning and cooking. When she is married off to an older man her life continues on the path she has always known she would have. However meeting a woman called Shug allows Celie to experience a life she never knew was possible.
The color Purple is an inspiring story about life and hope. Celie allows the reader to understand how life can sometimes change if only you would let it. The characters are quite diverse with Mr, Sophia, Shug and Nettie all contributing to how Celie views the world.
The language at the start of the novel is sometimes hard to read as it is written in the form of someone who doesn't understand proper grammar. This may deter people from reading the rest of the book, my daughter struggled to get past the language at the beginning. However if you persevere you will find a story of love which I thought was absolutely amazing and would recommend to anyone who needs an inspiring story.
I'm not at all sure why I decided to read this book, and having read the blurb on the back cover, as well as the first couple of pages of the book, I was expecting this to be a horribly depressing story of child abuse and the oppression of a black, uneducated woman. However- yes, there is a 'however', don't worry!- I persevered and was glad I had, as this is a cleverly written and ultimately uplifting story of an unlikely heroine.
As mentioned, Celie, our protagonist, has a horrible upbringing and is then married off to a man she doesn't love, who beats her and treats her like she was nothing. Thanks to a woman named Shug Avery, who comes to live at the house for a time with them, however, Celie gradually learns that the way out of her situation is to begin to respect herself, even if those around her treat her as if she's worthless. This is because a friendship gradually develops between the two women, and Celie begins to learn that she is actually a loveable person.
Aside from this overall story, this is also an interesting study of black Americans in the Deep South after the abolition of slavery, but before they had been granted anything resembling equal rights with white Americans. It also exemplifies the importance of education for black Americans learning of their heritage at the time- the author, Alice Walker, cleverly contrasts Celie's life with that of her sister, Nettie. Nettie is a well-educated and determined woman who travels to Africa as a missionary and learns of the origins of slavery and how different African culture is, which she then explains to Celie in a series of letters. This gradually opens Celie's mind to a world outside the confines of her own four walls.
What I admired most about this story, apart from the excellent character portrayal, was the way in which the author switches effortlessly between the patois of the Deep South which she uses to represent Celie's speech, and the more standard use of English representing Nettie's. Everything is told in the first person, mainly by Celie in a series of letters she starts off addressing to God but gradually changes to addressing her sister. Everything is related as if Celie is speaking to us, and the use of patois in her writing allows her character to really take shape for us.
I am not surprised that this novel won the Pulitzer Prize- it is well deserved.
Reading through the independants list of books you should read before you die i came across the colur purple. Having hardly any idea of the book i was about to read i settled into a warm bubble bath and began. Immedaiatly i was shocked at the graphic descriptions of what the main charector Celie endures, Raped by her Pa, bearing two children who are snatched and sold, forced into marriage at a young age and potentially losing contact with her sister Nettie for life.
This book is told through a series of letters first to God and then to the sister you longs to see and desperatly believes is alive. After suffereing at the hand of her husband and his children, celie is run down and not exactly living life. that is until she meets the glamourous Shug Avery who transforms her mentality and outlook on life encourgaing her to live.
Set in the deep south this book shows a marvellous struggle faced by the black women of a particular family and how the triumph over the people that seek to keep them down. It also reflects the naivety that they felt and the unknowing of their heritage. this is reflected also in the African colonies gradually being taken over by the 'white man.'
This is an important book and a good read i couldn't put it down in fact i needed to know the outcome how life will always turn out good in the end. I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in what makes a true heroine. complete with strong charectors and lots of heartache and fun this book makes its mark as a modern classic.
"Dear God" writes Celie.
After all there is nobody else who could possibly understand....
Celie is a uneducated black women living in rural Georgia. Prejudiced for her gender and for her skin colour, her life has always been a battle....
The story starts with Celie's rape by her father, Alphonso, when she is just 14 years old. This dramatic and shocking first scene sucked me into the story and had me hooked frompage one. Celie falls pregnant. She tells her mother she has a secret boyfriend. She has a baby girl and then later a boy, also a result of abuse at the hands of her father. She keeps the abuse secret from everyone but her sister. One night Alphoso steals her babies. He takes them to a new home and Celie is eternally heartbroken. She never forgives him.
After her mother's death, when Celie is still young, she is packed off to a husband she doesn't know and doesn't love. Her Husband, referred to simply as Mr_______ throughout, beats her and resents her because she isn't the women he loves....
In her letters to God Celie describes her relationship as a daughter, a mother, a sister, a wife, a friend and a lover. The essence of this book is the life of a women. The Color Purple is a book aimed for women at a time of great injustice to the women of the world and it deals with many sensitive issues.
The main characters are:
Celie's sister Nettie, runs away from Alphonso after Celie is married. She becomes a missionary teacher in Africa. Celie does not hear from Nettie for years and presumes her dead. But in fact her husband has been hiding Nettie's letters for years. Celie finds the letters in a trunk and reads about her home country of Africa, a place she has never even heard of, of her people and culture and her sister's new life.
