Walker in writing this novel uses an epistolary style, which is a novel that is written as a series of documents which is usually in the form of letters or diary entries. This allows her main character to voice her personal feelings to the pain and isolation she suffers. The reader is taken through Celie’s journey from being an uneducated, submissive girl to a mature, independent woman. Walker also sets most of her novel in a rural farm community, focussing on the personal lives of her characters. The colour purple signifies royalty, beauty, power and independence, for the freedom of one’s mind. This colour plays an important part in Celie’s life because the first dress she chooses is purple, the room she owns in a house is purple and when Shug explains the importance of freeing yourself from conventional male and white superiority to fully enjoy life she says ‘I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it’. (Alice Walker, 2004, p.177)
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There are many themes emphasised throughout ‘The Color Purple’. These are important because they create the person Celie becomes before Shug helps her to evolve. It is set in the early twentieth century, around the 1930’s, in a time when racism, oppression and sexism was at a peak. Racism was disregarded throughout the country and the laws in the South implemented segregation. Most black Americans remained alienated and were stereotypically looked down upon by members of white society. Women were also inferior to men, both black and white. Black women were then especially disadvantaged. ‘The friction between black men and women is merely one of several themes; in ‘The Color Purple’ the role of male domination in the frustration of black women’s struggle for independence is clearly the focus.’ (Watkins, 2013) Of course not everyone showed a positive response to this novel, ‘Such sisterly solidarity has drawn disapproval from some male critics. And Walker has been accused of reinforcing racial stereotypes in her depiction of male black characters as abusive and violent.’ (Bookdrum, 2013)
Celie endured many difficulties reflective of this time and she suffered highly, but the novel shows us that Celie remained strong and defeated many obstacles to show the strength of a woman.
Celie has suffered psychological damage through verbal abuse, physical abuse and sexual violence all her life. This caused Celie to view herself as worthless, powerless and internalize the animosity, believing her life was normal and the fear she felt for men was natural and part of life. She suffered this life with her father, who we later come to recognise is her step father, and also with Mr____. Early on in the book Celie is sexually abused by her father and bears two children to him, which he takes away from Celie. This is where we learn why Celie writes her letters to God. Her father tells her ‘You better not never tell nobody but God’ (Walker. A., 2004, p.3) and she continues throughout the novel to talk to God writing as she speaks, in a colloquial manner for example ‘naw and yall’. Also writing words as she would pronounce them, for example ‘direar and newmonya’. This shows her uneducated manner, from which we learn Celie’s story. She also does not sign her letters which indicates her lack in showing her identity. Celie is treated as though she is property to men and as though she has no identity of her own as she is handed to Mr____ from her Pa. She is made to feel unattractive and unintelligent by her Pa. ‘She ugly. But she ain’t no stranger to hard workâ€¦ You can do everything just like you want to and she ain’t gunna make you feed it or clothe it’. (Walker. A., 2004, p.3) He also gives Celie’s cow away with her to improve the deal with Mr____. Celie therefore decides the only way she can survive is if she makes herself almost invisible. It is clear that Celie does not enjoy her life and she waits only for Heaven. This life be over soon. Heaven lasts always.’ (Walker. A., 2004, p.40)
A theme set in this novel is the power of strong female relationships, which is likened to a sisterhood and helps Celie to discover who she truly is through the love and support she gains from women like Sophia, Nettie and Shug. These are women that would be Celie’s role model of black women. They defend themselves against men and do not allow men to choose their lifestyle for them. Sewing also symbolises the power women get from channelling their creative energy. When Sofia and Celie argue about the advice which Celie had given to Harpo, Sofia suggests they make a quilt as a way of armistice. Sewing a quilt symbolises the coming together and bonding of friends and family.
When Celie first lays eyes on Shug Avery, it is through a photograph of her. She thinks she looks very glamorous and instantly begins to take a liking to her. When Celie is first introduced to Shug in person we get the feeling that Shug is a very cruel individual when she turns to Celie and says ‘You sure is ugly’. (Walker. A., 2004, p.44) Shug’s critical manner of speaking and life experiences she has had, gives the impression that she is quite cynical. Shug is actually a warm and caring person. This becomes clear when she falls ill and Celie takes care of her. Shug clearly enjoys the care and attention she is getting and returns the same care to Celie, showing her compassionate nature. As Shug begins to discover the person that Mr___, whom Shug names Albert, becomes, she grows fonder of Celie.
“Miss Walker explores the estrangement of her men and women through a triangular love affair. It is Shug Avery who forces Albert to stop brutalizing Celie, and it is Shug with whom Celie first consummates a satisfying and reciprocally loving relationship. “Shug spoke right up for you, Celie. She say, Albert, you been mistreating somebody I love. So as far as you concern, I’m gone.” (Watkins, 2013)
This clearly shows how much Celie means to Shug and proves her loyalty to Celie.
Both Shug and Celie help each other find who they really are and bring out the best in each other, as they both felt confined in their roles because of people’s perception of them. Shug becomes Celie’s role model and helps Celie to find a new outlook on life. Celie begins to grow stronger and find who she truly is, how to love and what it means. Shug is regarded as a metaphorical missionary in Celie’s life, like the missionaries in the Olinka. It is Shug who makes Mr____ stop tormenting Celie and Shug also helps Celie to find the letters from her little sister, Nettie, which Mr____ had been hiding from her. Finding these letters gives Celie the strength she needs to break free from Mr____. Shug inspires Celie to create her own business, helping her to find a new passage in her life for her passion and creativity, giving her more personal and financial freedom.
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‘This song I’m bout to sing is call Miss Celie’s song’. (Walker. A., 2004, p.70) Celie feels important for the first time when Shug dedicates and sings a song to Celie at Harpo’s bar, giving her a sense of identity. ‘First time somebody made something and name it after me.’ (Walker. A., 2004, p.70) As the two of them become closer they begin a lesbian relationship but it is more than just sex. Shug helps to give Celie a sense of identity making her feel sexually, physically and emotionally at ease. This also symbolises motherhood because Shug is the reason Celie gains a sense of importance in the novel. With Shug’s guidance and love, it made growing into an independent individual possible for Celie.
Shug later leaves Celie for a nineteen year old man called Germaine, her final fling. He is very significant in Shug and Celie’s relationship because Celie and Albert become closer while Shug is with Germaine. Albert realises for the first time that Celie is good company and Celie equally enjoys her friendship with Albert. ‘Then the old devil put his arms around me and just stood there on the porch with me real quiet. He ain’t Shug, but he begin to be somebody I can talk to.’ (Walker, A., 2004, p. 250) When Shug and Germaine’s relationship is over, Shug returns to Celie but Celie’s relationship with Albert makes Shug jealous. This is an emotion Celie felt when Shug and Albert were so close earlier in the novel. Shug’s time away from Celie made her realise how much she loves Celie and brought them both closer together.
In referring back to the question I have pointed out that Shug and Celie’s relationship is indeed very significant because it helps Celie grow from an uneducated, submissive, weak girl to an independent strong woman by the end of the novel. Celie’s and Shug’s relationship was important to Celie because Shug made Celie feel important. It improved Celie’s confidence and allowed her to grow into the woman she became and helped Celie find her identity.
Alice Walker, 2004, Color Purple. Edition. Phoenix Paperbacks.
Some Letters Went To God, Mel Watkins, NY Times.com, 2013. Available at http://www.nytimes.com/1982/07/25/books/some-letters-went-to-god-by-mel-watkins.html
The Color Purple Review, Bookdrum, 2013. Available at http://www.bookdrum.com/books/the-color-purple/9780753818923/review.html
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