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The color purple is Alice Walker's book and it talks about trials and challenges Celie who is the main character goes through in her struggle to get united with Nettie her sister. They lived separated for quite some time but still their love was permanent and it prevailed against all odds. The story is set up in the first half of the 20th century in Macon county Georgia. A major part of the story occurs in the community of the backs but we have some parts in areas dominated by the whites. The story explores the Africa American woman's identity and how bonding with fellow women and embracing her identity affects the whole community's health (Bates, 2005, p. 24).
Alice Walker illustrates a difference between the roles of women in the black slavery and in the 20th century from the way she portrays the relationship between Albert and Celie and also through the experiences Nettie goes through in the Olinka tribe. According to Austin (1990), Celie together with other women in the story do a lot of slave-like labour that other men like Albert force them to do. Throughout the story the women have to obey whatever they are told to do by the men and whenever they deviates from this, very hash repercussions follow up (p. 67). This does not do any good to the image of the women fork. They are portrayed to be very inferior creatures who can not think on their own and therefore have to be told whatever to be done. Its like the men are the slave masters and the women are the slaves. The men are therefore considered to have an upper hand over the women.
The women of the Olinka tribe in the 20th century had the same roles as women of America in the same period no matter how special or extreme they might be. Africa is described by Miss Beasley who was Nettie's teacher as being a place full of savages with no clothes on. This statement portrays Africa as a very poor and dirty place and it foreshadows an area where people would be treated as less important. According to Hein & Korsmeyer (1993), this could be some how true because the clothes the women of the Olinka tribe put on. "Most of them looked like they were drugged down by the pigs" (p. 20). From this statement one could infer that the women in the African tribe were not cared for by their men who ideally are supposed to make sure that their wives look smart and are well dressed. It is even reveled that the women were just left at home close to the field and huts while the men went out hunting. This criticizes women as very lazy people who did not contribute to the building of the nation apart from only giving birth to babies.
The women in the Olinka society were only allowed to perform the duties they were prescribed for in their customs and nothing else. This is some form of oppression because every human being should be allowed to express themselves the way they wish as long as they don't offend anyone. The women here are like kids who can not think for themselves and therefore have to be told what to do. According to Bobo, even the young women went through a lot of painful experiences in the name of following their norms. For instance they had to receive painful markings on their faces in times of marriage. Tribal marks and scarring marks were made on their faces. They also went through initiation ceremonies which were meant to induct them into very separate societies of the women fork. It is very disturbing that the women had to face such painful experiences and yet they are the weaker sex while the men didn't. This is very humiliating to the women. They should not be puppets of the society who can be manipulated in whatever direction the society feels like.
The female standards were very different from those of the male in the Olinka society. This is even written in one of Nettie's letter that the Olinka society did not believe in education of the female. There job was to remain at home close to their huts. "A girl is nothing to herself; only to her husband can she become something. She can only become the mother of her children." (Bates, 2005, p. 56). Most of the women in the Olinka tribe were therefore uneducated just like the American women in the early twentieth century. They were therefore illiterate and dominated by the male presence in the society. As the saying goes, education is power and without education a person can not be in a good position to lead himself and be able to know what is right. This is why the women of this society were oppressed by the male and there was nothing they could do. The women oppression in the color purple had the same similarities as slavery before it was abolished. During slavery, the law in the south did not allow any slave to own property or even leave the masters house without permission. They could also not strike back at the white even in self defense, carry fire arms or even congregate with other slaves unless when they are going to church. This actually means they did not have a life of their own. They were living according to the rules set out for them. This is exactly what the women in the Olinka society went through in the hands of their husbands (Hein & Korsmeyer, 1993, p. 19).
Such an atmosphere in the society left the women very vulnerable to beatings from their husbands. In the color purple Celie was beaten by Albert whenever she did not do what she was told to or even when she did nothing at all. Sophie was also almost beaten by Harpo as his father. Wife battering is very evil and should not be encouraged in whatever form. This story depicts men as very merciless and evil people who keep on beating their wives whenever they made small mistakes or whenever they did not do anything at all. It is therefore diminishing to the black male because not all of them are like this. We have many male who love their wives and daughters and they have never raised a hand. Those who actually do like Albert and Mr. --- should stop (Bobo )
The story portrays male African Americans are very abusive and irresponsible people. This is illustrated from the beginning of the story when the writer says Celie's father abuses her and tells her never to tell any one about it. She was told to only tell God if she felt she was to talk to someone about the issue. This illustration works against the male sex because they are portrayed as being evil creature. From the story Celie was told "You better not never tell nobody but God. It'd kill your mammy." (Christian, Bowles, Fabi & Keizer, 2007, p. 67). In fear of loosing her mother or harmed by her father she truly never told any one but kept on writing letters on daily basis to God. The first later she wrote tells us of how she was raped by her own father and because of this she was pregnant with the second child. From a human understanding the illustration the idea that if her own father can rape her, then this was discrimination of the highest order. This indicates that women as taken as sex objects that men can make use of whenever the feel like. According to the norms of every society especially the black community, sex was supposed to be practiced by the marred men and women at the consent of the two. It is very wrong for any man to rape a woman leave along your own father. This is in fact incest. The laws of South Africa say that rape is against the law and is punishable by law.