Celies husband initially wished to marry her sister Nettie. When Alphonso would not let him he took Celie instead. He sits on the porch all day while Celie tends the fields, he beats her and resents her and they are not happy together.
A Blues singer who becomes Celies best friend and lover. Complicated by the fact that her husband Mr. ______ is also in love with her. Shug lives with Celie and Mr_______ during a period of misfortune and becomes Celie's salvation. They have a special relationship but Celie is more attached to the spontaneous and vibrant Shug than vice-versa.
About half way through The Color Purple the narrative changes when Celie finds Nettie's letters, hidden in a trunk. Celie stops writing to God and starts to write to Nettie. The realisation that her sister is alive fills her with hope, yet her hatred for her husband's spite fills her with hatred.
Nettie's letters detail her life in Africa and they compose a significant part of the book, adding a unique ethnic slant and an insight into a culture which is so alien to Celie, a World she did not even know existed, yet one that fascinates her so. Nettie sails to Africa and finds her homeland, her people from which her ancestors were so brutally torn generations ago. But as an America they reject her anyway and her life as a missionary is not all plain sailing.
Alice Walker's The Color Purple was published in 1982. It won the Pullitzer Prize in 1983 and inspired the Color Purple Foundation (created by Alice Walker's sister Ruth) to promote charitable work in the field of education. The book is commonly seen on GCSE and A-Level English Literature syllabus and is regarded as a 'classic'. It really is a must read book. It deals with rape, incest, marital violence, sexism, birth, death, prison, homosexuality, abuse, religion, separation, love, lust, hate, fear, female circumcision, racism, culture, sex, deception, betrayal and lies. It is ambitious and it works. This book stirred my heart, shocked me and enthralled me. I couldn't put it down and it deserves all the praise in the world.
The Color Purple is suitable for all adults and it is bound to appeal to women in particular. It isn't suitable for children because of some of the sensitive issues which are raised and in addition some of the language is graphic, containing sexual reference and swearing.
Addmitedly to start off with the language can be quite hard going. Celie is an uneducated women and the book is written to represent this; using the phonetic spelling of words and inconsistent grammar throughout. However, as you read, the style becomes easier to understand. In fact I really enjoyed reading in this style as it is a little different and I think it helps the reader to connect with and understand Celie and her way of life.
Of course there is a twist, but you will have to read the book yourself to find out. But I can reveal that thankfully for Celie, a women who has been through so much pain and anguish, there is a happy ending.... I insist that you read it for yourself and see! You won't regret it.
The Color Purple is retailed at £5.99 but can of course be purchased on Amazon or ebay for much cheaper. I give it my complete reccomendation! I loved it!
The Colour Purple is a provocative innovative tale of hope and struggle. It shall have the harshest of characters, bent at the mercy of their hearts. When reading the Colour Purple it is apparent that the novel was meant to enthusiast and excite emotions deep inside the reader. As a consequence I found myself sheering from the novel because of its powerful imagery and context but also being drawn strangely closer to its marvellous read. Celie is the main character to which the novel is built upon. She is a black woman who is without a voice not just in society because of her race but also in her home and those that frequent her. She is obedient to all persons. Her sexually abusive father, her husband stricken with anger, and even the mistress to her husband, Shug Avery. When Celie finds a picture of Shug, she is overcome with the emotion of curiosity and awe. There is such a great contrast between herself and this wonderful mistress of her husband. Shug is overt and very unconventional. She speaks her mind and commands respect with her dashing beauty and good manners whereas Celie is nothing of the above and less; she never speaks her mind and instead is a puppet to the reign of others. Alice Walker has a brilliant talent for making Celie come alive and those around her. When reading The Colour Purple, I found my self almost drowned in the realism of the different characters. They feel like they have been based on close elatives or someone that Alice Walker knows very well. During the read the reader shall become aware of the different characters motives for doing certain things, you shall realise how different minds think and operate. For me this was the most powerful aspect of the novel. Discovery more than a plot but more of an understanding. Being able to appreciate, Celie's provocative situation and why she accepted the injustices that were laden upon her. The essence of the plot is compelling but prec
isely simple; and this is for a particular effect. Celie after marrying her abusive husband has lost all contact from her immediate family and more importantly Nettie. Nettie is her sister; she represents the hope that Celie so desperately needs. As children they were best friends, but Celie's husband was jealous of their unique relationship and restricted all communication between the two. Now in the darkness of her life, when she needs the light of Nettie ever so more, she cannot see her. Fearing the worst, Celie is driven to emotional madness with worry for her distant sister. When reading The Colour Purple, one cannot help but feel that deep feeling inside of despair. I'm not saying that tears are shed, but instead the calm before the storm. The sensation you get just before crying, this is the genius of Alice Walker. The rhythm of the language is done to elevate the techniques used by Alice Walker. The dialect is written in Southern African American, so initially it is confusing but as with all good dialect books, the reader adopts the dialect and starts to understand it more and more; this inevitably makes the novel more realistic and the reader can imagine themselves hiding in the corner of the room as Celie's husband frustration echo to a supernova of violence. The Colour Purple is written in such a fashion as a letter. At the early progression of the novel, Celie addresses God, this is the element and representation of hope that she has been brought up to identify with, but as Celie sinks deeper into a coma of anxiety and sadness we see her turning to the frail, distant hope of her sister Nettie. She writes beautifully of her daily escapes in scenes that will shock and electrify. The Colour Purple is undoubtedly an inspirational novel. That is what it is about. But also with the need for inspiration and hope there is consequently despair and darkness, which sets the tones for them. The Colour Purple is a book of emoti
ons. Not used to being emotionally manipulated, I initially found it difficult to anticipate the excellence of The Colour Purple. I discarded it as "corny", but in actual fact it is a look at the horrors of American History beautifully noted in a captivating novel. Have you ever wondered why people go to church? Or why criminals pray before their death sentence? It is because in all of us we have a need for unbridled hope. We live for the feeling of security and safety. Alice Walker shows just that; the representation of the traumatized and dramatic Celie is the stifling and mesmerizing technique that she adopts.
