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Through a study of Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple, this paper is going to talk about those black women who have traveled a long journey from suffering male dominance, to rebellion against its conventions, and to creating their freedom. Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” was written in 1982, in an epistolary form. She has managed to use the form effectively. Alice Walker got the Pulitzer Prize for The Color Purple in 1983. Walker’s novel depicts the story of African-American women’s suffering in the early 1900s. In a society, both men and women have to deal with racism and classism. But for women, there are Some other aspects as well which they have to fight for, sexuality and gender. Walker’s The Color Purple mirrors the Anglo African society and the life of women through her characters. The story revolves around a black girl born in a patriarchal society and tells the story of her loss of childhood, identity, and as well as the life she lost. Walker was a black feminist writer and in an interview, Walker confessed that,

‘ A lot of the things in The Color Purple happen to people in my family, when I was born, my Grandmother was murdered by a man who one of her lovers it impulse my imagination because I missed her, I missed not having her. It’s not autobiographical in the sense I hardly knew anybody, I listen to people tell family stories.’

The novel was adapted as a movie by the director Steven Spielberg in 1985. He has given the essence to The Color Purple in a highly astonishing dramatic and imaginative way. Spielberg covers the forty years of a black woman’s life who endures abuse and pain until she realizes that she can be loved and free from the boundaries of society.

Sufferings of women in The Color Purple :

Black women were constantly considered as one of the disastrous and unfortunate products of society. Women’s oppression not only works within the frame of society but also deals with the family. Apparently, ‘family’ provides love, support, and care, but at that time, the word ‘family’ makes no sense for a woman which can be seen in the novel. ‘The Color Purple’ opens with Celie writing a letter to God and his father saying, ‘You better not tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.’ Celie was sexually abused by her father. He even forbids her to talk about his repeated sexual assaults. With these lines, it can be concluded that she has nobody to listen to or talk to about all his abuses but the only one who has left to listen to her is God. Celie’s father treated her as an object or toy for completing his sexual desires. Speaking for Celie is prohibited in her own house. Even her father used every violence to shut her mouth. Celie was judged dumb by her father and he deprived her of schooling. The only one who trusts Celie and believes that she is not dumb is Nettie. Later father wanted her to marry Albert. He was also a part of a patriarchal society and he sexually/physically abused her. Celie accepts domestic violence, not only from her husband but also from her step-children, she says,


I spend my wedding day running from the oldest boy. He twelve. His mama died in his arms and he wants to hear nothing about a new one. He picked up a rock and laid my head open. The blood runs all down my breasts. His daddy says Don’t do that! But that’s all he said.’

Celie is shown as a helpless woman in the novel. In short, Celie is a slave who doesn’t have her existence and individuality. Celie was the victim of sexism. These incidents clearly show that Black women like Celie were treated as objects at that time and they didn’t even have any position in society.

Barnard Bell has stated that The Color Purple is ‘more concerned with the politics of sex and self than the politics of class and race….’ The novel is indeed more concerned with the sexual politics and selflessness of a person. In the entire novel, it can be seen that there was lots of sexual abuse and women have no self-love for their selves and others. In Celie’s life, she has seen that women were always beaten up by the men to control them, So when Harpo isn’t able to control Sofia’s attitude, Celie advises him to ‘beat her’. As a woman, she should understand the feelings of another woman but instead of making him realize that he should understand Sofia’s feelings, she told him to beat her. This gives us a sense that, The feeling of love and sympathy in Celie has been suppressed by society. And as a labor of the male world, women were supposed and confirmed as inferior.

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Rebelliousness in women

Black women were supposed to be submissive, and if, they tried to be powerful and aggressive to men they had to face consequences for it. Through the characters of Sofia and Nettie, Walker suggests that a woman can challenge the authority of her husband and society and demand their rights and love from them. Celie and Sofia are shown as two different poles of life. Celie is shown as the suffering one, whereas Sofia is the rebellious one. After the advice of Celie to Harpo, Sofia came to ask why Celie did that. Celie confesses her feelings and in return, Sofia tells her that, She had to fight to maintain her individuality in the patriarchal world and she says,

‘ All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my cousins and uncles. A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men. But I never thought I’d fight in my own house.’ This statement clarifies that women had to fight with the world to maintain their individuality. Sofia as a black woman was a warrior and her attitude towards patriarchy prevents them from dominating her. She even became a role model for Celie as she provided her confidence to resist sexual oppression.

Later, Sofia struggles for her existence, when she is asked by the Mayor’s wife to be their maid and she says, ‘hell no.” This incident also shows the outspoken nature of Sofia. Black women were supposed to be quiet and those who dared to fight back were imprisoned and brutally injured by the cops. When she was in jail, they beat her like an animal, and to save herself from them she had to pretend like Celie. ‘Every time they ask me to do something, Miss Celie, I act like I’m you, I jump right up and do what they say.’

A sense of freedom

Shifting Celie’s life from one place to another, Walker shows how little difference is between the abused daughter and an abused wife. Celie’s solace and real support came from the other woman, Shug Avery. Shug is a wild independent and beautiful woman, at first, she is too evil for Celie but soon they share connections and become friends. By the coming of Shug Avery, Celie develops a love for her, fearlessly and shamelessly, which in turn portrays that Celie was unable to find love in the male community. So, she finds it within her community. With the help of Shug Avery, she challenges her life and becomes an independent woman. Shug made her realize that she could be loved. Although, Celie develops sexual feelings for Shug, which can be considered as Lesbianism. ‘She says, I love you, Miss Celie. And, then she hauls off and kisses me on the mouth…..’ Through lesbianism, Walker has captured the bond of mother and daughter. It shows that she considers lesbian relationships to be somehow natural. ‘I act like a lost baby too.’ Shug makes Celie realize the self-love within herself but she also teaches her how to love people around her. Initially, Celie depends on imaginary beings like God. Earlier she was full of negative vibes and later, she attains positivity through the influences of female characters, they are Sofia, Shug, and Nettie.

In the novel, writing becomes a way of getting out of the worst situations. Writing letters to God gives Celie solace and retreats the pain differently. Nettie teaches Celie, how to write. Writing also helps Nettie to preserve the culture. She records the history of American-African. Nettie’s letters also reveal the oppression of black women on other continents. Even though letter Celie got to know about her past, she thought her father, was not her real father. And her true father was lynched.

Celie travels her journey from helplessness to being a businesswoman with the support of Shug Avery. As a reaction to oppression of the black women, Celie arose as a woman who is trying to make people understand that women should live freely and should fight against the problems of racism, gender, sexuality, and class.


The Color Purple breaks the silence of society and empowers females to go beyond the norms of African-American society. It is not a tale of Celie’s despair, but it is a tale of her triumph, one which is much inspiring for the American-African women. In the beginning, the woman has been shown as submissive and weak and the men have been shown as powerful and aggressive. But in the end, things changed, and Women were now able to think as equal to men. Now women were no longer the victims of degradation and exploitation. Women are shedding the chains of backward customs that tend to keep women in oppressed conditions.

Work Cited

    1. Cheung, King Kong. “‘Don’t Tell’: Imposed Silences in The Color Purple and The Woman Warrior.” PMLA, Vol. 103, No. 2 (Mar., 1988), Pp. 162-174, Modern Language Association, 2019,
    2. Smith, Barbara. “Sexual Oppression Unmasked.” Callaloo, No. 22, Fiction: A Special Issue (Autumn, 1984), Pp. 170-176, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 


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