The book even discriminates against the male forks further when it says Celie was not allowed to report the abuse to anyone lest her mother be killed by the father. This portrays men are killers. It indicates that the male discriminated against the female in the sense that women are not allowed to talk unless they are told to do so. According to Christian, Bowles, Fabi & Keizer (2007), she was supposed to follow the rules set by her father to the later and she could not object because she new the repercussions that she could experience in case she went against the father (p. 98). It shows that men believed they were always right in whatever they did and women were supposed to follow whatever they were told.
Even though the story could be said to portray the negative side of the male forks all through, it doesn't do any good to the female because it portrays them as sex objects. For instance, when Celie's mother died, her father immediately brought in anew wife. This illustrates that one woman could be replaced by the other without much trouble and life continues. According to Hein & Korsmeyer (1993), it is not a bad idea to marry another wife after the first one passes on but if you truly loved her then you will take some time to readjust yourself before you think of other options (p. 193). This incidence was aimed at showing the father's bad character of sleeping with both the mother and her daughter and now bringing in another wife. Surely no love could be described by this mans actions. Even after he brought in another wife, he still did not stop abusing his daughter.
Subsequent reading revels that her father abducted her children immediately after she gave birth to them. As the mother of the children, Celie was entitled to custody of the two children. She carried the children each for a period of nine months and it was only fare and right that she took care of her own children. It is very painful for a woman to give birth to a child and never take care of it. This was the kind of oppression the Celie underwent. The writer can be criticized for only showing the bad side of the man in the story who was Celie's father and never illustrated his positive aspects. Every coin has two sides but here only one side of the man was shown. This is therefore some form of discrimination against the male (Christian, Bowles, Fabi & Keizer, 2007, p.198).
For some women, the story was a true indication of what the female go through in the hands of the male. For instance, the New York Times quoted one black female who has watched the purple color film saying "black women should not be sacrificed for black men's pride. Let the film roll" (Hein & Korsmeyer, 1993, p.112). This lady said that she had lived in Mississippi's Sunflower County and grew up seeing her aunt, her mother and herself being brutalized and beaten by their husband. This is why she saw the movie as a true indication of what goes on the society. Although most male would not want to agree to this, it actually happens in many homes. "An important issue about the color purple is that it is fiction, it's a fable, it's a fantasy. It's not simply a movie of Black social history. It is particularly a history of black women. It is more about the oppression of black women than about black people."(Austin, 1990, p. 98). This statement seems to illustrate further the fact that black women are oppressed by the men in the film.
Another depiction of the oppression of the female by the male forks is when a man who was 'Pa's age met asks to marry Nattie the younger sister to Celie but the father refuses and instead offers Celie. According to Hein & Korsmeyer (1993), the father then changes Nettie into his sex object to fulfill his sexual desires. In this seen the writer gives a picture of the male as being creatures with no human soul (p. 65). They also have no respect to the women and can do whatever they wish with them. For instance the father is the one to decide which of her daughters gets married to which man. When Nattie runs from her fathers house to live with Celie and Mr. --- she faces more problems when she Mr. --- wants to sleep with her. One raeder of the book said "The teenage girls were doing role playing about incest in Black families for senior citizens in the Black community, and many of these women my grandmother's age said, 'you told my story that really happened.'" (Hein & Korsmeyer 1993, p. 176)
During the premier of the color purple, an activist group called the Coalition Against Black Exploitation protested against the way the black man is portrayed in the film to be brutal. The same complaint was seconded by the Washington post's columnist called Courtland Milloy who said that the black women would be happy to see the black men depicted as brutal bastards. He stated. "I got tired a long time ago, of white men publishing books by Black women about how screwed up Black men are" (Hein & Korsmeyer, p. 109). This is an indication that the men in the story were portrayed to be very bad people which did not go well with other black men.
Through out the whole story men have been depicted as very bad people in the society some thing am sure not every man would like to here. We have very loving men in the world and a few of the bad ones should not make the whole bunch look bad. The women have also been portrayed as very weak people who cannot stand for themselves and therefore have to be told what to do. They are also harassed and beaten by their husbands. Apart from this the story illustrates how illiterate the women were because society did not allow them to go to school and attain education. They only remained at home and looked over their huts and field. However this has all changed in the 21 century and now the women are as much educated like the male. There is also a lot of equality in the world today.
Austin, Gayle. Feminist theories for dramatic criticism. University of Michigan Press, 1990.
Bates, Gerri. Alice Walker: a critical companion. Greenwood publishing Group, 2005.
Bobo, Jacqueline. Black women's responses to the color purple. 2006. 27th MARCH. 2010. http://www.ejumpcut.org/archive/onlinessays/JC33folder/ClPurpleBobo.html
Christian, Barbara., Bowles, Gloria., Fabi, Giulia. Maria & Keizer, Arlene, R. New Black feminist criticism, 1985-2000. Chicago; University of Illinois press, 2007.
Hein, Hilde. S & Korsmeyer, Carolyn. Aesthetics in feminist perspective. Indiana University press, 1993.