Possibly it's because I'm a woman, possibly it's because I've found a novel which is refreshingly different, but I found something in Alice Walker's novel 'The Color Purple' nothing less that inspirational. Set in black America of the early 20th century, 'The Color Purple' traces the life of a repressed young girl, who is not only supressed by a racist state, but also by the men in her own community. The book is in a diary form, which can take some getting used to, as Celie, the main character, is largely uneducated, and spells words as they sound to her: 'pore' for 'poor', 'set' for 'sit' etc. Most of the diary is made up of prayers to God, who, at the beginning of the novel is her last remaining hope. As the novel opens, we hear the atrocities that Celie has been put through by the time she is fourteen: raped by the person she calls her father, her mother has died ad she's been sold into marriage with no choice. Her new husband uses her as a slave, and separates her from her sister, who is her only friend. The story is an optimistic one, however, where Celie's courage grows as she gets to know her husband's glamourous mistress, and explores her own sexuality. I do think this book sometimes lacks in organisation, and some of the plot is a little too 'convenient'. However, altogether it is an inspirational, feminist novel. About time too!
A friend recommended ‘The Color Purple’ to me. I hadn’t read anything by Alice Walker in the past so it was something different for me. ‘The Color Purple’ is seen as a best-selling modern classic. It won the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. It has caused a fair bit of controversy due to the strong views it contains. The main character is Celie who is a black American woman. At the beginning of the novel she is fourteen. Her mother is mentally disturbed and her second husband is called Alphonso. Celie has a younger sister Nettie and several smaller siblings. When things start going wrong for Celie she begins writing letters to God explaining her feelings and asking for guidance. In this book there are fifty-one letters like these to God from Celie spanning a period of over thirty years. It deals with lesbian relationships too. The plot of this book is very clever and you get so involved in the characters that you don’t try to guess what is going to happen next. I don’t want to give any of the plots away so I’ll discuss the main character and what I feel about the book instead. Celie obviously is the central character. It is through her that we view the world. Early on you empathise with her and feel angry for her when things go wrong. She goes through a lot emotionally in this book and you feel like you’re with her every step of the way. Celie seems to spend her adult life trying to get to grips with and forgetting experiences in her early life. Celie’s narration is both vivid, intimate and at times dramatic. She does miss out words at times and we get used to her ‘style’ and language. The novel deals with a range of issues here are some of the more important ones: Religion ~~~~~~~ This is obvious as the letters that Celie writes are to God. Also the novel deals with Celie’s faith crisis and how her beliefs cha
nge due to her experiences in life. The religious issues are linked the male superiority as many imagine God to be a man. Celie finally comes to a conclusion about her beliefs at the end of the novel. Violence ~~~~~~~ There are many references to violence in this book, however Walker manages to avoid it dominating the story. This results in the novel being realistic and we still sympathise with the characters. The novel is more about emotion than ‘action’ and violence. Slavery and male dominance ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ The novel touches on the fact that men are unable to see women as equals in keeping with the past slave-owning beliefs. Slavery was terminated in the States in 1865 but the effects of it continued. Degrading terms from the slavery era like ‘girl’ and ‘boy’ are used often in the novel. This novel is a bittersweet tender journey of Celie’s life (well most of it anyway). If you are interested in Black American novels or feminism then you should read this book. Also if you liked the film, then you'll love this book.
