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In Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”, the novel depicts a black woman named Celie, who had been raped many times by her father. The author also makes it clear that this man fathered the two children she neared from this rape. Throughout the story, Celie is unfortunately abused many times and the only people who come to her defense are her sister, Shug Avery, and Miss Sophia; all of whom have experienced some type of abuse in their lifetime too. When Celie turned twenty, she was married off to Mr.______, who continued abusing her throughout their marriage. As time goes by in the novel, it is brought to the reader’s attention the abuse that both Celie and many other female characters in the book had to face. The physical and psychological abuse is what causes Ms. Celie to be depressed for most of her life.

Celie’s story is told within the context of breaking silences, and, its more formal structure creates the illusion for readers that it is filled with unmediated “voices.” Trapped in a gridlock of racist, sexist, and heterosexist oppressions, Celie struggles toward linguistic self-definition. She is an “invisible woman,” a character traditionally silenced and effaced in fiction; and by centering on her, Walker replots the heroine’s text” (Abbandona 1106). Throughout the novel, Celie is told to keep quiet about what took place between her and her father. “He started to choke me, saying You better shut up and get used to it. But I don’t ever get used to it. And now I feel sick every time I will be the one to cook” (11). She generally has no one to turn to when she needs it the most. “The history of publishing is a record of female silencing; as many feminist critics have pointed out, women traditionally experienced educational and economic disadvantages and other cultural constraints that prohibited them from writing. When they overcame oppressive technologies of gender and took up the forbidden pen, the technologies of print could always be deployed against them. This may seem an over-rehearsed, even an outdated argument, but the problems are still acute for women of color. Feminist attempts to revise the canon and address sexism in discourse are frequently marred by their failure to recognize heterosexism and racism; the counter-narratives of femininity that emerge continue to erase women who are not white or heterosexual. Sojourner Truth’s lament, “Ain’t I a woman?” is insistently echoed in the contemporary writings of lesbians and women of color” (Abbandona 1107). Celie, as well as her sister, have many disadvantages. Not only are they females but there are black females. Luckily her sister was allowed to receive an education. Celie on the other hand, was taken out of school because of her first pregnancy at 14. Although, both of these young women had all odds against them, over time they learned how to articulate their thoughts well enough to put them down on paper. The letters that Celie was writing to God and the letters that Nettie was writing to her sister, were a form of therapy for the both of them. Within those letters, they had the right to write down whatever came to mind, therefore it was like their way of breaking their silence. “Put bluntly, how can a woman define herself differently, and disengage herself from the cultural scripts of sexuality and gender that produce her as a feminine subject? … If women are always constituted as objects (of desire, of the gaze) or as other, if “female” is always the negative of the positive value “male,” women find themselves situated in a negative space, neither participating in patriarchal discourses nor able to escape from them” (Abbandona 1107). Mr.____, as well as the other men characters in the novel, look down upon the women and disrespect them to a level that is very common in society. Not only were Celie and Mr.____ married, but she was considered his property and that is exactly how he treated her. “Well, how you ‘spect to make her mind? Wives is like children. You have to let ’em know who got the upper hand. Nothing can do that better than a good sound beating” (42). The only time in the book that Mr.____ is nice to Ms. Celie is when Shug is around, however, that is simply because all his attention is focused on her, whom he was having a known affair with. “What the world got to do with anything, I think. Then I see myself sitting there quilting tween Shug Avery and Mr. ______. We three set together against Tobias and his fly-speck box of chocolate. For the first time in my life, I feel just right” (61). “When Lauren Berlant describes Celie as “falling through the cracks of a language she can barely use crossing out ‘I am’ and situating herself squarely on the ground of negation” (838), she attributes Celie’s situation to saintly self-renunciation; but I propose a different explanation. Celie’s burden in building a self on a site of negation is shared by any woman who attempts to establish an identity outside the patriarchal definition. If women are constituted as subjects in a man-made language, then it is only through the cracks in language, and in the places where ideology fails to cohere, that they can begin to reconstruct themselves” (Abbandona 1108). Celie was only a victim because she allowed herself to be a victim. She couldn’t muster up the strength at that time to fight her way out of her troubles. The moment Celie gained her identity and got to a place in her mind where she was happy with herself, she began to do things that she enjoyed. Even though she was limited because of the time and society she lived in, she found a way to finally live the life how she wanted to.

“The Color Purple offers a “view from ‘elsewhere.’ “It succeeds partly because Celie’s sexual orientation provides an alternative to the heterosexual paradigm of the conventional marriage plot: her choice of lesbianism is politically charged, a notion I develop later. For the moment I want only to point out that the novel is also lesbian in the much broader sense implied by Adrienne Rich’s concept of the “lesbian continuum,” which spans the whole spectrum of women’s friendships and sisterly solidarity. Walker’s term womanist is influenced by Rich; and in this womanist text, the eroticism of women’s love for women is at once centralized and incorporated into a more diffuse model of woman-identifying women” (Abbandona 1108). In the text, it becomes apparent that Celie has started to develop some type of fascination, or liking with Shug. “Shug Avery was a woman. The most beautiful woman I ever saw. She is more pretty than my mama. She is bout ten thousand times prettier than me. I see her there in furs. Her face rouge. Her hair is like something tail. She grins with her foot up on somebody’s motorcar. Her eyes are serious tho. Sad some. I ask her to give me the picture. All night long I stare at it. And now when I dream, I dream of Shug Avery” (16). As the novel starts to unfold, we begin to see that Celie’s feelings for Shug grow stronger by the minute. “All the men got they eyes glued to Shug’s bosom. I got my eyes glued there too. I feel my nipples harden under my dress. My little button sort of perks up too. Shug, I say to her in my mind, Girl, you look like a real good time, the Good Lord knows you do” (82).

