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Eager for any kind of improvement in their lives, the Black women supported their men in their struggle to find their way into mainstream society only to be left in the abyss of darkness. They met a similar fate when they supported the white women’s struggle for equality. Both the factions it stood for mercilessly neglected the Black women, the odd sheep of the lot. Barbara Smith rightly remarks in her work “Towards a Black Feminist Aesthetics” that the “Black women’s existence, experience, and culture and the brutally complex systems of oppression which shape these are in the ‘real world’ of white and/or male consciousness beneath consideration, invisible, unknown” (Smith 20).

Nevertheless, the Black women penned down their sagas to channel their pent-up creativity. However, their stories were under the constant threat of misreading. For a very long time, the public found it hard to digest the idea of being black and women coming together under an umbrella. For them, it was either black or women not both as they considered it “mutually exclusive”. This mindset corrupted their review of the works of Black women too. Jerry.H. Bryant in a review of Alice Walker’s work “Love & Trouble: Stories of Black Women” wrote that the subtitle might be an appendage by the publisher to gain the attention of the blacks as well as the women. He brands the book to not promote any feminist consciousness by completely neglecting the chance of Walker choosing the subtitle herself to compliment its women-centered subjects.

Reviews by the White women are no less different. The White women encourage their folk to study Black women and at the same time disregard any effort on the part of the Black women to do the same. They trivialized the subject matter chosen by these Black writers and expressed the need for these writers to focus on subjects that are more serious to be among the mainstream writers. These White women take up the role of patronizing grandmothers instructing Black women writers about the subjects they should work on. The Black male critics and writers too adopted a callous attitude towards Black women writers. Darwin Turner’s discussion about Zora Neale Hurtson’s works as “coy’, “superficial” and “shallow” in one of his works conveys this.

Barbara Smith in her essay “Towards a Black Feminist Criticism” talks about the challenges faced by Black women writers and the urgent need for Black feminist criticism to rectify the faulty analysis of their works. Alice Walker’s third book The Color Purple is a book brought about to stamp the presence of female black writers and to redefine the Black aesthetics by the inclusion of the Black feminist perspective.

The novel, The Color Purple serves as a guidebook for an African woman, disillusioned about her life. The novel gives African women the privilege to view their own lives from the eyes of a third person. It enlightens women about the atrocities done against them, encourages them to tackle hardships, and provides methods to shatter the fetters that tie them down from reaching the realm of self-empowerment.

The book Alice Walker by Dona Haisty Witchell claims the novel to have some autobiographical elements. The character of the rebellious Shug Avery has a close resemblance with the life of Zora Neale Hurston. In addition, the character of Celie who was initially impregnated by her stepdad is a character inspired by the writer’s great- grandmother who was impregnated by her master.

The epistolary form used by Walker is not just a medium of expression but a powerful gesture against the monopolization of writing and creativity as an androcentric trait. The solace that Celie gets from opening up to God and Nettie through her letters is a blow that creates ripples strong enough to demolish this baseless patriarchal claim. Further Walker says in her work “In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens” that their ancestors “waited for a day when the unknown thing that was in them would be made known; but guessed, somehow in their darkness, that on the day of their revelation they would be long dead” (402). Walker, here through the statement recounts the saga of the sacrifice black women made to find a means to express their creativity. Barbara Smith in her essay “Towards a Black Feminist Aesthetics” remarks that the black women writers’ “use of black female language to express” opinions is not an accidental gesture but a calculating move to uplift their works beyond the “confines of the white /male literary structures” ( Smith 23).

“It is the black woman’s word that has the most meaning for us her daughters, because she, like us, has experienced life not only as a black person, but as a woman,” says Alice Walker. Celie, the protagonist of the novel is every black woman and her problems are the problems of every black woman. A girl raped by her stepfather and later sold off to Mr._ in the name of marriage, Celie knew nothing but hardships in her life until Shug entered her life. Celie, in the initial phase of her life, was disillusioned by the mishappenings and wrote letters as the last resort to keep herself sane. She feels jealous of Sofia as she has the power to retort against the harm done to her. Celie says, “I say it cause I’m a fool, I say. I say it cause I’m jealous of you. I say it cause you do what I can’t”(The Color Purple, 39). Here, Celie’s jealousy is a natural reaction any human would exhibit if put under similar circumstances. Celie is jealous of her because she fights Harpo.