For those of you who have seen and liked the Steven Spielberg film version, go out, buy the book, and READ IT!!! I read this book first when I was about 13, and loved it...the characterisation and the style in which it is written is great, and involves the reader immediately. The story itself is very moving, and you immediately empathize with the main characters. The skill in which it is written is evident in that even Mister gains the reader's empathy towards the end. The letter format give the reader a direct insight into the mind of Celie - we have a direct link to her consciousness, and often the workings of her unconscious mind. Through her we live the abuse that is inflicted on her by people she should be able to trust. Even those that treat her with compassion turn on her, and make her life a living hell. However, Celie is strong, and she refuses to let life bring her to her knees, although there are times when she comes close. This is a tale that celebrates women. It is the women who bring the community together, it is women who ultimately have control over the men, and men can only try to exert their supposed control over the women through violence. Although this has the seeming effect of cowing the womenfolk, it in fact makes them stronger - it provides a bond between women, and together they are able to take on the might of the Patriarchal society and defy it. Celie is the victor in this tale - she becomes stable, and is able to laugh about the abuse inflicted on her by Mister. In the end, he goes crawling to Celie, because he cannot live without a woman to take care of him. I read this again for A levels, and again for my Degree, and I was so impressed with Alice Walker's writing that I based my dissertation on her works, including the Colour Purple. Alice Walker's The Colour Purple is an excellent and gentle introduction to the often savage world of Black American Women writers. Savage
in that they leave no holds bared in their expose of the inhumane way in which Black American Women and families have been treated as far back as the colelctive memory goes. Celie, Shug Nettie and the others are characters that really get under your skin and these charaters became real to me long before I ever saw the film version. Indeed, the film version to me only takes the most obvious parts of the story, and leaves out much of the subtle, underlying story that makes this book a modern American classic. Altogether, the Colour Purple is an excellent piece of writing in it's own right, but it is also an excellent introduction to the amazing world of Alice Walker, and the world in which her characters live.
In Brief: Written in diary form, ‘The Color Purple’ follows the life of Celie. Abused by her stepfather and forced to give up the children that ensue, Celie relays her relationship with her sister, her husband and Shug, her husband’s mistress. DIARY FORM: One of the most notable aspects of The Color Purple is its form. It begins with a letter addressed from Celie to God: Dear God, I am fourteen years old. I am I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me. This indicates to the reader whose personal viewpoint the story is told from, and suggests that in her innocence she is confused about her life. Celie begins to write in response to her stepfather’s threat, “You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy”; therefore, she is reacting against the authority of men. Celie tells God what happened and refuses to become ‘a voiceless victim’. The letters allow her to make sense of the traumatic experiences and develop a response against them. RELIGION: Originally Celie’s intended audience is a white, male God who does not listen to her prayers, and her letters remain anonymous. Her image of God is ‘big and old and tall and graybearded and white.’ Whenever Celie is depressed by Mr. – ‘s cruel treatment, she alleviates her suffering by thinking about the ‘Old Maker’ and how ‘Heaven last all ways.’ Celie highlights the saving power of religion when she hopes that God and his angels would come down ‘by chariot, swinging down real low and carrying ole Sofia home.’ However, when Celie realises that God does not listen to her prayers she revises her notions about religion and begins to address her letters to Nettie. By signing her letters, Celie proves that she has found her identity. Celie explains that she stopped writing to God
because he gave her ‘a lynched daddy, a crazy mama, a lowdown dog of a step pa and a sister [she] probably won’t ever see again.’ Celie distrusts a white male God because he does not listen to ‘poor colored women.’ Shug tells Celie that ‘God is inside you and inside everyone else.’ If Celie looks for God in a white church or a white written Bible it is inevitable that she will encounter a white God, therefore she must look at her immediate environment for guidance. At the end of The Colour Purple, Celie thanks God, the stars, the trees, the sky and people for Nettie’s safe return, showing how she has put her new belief of God into practice. While Celie revises her belief in a white God, she also retains a belief in the teachings of the Bible. When Celie has a strong urge to kill Mr. – for hiding Nettie’s letters, Shug reminds Celie of Christ’s teaching ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill’. Deep-rooted beliefs can not easily be altered, but Celie’s accommodation of traditional and natural religion reflects the elements of her personality. BEAUTY: Celie becomes aware of her own beauty through her relationship with Shug. Shug initially judges Celie on her appearance, saying ‘You sure is ugly’. In comparison, Celie admires Shug’s body for its beauty. Although Celie is confused by Shug’s beauty, which makes her feel like she has ‘turned into a man’, Shug teaches Celie to appreciate her own body. Celie’s recognition of her own beauty ‘is the first step towards [her] independence and self-acceptance.’ Through Shug’s compliments of Celie’s body she begins to love herself. However, when Shug leaves her for Germaine, Celie begins to doubt her beauty, saying ‘Nothing special here for nobody to love’. The rejection temporarily diminishes her self-confidence, but her faith in her heart keeps Celie alive. LONELI
