The Color Purple Essay, Research Paper
Celie s journey toward self-definition in The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, is filled with moments of growth as well as of tragedy and abuse. Throughout her life she is mistreated and put down. While bad things continue to happen to her, Celie s instinct to survive never fails. Through her letters to God and her younger sister Nettie, and through her relationship with Shug, Celie begins to overcome adversity and see herself as a person who has value and who deserves to be treated with respect. These are the things that Celie went through in her shruggle for survival with mister.
When the book begins, Celie is a 14-year-old girl growing up in Georgia, when she is faced with the ultimate child abuse. She is repeatedly raped by her stepfather and becomes pregnant by him twice. She has almost no self-worth or self-esteem. She doesn t even fully understand what has happened to her or what she has done to deserve it. To help her cope with the abuse and to help sort out her feelings, Celie writes letters to God. The first lines of her first letter show her sense of worthlessness. 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 (p. 1). The way she crosses out I am, and replaces it with I have, shows she no longer views herself as a good girl.
Unfortunately for Celie, her life continues to be filled with abusive people. Her stepfather marries her off to Mr. ____, who does not love her, respect her or treat her with any decency whatsoever. He just wants her to take care of him and his kids. She is almost like a slave to him and she feels no love for him at all. He beats and degrades her, lowering her self-worth even more. Celie s letters to God keep her going. She is stronger than she thinks and her letters reflect her strength. In them, she never complains about her situation, she just wants to know why her life is the way it is. Her letters to God are completely honest, and in them, she can express her true feelings, fears and dreams of seeing her sister Nettie again. Another point of interest is that Celie doesn t sign her letters to God. It s as if she doesn t think enough of herself to take pride in her name or who she is at all.
Celie s life changes when Mr. ____ s mistress, Shug Avery, arrives. At first Shug doesn t think very highly of Celie at all. Once they spend time together, Shug begins to love and care for Celie. Besides her sister, Shug is the only person to ever love Celie. As their relationship grows, so does Celie s image of herself. She slowly begins to see herself as Shug does, a strong woman who is deserving of love. Celie also discovers her sexuality through Shug, who teaches her about her body. Although they share a physical relationship, their love goes beyond that, and they bond in way that Celie has never known. She feels adored, cared for and most important, loved by Shug. Shug said, Nobody ever love me, I say. She say, I love you, Miss Celie. And then she haul off and kiss me on the mouth (p. 117-118). Celie slowly begins to love herself.
Shug is a strong woman who doesn t take anything from anybody. She would never let a man push her around or tell her what to do. In this way, she sets an example for Celie. Shug slowly shows Celie that she can stand up for herself and be her own woman. This concept is foreign to Celie who has lived her whole life obeying men. It takes the drastic realization that Mr. ____ has been intentionally keeping Nettie s letters from her, for Celie to change her life. She can t imagine that he would be so knowingly cruel when he understands how much Nettie means to her. It is during this realization, that her strength grows and that she wants to be free from him forever.
Receiving Nettie s letters and finding out that she is still alive gives Celie hope to go on in the chance that they will see each other again. Instead of writing letters to God, Celie begins to write to Nettie. Through their correspondence, Celie learns that her children are alive and that Nettie is helping to care for them. The hope of someday seeing her children, also gives her the strength to continue on. When she finally has enough courage to leave Mr. ____ and go to live with Shug, she lays into her husband like no one has ever seen her do before. It is as if all her years of frustration, anger and feelings of worthlessness all come out during the announcement of her impending departure. Celie said to mister, 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 just the welcome mat I need… You took my sister Nettie away from me, I say. And she was the only person love me in the world… But Nettie and my children coming home soon, I say. And when she do, all us together gon whup your ass (p. 207).
Once out of the abusive environment of Mr. ____ s house, Celie grows and becomes self-sufficient. She starts her own business as a clothing designer and does quite well for herself. Then, with the unexpected death of her stepfather, she finds out she is the rightful owner of the land he has been living and profiting off of. Suddenly, her life has changed for the better. Through her strength and the support of Shug, she has overcome the many obstacles in her life and discovered that she is worth something to others and to herself. She is even able to develop a healthy relationship with Mr. ____ , after he realizes his cruelty and begins to respect Celie. In her final letters to Nettie, Celie signs her name, which shows she is proud of whom she has become. Celie becomes a success, and in the end is reunited with her sister and her children. She is able to offer them more than a home; she is able to offer them a healthy place to live.
The Color Purple’s strategy of presenting an alternative (Celie’s economic success) to the real, (lynching of Celie’s father) had indeed aimed to critique the unjust practices of racism and oppression that was present through out the novel. In the novel’s own terms, American capitalism thus has contradictory effects. On one hand, capitalism veils its operations by employing racism, using the idea of race to reduce the economic competitor to a sub-human object. On the other hand, the model of personal and national identity with which the novel leaves us uses fairytale explanations of social relations to represent an alternative world. This fairy tale embraces America for providing the black nation with the right and the opportunity to own land, to participate in the free market, and to profit from it. (Alice Walker, The Color Purple)
When discussing the economic alternative world illustrated in The Color Purple Celie situates herself firmly in the family’s entrepreneurial tradition; she runs her business successfully. Where her father and uncles were lynched for presuming the rights of full American citizens, Celie is ironically rewarded for following in her family’s entrepreneurial interests. Celie’s shift from underclass victim to capitalist entrepreneur has only positive signification. Her progression from exploited black woman, as woman, as sexual victim, is aided by her entrance into the economy as property owner, manager of a mall business, storekeeper – in short capitalist entrepreneur. (Alice Walker)
Indeed The Color Purple is a fairytale; a world in which sexual exploitation can easily be overcome; and a world of unlimited access to material well being (Hooks 223). By emphasizing on the letter dealing with the lynching of Celie’s father and the last letter of the novel establishing Celie’s economic independence we have illustrated the real and alternative worlds in relation to the economic prosperity of the black individual (Hooks 270). Thus creating an illusionary fantasy world by combining or mediating between the novel’s social realism and its alternative. Celie’s closing sentence: “Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt” (p. 295) is deliberately replacing her very first utterance, “I am fourteen years old,” (p. 1) with an assertion of victorious control over the context in which she speaks. Celie commits herself to the production of a new age but ascribes no value to the influence of her past history or on the culture (Kramer 113).
Throughout The Color Purple, celie clearly had a struggle with mister. When Celie first got to mister s house, she was not accepted. Mister s children knew that was not their mom, and did not want anything to do with celie. Her struggle with mister were long and painful, which did overcome. Celie found someone that could reach within her, Shug Avery. Once shug came into celie s life, she began to overcome her struggle with mister. Slowly, but surely, celie began a new walk on life.
Hooks, Bell. A Women s Mourning Song. New York: Writers & Readers, 1993. Kramer, Barbara. Alice Walker: Author of the Color Purple. Chicago: Enslow Publisher,Inc. Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989.