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With the arrival of Shug Avery, the phase of awareness begins in the life of Celie. Celie’s admiration of Shug and Shug’s love for Celie’s simplicity brings them closer. Shug Avery, the rebellious woman, is Walker’s spokesperson in the novel. The character of Shug Avery overturns the male hegemony. The cruel Mr._ who bet Celie to exercise his right over her as a husband transforms into a meek and weak middle-aged man too eager to please Shug. Shug Avery, a woman truly ahead of her times knows her worth and allows no man to curtail her freedom. She is a representation of what every black woman is capable of, once they break free from the fetters of the patriarchal society.

Shug’s and Celie’s relationship is something that transcends the boundaries of friendship and which lies outside the realm of homosexuality. Barbara Smith in her essay talks about the idea of Lesbianism propounded by Bertha Harris in the 2976 Modern Language Association Convention. According to Bertha “if in a woman writer’s work a sentence refuses to do what it is supposed to do, if there are strong images of women and if there is a refusal to be linear, the result is innately lesbian literature”( Smith 23). In other words, many women portrayed by these women writers are lesbian not because they are sexually attracted, but because of their pivotal relationship with each other. Analyzing the relationship between Celie and Shug brings out a similar conclusion. Both these women loved each other dearly and cared for each other fiercely. They form a sisterhood, which resembles lesbianism in action but differs from it by its motive of pure love untainted by eroticism. Celie’s sexual relationship with Shug aids Celie in realizing her worth and what she is denied. Shug decides to take the bold step as she wants her sister Celie to understand her self-worth and the best way is to show her what she is being deprived of.

Celie’s process of self-growth becomes complete when she leaves Mr._ and starts engaging herself in tailoring. Shug’s presence and the wisdom she provided indeed aided Celie in breaking free from the reins of the patriarchal society. The power that Shug gave Celie through her companionship is immense and acts as the panacea for all the maladies that Celie suffered from.

Shug’s redefinition of Celie’s concept of God is a giant leap taken by Walker to portray the plight of a race forced to believe in a God that they cannot associate with. Celie’s transformation begins when she starts considering the things that God has done for her. Celie says “What did God do for me”? I ast . . . he give me a lynched daddy, a crazy mama, a dog of a steppa, and a sister I probably won’t ever see again. Anyhow, I say, the God I have been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all the other men I know. Trifling, forgetful and lowdown” (The Color Purple173). Shug’s rectification of Celie’s opinion on God by claiming it to be an “it” rather than a “he” and the description of how she reshifted her attention from the White God to her inner self rekindles new faith in Celie. According to Mae Henderson, in his work The Color Purple: Revisions and Redefinitions “Unlike Celie, who derives her sense of self from the dominant white and male theology, Shug is a self-invented character whose sense of self is not male inscribed. Her theology allows a divine, self-authorized sense of self.”(16)

Sophia, in the novel, says “A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men”( The Color Purple, 39). Bell Hooks in the introduction to her powerful work “Ain’t I a Woman” talks about the “strong black woman” image propagated by mainstream writers. She talks about how the White writers express their sympathy for these ill-fated women who strongly survive despite the hardships they face. Walker, through the character of Sophia, tries to dissemble this image and shows the tenderhearted woman who fights tooth and nail to find a place of her own in her own house. Walker also depicts how the Whites torment these ill-fated women further by making them their slaves by restricting one’s liberty to decide their fate. Sophia’s refusal to be a maid for the Mayor’s wife and her being jailed for twelve years illustrates this.

Mary Agnes or Squeak is another character who transcends the marshy land of ignorance toward the golden fields of knowledge and self-realization. From a woman who complained about being ignored to someone who knew what she was worth, Mary Agnes came a long way.

In conclusion, the novel The Color Purple is a panacea for the Black women to rekindle self-love. The novel is a manifestation of the ‘black women’ whose existence has long been conveniently forgotten by the mainstream as well as Black male writers. Doubly marginalized by society, the Black woman is an epitome of ‘resurrection’. Walker’s women, each diverse and fighting their battle finally finding solace in the same place that they lost it, symbolizes the beginning of a new era-an era of self-worth and mirth.

Works Cited

    1. Henderson, Mae. The Color Purple: Revisions and Redefinitions. SAGE 2,no.1.1985.p.14-18
    2. Smith, Barbara. “Towards a Black Feminist Criticism”. The Radical Teacher, No. 7, March, 197), pp. 20-27.
    3. Walker, Alice. The Color Purple.Orion, 2014.
    4. Walker, Alice, ‘In Search of Our Mothers’ Gardens,’ in Ms., May 1974 and in Southern Exposure: Generations Women in the South (Winter, 1977), pp. 60-64


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