NESS: Celie’s original loneliness in The Color Purple is emphasised in her letters to God. Separated from her sister, Nettie, Celie has no one else to express her feelings to other than God. However, Celie’s loneliness disappears when she engages in a friendship with Shug, bonds with Sofia and writes her letters to Nettie instead of God. Shug understands Celie’s loneliness because her ‘inability to stay with one man is a tale of loneliness’, and Sofia understands Celie’s struggle to survive. The tale of Sofia’s Amazon-like sisters not only emphasises the importance of female bonding, but also highlights the potential power of women. Celie begins to feel that Shug and Sofia are like her sisters, but their presence cannot remove the pain of Nettie’s absence. When Celie thinks about Nettie a sharp pain runs through her and the thought of seeing Nettie ‘seem too sweet to bear.’ Later, when Celie reads Nettie’s letters she is relieved to read that Nettie misses her as much. Although Nettie is with Celie’s children, Adam and Olivia, and their guardians, Samuel and Corrine, she experiences very few bonds with other women her own age. Nettie tells Celie that she has ‘hardly anybody to talk to, just in friendship.’ SEXUAL RELATIONSHIPS: Celie’s rape by her stepfather, Alphonso, and his subsequent threat not to tell anyone causes her isolation. What makes the rape worse for Celie is that until many years later, until Nettie writes to Celie, she believes that Alphonso is her real father. Celie’s subsequent marriage to Mr. – does not ease her isolation for she is again used for unemotional sex. Celie responds to this sex by ‘making herself wood... not responding to either abuse or sexual intercourse.’ Celie can only cope with the unpleasantness by blocking it out. Rape is also portrayed as a positive force in The Color Purple be
cause Celie ‘accedes to the violation of her body in order to protect her sister Nettie from the sexual advances of their stepfather’. Squeak (Mary Agnes) also uses her body to help free Sofia from jail. Squeak sacrifices her body in order to improve Sofia’s circumstances although Sofia knocked her teeth out. This rape of a black woman by a white man is shown as a positive force because ‘even though it acts to reinforce sexist domination of females and racist exploitation’, it is also ‘a catalyst for positive change’. Not only does the act free Sofia; it also affirms Squeak’s identity as Mary Agnes. When Harpo says ‘I love you, Squeak’ she stands up for her own identity by replying ‘My name Mary Agnes’. Celie only comes to know about the pleasure of sex when she has a sexual relationship with Shug. Shug encourages Celie’s self-appreciation by complimenting her body, saying ‘you look so cute’. While Celie helps to nurse Shug back to health, Shug teaches Celie to love her own body and ‘to follow the intuition of her mind.’ However, Celie’s first experience of love and sexual pleasure is accompanied with her first feelings of rejection. Celie cringes with jealousy, covering her head with a quilt, when she hears Albert and Shug together. When Shug leaves her and marries Grady, Celie instantly dislikes him no matter how hard she tries not to. Celie is able to confide in Shug about the pain and surprise of her ‘father’s’ rape because of the intimacy they share. This confidence leads Shug and Celie to enjoy each other’s bodies for security. Celie feels that sleeping with Shug is like ‘heaven... not like sleeping with Mr. – at all.’ RACIAL DISCRIMINATION: Celie herself is for the most part isolated from racial discrimination, but she is an onlooker of the racial discrimination that Sofia is subjected to
. When Sofia refuses to be maid for the mayor’s wife, the mayor slaps her. As she has been conditioned to whilst growing up in the presence of men, Sofia fights back. It takes several men to beat Sofia so severely that she is silenced. Celie is horrified when she sees Sofia because her skull and ribs are cracked, her nose is torn ‘loose on one side’ and they ‘blind her in one eye.’ In response to the whites’ brutal racism Sofia develops an urge to kill all whites, asking Celie ‘Why we ain’t already kill them off.’ Celie also hears about the rape of Squeak by her white uncle. Although Squeak, or Mary Agnes, does confirm her identity because of this traumatic incident, her return home is a pitiful sight. Celie describes how ‘Poor little Squeak come home with a limp. Her dress rip. Her hat missing and one of the heels come off her shoe.’ What is most tragic about Mary Agnes’s rape is that her uncle justifies his rape of her because of their family ties. His shame and disgust at having black relatives is taken out in his violent rape of Mary Agnes. Nettie’s letters to Celie depict the widespread racism of whites that permeates even the Olinkan society, and the sharp contrast between the life of blacks in New York and the life of blacks in the South. Whereas blacks in the Southern states have to endure segregation, Nettie witnesses wealthy blacks in New York, who ‘own a whole section of it, called Harlem.’ Nettie also emphasises the whites’ attitude towards missionary work in Africa, which they regard as a ‘duty’. In comparison, the American blacks and Africans are ‘working for a common goal: the uplift of black people everywhere.’ Whereas the whites from America and England go to Africa to feel charitable, the blacks actually care about the future of Africa. Once she reaches Africa, Nettie witnesses the positive culture of