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“Walker’s descriptions of Celie’s bonding, first with the biological mother of infancy and later with suitable mother surrogates, is psychologically realistic and ranges from the ministrations of Celie’s younger sister Nettie to Kate and Sofia, and to Shug’s facilitating Celie’s sensual awakening to adult females sexuality and a healthy emotional life. This “female bonding,” which occurs over an extended period, enables Celie- a depressed survivor-victim of parent loss, emotional and physical neglect, rape, incest, trauma, and spousal abuse-to resume her arrested development and continue develop-mental processes that were thwarted in infancy and early adolescence. These processes are described with clinical accuracy; and, as they are revisited and reworked in Celie’s interactions with appropriate mother surrogates, Celie is enabled to get in touch with her feelings, work through old traumas, and achieve emotional maturity and a firm sense of identity that is psychologically convincing” (Proudfit 13). After reading Proudfit’s volume, I began to notice how Celie’s feelings for women were strong all along. The only people who truly cared for her and loved her were women. She never really had a positive male influence to look up to in life. From Celie’s first letter to God, the author enables the reader to enter into the emotional state of her traumatized, and depressed fourteen-year-old, who had been repeatedly raped and impregnated by the man who is her biological father: “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” (11). Celie draws a line through “I am” in her letter and writes “I have always been a good girl,” because as a child victim of rape and incest, she blames herself for what happened; and still believes that the awful thing that has happened to her only happened because she was bad and deserved it. Celie writes to God because she is ashamed of what is happening to her (122) and because of the threat that was made by Alphonso. “Threats and forced secrecy are usual parts of incest” (Herman 88; Russell 132-33). Even if Celie wanted to speak out about the abuse she faced, the likelihood of any action being taken place was slim to none. Celie had been forced to stay silent for so long that she wasn’t able to get mad or angry about what had occurred in her life because of her faith and loyalty to God. Walker’s Celie, “What sane black woman . . . would sit around and take that crock of shit from all those folks?” (Harris 155). “The excesses of Celie’s sufferings, however, fit into a narrower literary pattern than simply that of the fairy tale” (Harris 159). The “years and years and years of Celie’s acquiescence are extreme in their individuality (Harris 156) and resonate within their literary context to provide not so much an attack on black males as an examination of the very nature of women’s passivity and women’s defenses. Celie’s acquiescence is neither extreme in its individuality nor socially threatening. It is instead the covert resistance of a woman forced, like Griselda, to fit into an alien world and to make it her own” (Ellis 189).

Celie’s only real method of survival was to conform to the expectations that Mr.___ had and to keep him happy as long as possible so the beatings would come less and less over time. “I don’t say nothing. I think bout Nettie, dead. She fights, she runs away. What good it does? I do not fight, I stay where I’m told. But I’m alive” (29). Living up to the expectations of Mr.___, helped her control her emotions and actions momentarily, but at the same time caused her to almost turn her back on her faith. “Yeah, I say, and he gives me a lynched daddy, a crazy mama, a lowdown dog of a step-pa, 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” (175). The obstacles that Ms. Celie had to face and eventually overcame allowed her to live a regular life and become truly happy with herself and her sexuality. “I feel a little peculiar around the children. For one thing, they grew. And I see they think me and Nettie and Shug and Albert and Samuel and Harpo and Sofia and Jack and Odessa real old and don’t know much what going on. But I don’t think we feel old at all. And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt” (251).

Works Cited

    1. Ellis, Deborah S. “The Color Purple and the Patient Griselda.” College English, vol. 49, no. 2, 1987, pp. 188–201. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/377878.
    2. Harris, Trudier. “On The Color Purple, Stereotypes, and Silence.” Black American Literature Forum, vol. 18, no. 4, 1984, pp. 155–161. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/2904291.
    3. Proudfit, Charles L. “Celie’s Search for Identity: A Psychoanalytic Developmental Reading of Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple.’” Contemporary Literature, vol. 32, no. 1, 1991, pp. 12–37. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/1208336.
    4. Abbandonato, Linda. “‘A View from ‘Elsewhere’ ‘: Subversive Sexuality and the Rewriting of the Heroine’s Story in The Color Purple.” Pmla, vol. 106, no. 5, 1991, p. 1106., doi:10.2307/462683.
    5. Bloom, Harold. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Bloom’s Literary Criticism, 2008.
    6. Smith, Melinda, and Jeanne Segal. “Domestic Violence and Abuse.” Recognizing the Signs of an Abusive Relationship and Getting Help, Sept. 2018, www.helpguide.org/articles/abuse/domestic-violence-and-abuse.htm.   

 

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