the African nations as well as the invasion of the whites, which strip the Olinka of their land in order to build roads to aid their commerce. In Monrovia, Nettie witnesses the exploitation of blacks by those with lighter skin. When the roadbuilders reach Olinka, the Olinkan people offer them hospitality by feeding them, but the builders repay them by stealing their land, which now belonged to a rubber manufacturer in England. Not only do the builders demolish the village; they also begin to charge the Olinka rent for the remaining land. COMMUNITY/ FAMILY RELATIONSHIPS: The Color Purple promotes a different kind of family network with its emphasise on an extended family where the men are feminised so that they no longer prove a threat. Albert who ‘has always enjoyed sewing’ stitches pants and shirts with Celie, and Harpo ‘works at his favourite activity, cooking.’ Quilting in The Color Purple functions ‘as a way of creating female community’. Celie and Sofia establish a bond through ‘the folk arts of the dozens and quilt-making.’ Celie’s community is contrasted with the Olinka community, who also makes quilts as a means of bonding. Similar to Celie’s subordination to men, Nettie learns about ‘scarification and clitoridectomy, rituals of female mutilation in a patriarchal society.’ In Olinka, the men do not want their women to have an education or independence because they want the women to take their orders. The subjugation of women in Olinka reminds Nettie ‘too much of Pa.’ However, like the female bonding between Celie and Shug, Nettie discovers in Africa ‘the value of female bonding’. The women who often share husbands ‘are friends and will do anything for one another’, sharing both gossip and everyday chores. The ideal community is created when the two previous communities are merged at the end of The Color Purple. The add
ition of Nettie, Olivia, Adam and Tashi compliments the existing family network. Along with Celie’s new companionship with Albert, who is feminised by his enjoyment of sewing with Celie, Celie welcomes the new part of her family. It is ironic that on July 4th, American Independence Day, the African Americans ‘spend the day celebrating each other’, and their independence from white people. Bibliography * Bloom, Harold, ed. Alice Walker New York and Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 1989. - Keith Byerman, "Walker's Blues" in Bloom, (ed.) Alice Walker - Barbara Christian, "The Black Woman Artist as Wayward" in Bloom, (ed.) Alice Walker - Henderson, "The Color Purple: Revisions and redefinitions" in Bloom, (ed.) Alice Walker - Hooks, Bell "Writing the Subject: Reading The Color Purple", in Bloom, (ed.) Alice Walker - McDowell, " "The Changing Same": Generational Connections and Black Women Novelists" in Bloom (ed), Alice Walker - Susan Willis, "Walker's Women" in Bloom, (ed.) Alice Walker * Walker, Alice The Color Purple London: The Women’s Press, 1997. * Karla Holloway, "The Legacy of Voice: Toni Morrison's Reclamation of Things Past" in Holloway and Demetrakopoulos, New Dimensions of Spirituality. * Alice Walker, "Alice Walker Quotations", http://www.tiac.net/users/write/walker/walker.htm. [27 February 1999] Adapted from my BA dissertation
Alice Walker's The Color Purple is an excellent novel whcih brings to light the life of many impoverished African-American Women in the first half of the 20th century. Although hard to stomach with such graphic terms, it gives quite an accurate depiction of the black woman through the main character Celie's letters to God and her sister Nettie. The plot encompasses almost Celie's entire life and brings the reader into her heart through her southern dialect and heartfelt wishes and desires. I found this novel interesting, informative, and eye-opening, a definate recommended reed for anyone with compassion in their heart.
Alice Walker won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 for The Color Purple, and it was richly deserved. This book makes you feel angry, sad, proud, and makes you laugh while you read it. By the end of the book you don't feel sorry for Celie, you feel proud of her. The basic plot: Celie is a child when the book begins, and it is in the form of letters to God and to her sister Nettie. Her sister Nettie's letters later in the book tell how hard life is for Celie: she cannot talk to God becuse she is ashamed of her life, and must write instead. Celie is ashamed because her "father", who turns out not to be her real father, is raping her. Through her letters we learn how Celie makes her way through her life uncomplaining in spite of hardship and oppression, and of the relationships she makes with other women, such as Shug Avery, her husbands glamourous nightclub singer mistress, and Sofia, her "daughter-in-law", who is strong and outspoken, but who gets punished for it. Celie is even robbed of her children, who are stolen from her and sold by her "father". By the end of the book Celie has come to some kind of peace within herself. This is the only book that makes me cry when I read the opening sentence: "You better not never tell nobody but God. It'd kill your mammy." Celie is an extraordinary character, revealed through her own writing, and growing as a person as she writes about her life. This book is not to be missed, and is a deeply rewarding experience for those fortunate enough to read it. Following is a critique of The Color Purple, focussing on the use of letters as a device to tell the stories of black American women. Throughout the text of The Color Purple runs a sense of history. This is a connecting thread which links the characters’ personal history with that of their African ancestors, and, by implication, the white American characters wi
th their European ancestors. The personal history of the characters informs their actions, and forms links through the different episodes that Celie and Nettie describe in their letters. Walker uses the form of letter or journal writing in The Color Purple as a way of both encoding black American women’s experience and history as an oppressed group (1), and of demonstrating a historical link with Afro-American literary history. With virtually all forms of public expression denied to them, Afro-American women were effectively silent or absent in history (2). It was only later, with the incorporation of social history into respectable academic research, and with the elevation and placing of financial value onto folk-art forms, such as sewing, in the 1970’s, that Afro-American women were allowed a place in the history of their country. The letter or journal format that Walker uses for her narrative is a continuation of the tradition of slave narratives. Gates states that these early manifestations of Afro-American writing formed a double-voiced discourse, “…making the white written text speak with a black voice…”(Gates, 1988, p.131). This can be readily applied to Walker’s text, with Celie’s limited yet constantly developing language vividly conveying her transforming personality as she grows older and matures during the book. The patterns that the different episodes recounted by the two different sisters reveal when viewed together as a whole create a united form like a patchwork quilt, a common metaphor in American women’s writing (Showalter, 1994, p.162). Showalter notes that for Alice Walker: “…piecing and quilting have come to represent both the aesthetic heritage of Afro-American women, and the model for what she calls a ‘womanist’, or black feminist, writing of reconciliation and connection.” (Showalter, 1994, p.163). This essa
y will examine Walker’s interest in history in The Color Purple with explicit reference to the double-voiced discourse of the talking book. In particular the ways in which Walker highlights the fragmentary and disjointed nature of American history will be explored, together with the quilt metaphor as described by Showalter. The point of focus that Walker uses in The Color Purple is mainly on her narrator Celie. Celie spends the novel trying to make sense of her life, and of her own personal history, through her monologues. By writing her letters to God, and later, to Nettie, Celie pieces together scraps of information and incidents to form a cohesive whole, and eventually finds a deep sense of inner peace, and an understanding of her own value. Walker’s choice of the fragmentary and cumulative form of expression of the journal entry or letter for Celie reflects the confusion Celie feels about her life, and her eventual enlightenment as she matures and progresses through her life. Walker has chosen her form with care. Gates’ “double-voiced discourse” is clearly in action in The Color Purple. The journal or letter form is explicitly Celie’s voice, and is not affected by being aimed at a judgmental reader, as is revealed by Nettie’s letter halfway through the book: “I remember one time you said your life made you feel so ashamed you couldn’t even talk about it to God, you had to write it, bad as you thought your writing was.” (TCP, p.110) Celie takes on ownership of her words, by writing them in her own vernacular style. This is at odds with the historical tradition of literature, owned by a privileged white minority. The withholding of Celie’s letters from Nettie by Mr._____ can be seen as another aspect of Celie’s disenfranchisement from written language. Before she was married to Mr._____, the man she thought was her father stopped her going to schoo
l. Celie and Nettie felt that learning was more important than ever, because “us know we got to be smart to git away.”(TCP, p.11). This reflects the tradition of learning as an escape from oppression, and conversely, of denial of access to education as a tool of oppression. Towards the end of the novel, there is an episode that reflects the idea that spoken language also belongs to white Americans, rather than to black Americans. Celie relates how Darlene tries to teach her to talk in a “proper” privileged way: “You say us where most folks say WE, she say, and peoples think you dumb. Colored peoples think you a hick and white folks be amuse.” (TCP, p.183) Celie’s reaction to this is blunt: “Look like to me only a fool would want you talk in a way that feel peculiar to your mind.” (TCP, p.184). By giving Celie these words, Walker is stating the case for the double-voiced discourse described by Gates, and by writing The Color Purple as a continuation of the oral tradition of the slave narratives, she is both giving the novel a mark of authenticity, and giving Celie her own voice. Thus in essence the voices of Afro-American women are accorded an equal status with the privileged voice of the educated white American that is the norm in American literature. Walker also uses a motif from the traditions of pre-Civil War women’s fiction, linking her writing again to historical American literary texts. Showalter states that for the women writers of this time: “Their most intense representation of female sexuality in these texts was not in terms of heterosexual romance, but rather the holding or suckling of a baby…” (Showalter, 1994, p.14) When Celie has her first sexual encounter with Shug, she describes the experience in the same terms: “Then I feel something real soft and wet on my breast, feel like one of my little lost
babies mouth.” TCP, p. 97. which, together with the double-voiced discourse that Walker’s novel form is part of, has the effect of adding to the authenticity of the text as part of the literary history of Afro-American women. Walker uses these traditions of Afro-American, and American women’s writing in order to give her text authenticity, and a place in a historical continuum which stems from the oral traditions of the slave narratives. By giving Celie her own, authentic historically grounded voice, speaking the white text with her own voice, Walker is free to create Celie as the object of her text, rather than its subject: "…the most silenced and abused voice in American literature, that of a poor, black, ugly, uneducated, beaten-down woman speaks, with no authorial interference whatsoever. Everything is seen through Celie’s eyes and depicted in her own language." (Russell, 1990, p.130) It is not until Celie has found a connection with other apparently stronger women like Shug and Sofia, that Walker introduces Nettie’s letters. By this point, Celie is very different from the abused fourteen-year-old at the start of the novel, and is able to use Nettie’s letters as a catalyst, or springboard to self-actualisation. Nettie’s letters serve the function of an exploration of the historical foundations of the novel, both elucidating and explaining the two sisters personal history, and examining the colonial roots of the oppression that that personal history ultimately stems from. Nettie acts as a messenger from the past, as well as (with Celie’s children) the only physical link with Celie’s personal family history. There is also a connection to other oppressed American groups, when Nettie describes how those Cherokee Indians from Georgia who resisted resettlement “…hid out as coloured people and eventually blended with us.” (TCP, p.199).
This history lesson from Nettie, herself writing not to Celie in reality, having no hope of her letters ever reaching her sister, but because “,,,when I don’t write to you I feel as bad as I do when I don’t pray…” (TCP, p.110), is a way of Nettie feeling connected, and less alone. In the chapter “The Silenced Speak”, from Render Me My Song, Russell, like Showalter, uses the patchwork quilt as a metaphor in order to describe the Afro-American woman’s close historical involvement with the creation of order from chaos: "It constitutes survival strategy and motion in the face of dispersal. A patchwork quilt, laboriously and affectionately crafted from bits of worn overalls, shredded uniforms, tattered petticoats, and outgrown dresses stands as a signal instance of a patterned wholeness in the African Diaspora." (Russell, 1990, p.124) Afro-American women have a further distance from their history with their separation from their families, and from each other through marriage. For women, marriage represents a break from the continuity of the family, and a move to something new and strange that they must learn to understand by experience. Walker uses sewing as a device on the novel to reconcile characters to one another: Sofia and Celie piece quilts together. Sofia brings back the curtains that Celie made for her home with Harpo, as a symbol of her rejection of Celie after she had told Harpo to beat her to make her mind him. After Sofia and Celie have exchanged a little of their personal family histories, and found some common ground, Sofia seals their reconciliation: "Let’s make quilt pieces out of these messed up curtains, she say. And I run git my pattern book." (TCP, p.39) Sofia and Celie work on their first quilt together, both physically and spiritually separated from their families by their marriages, and thus from their historie
s. Sofia has much further to travel than Celie in order to make the transition from her family to Harpo’s. It is significant that Sofia has a personal history that ill-suits her for joining Harpo’s family, with its hierarchical rule by domination and violence. Her family is characterised by her five strong sisters who stick together. Celie comes from a fragmented and violent family, which has prepared her for her married life with Mr._____. Walker makes the dynamics of Celie’s family symbolic of American history, in particular the history of Afro-Americans. Walker uses sewing again to show the growing bond between Celie and Shug: “I hand her the square I’m working on, start another one.” (TCP, p.51). As noted above, sewing and similar household tasks were the only avenues of self-expression open to many Afro-American women. The patchwork quilt is also, as Russell notes, a strong metaphor for the tradition of dispersal and for the harsh economic conditions that Afro-Americans have endured and survived historically, transformed by Afro-American women into a whole fabric in order to survive, as Celie survives. NOTES (1) Afro-American women were affected both by “The colonial oppression of slavery and displacement from Africa (and)…by the more ancient subjugation of women by men.” (Wisker, 1993, p.70). (2) This was true for Afro-American men as well. In The Signifying Monkey Gates states that “Black people…had to represent themselves as “speaking subjects” before they could even begin to destroy their status as objects, as commodities, within Western culture.” (Gates, 1988, p.129). Historically there was a deep-seated connection between the perception of humanity in Africans and their command or otherwise of literature in the eyes of Europeans. If Africans were proven to have a command of literature, and thus were perceived as being
related in their nature to the Europeans, then slavery could not be justified as an inevitable consequence of nature. (Ibid., p.129). BIBLIOGRAPHY PRIMARY SOURCE Walker, A, (1983), The Color Purple, The Women’s Press, London. SECONDARY SOURCES Gates Jr., H L, (1988), The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism, Oxford University Press, New York. Hogue, W L, (1986), Discourse and the Other: The Production of the Afro-American Text, Duke University Press, Durham. Kenyon, O, (1991), Writing Women: Contemporary Women Novelists, Pluto Press, London. McDowell, D E, (1995), “The Changing Same”: Black Women’s Literature, Criticism, and Theory, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis. Russell, S, (1990), Render Me My Song: African-American Women Writers from Slavery to the Present, Pandora Press, London. Showalter, E, (1994), Sister’s Choice: Tradition and Change in American Women’s Writing, Oxford University Press, Oxford. Tate, C (Ed.), (1985), Black Women Writers At Work, Oldcastle Books, Harpenden. Wall, C A (Ed.), (1990), Changing Our Own Words: Essays on Criticism, Theory, and Writing by Black Women, Routledge, London. Wisker, G (Ed.), (1993), Insights: Black Women’s Writing, The Macmillan Press, London.
Celie, abused by the man she knows as her father, forced into a marriage she doesn't want and having had her children taken away, finds an outlet through letters to God until meeting a woman who offers her greater comfort and support.