Advanced Literature 11
16 March 2018
Liberation From Sexism and Patriarchy in The Color Purple
From the earliest of civilized societies, both, men and women have had separated roles in society. Oftentimes it is the man who is placed as the head of the household, leader of a community, or ruler of a nation. In relation, women are often given the household duties, such as, raising and educating children, cooking, cleaning, etc. From these differing responsibilities, one trend becomes evident; men are the dominant physical rulers in society. Alice Walker explores this development in her novel, The Color Purple. Through the social liberation of African American and woman protagonist Celie, Walker communicates the possibility of rebelling against one’s injustice place in society. Realizing her value, Celie stands against her oppressors and demands her place as a powerful woman in society. In The Color Purple, Alice Walker uses symbolism, imagery, and epistolary structure to convey her theme of women's liberation from persecution, sexism, and patriarchy.
Walker’s symbolism within the novel indicates Celie’s transition from an oppressed woman into an independent individual. Of these symbols, perhaps the most relevant is one that goes unnoticed: pants. For most of her life, Celie never wore pants because she, like her society, saw pants to be solely purposed for man. Her decision to attire herself with such a piece of masculine apparel, and even more so to start a pants-making business, allows her to rid herself of some of the physical and visual regulations of gender within the society. This development has been agreed by different authors over time; writer Trudier Harris, explains in his article, “From Victimization to Free Enterprise,” “Celie learned to abandon her vindictive state of mind and found peace through abandoning social norms. Pants no longer brought fear into her mind but strength and rebellion” (Harris). This small and seemingly inconsequential act of defiance allows Celie to begin her liberation from patriarchy. At one point in the novel, Celie and Shug converse on this specific topic:
“Well, she say, looking me up and down, let's make you some pants.”
“What I need pants for? I say. I ain't no man.”
“Don't git uppity,” she say. “But you don't have a dress do nothing for you. You not made
like no dress pattern neither.”
“I don't know, I say. Mr.___ not going to let his wife wear pants.” (Walker 146)
Celie’s creation of the pants-making business also helps her take a step toward her independence by providing her with a stable income. Charmaine Eddy writes in her article, "Marking the body: the Material Dislocation of Gender,” how Walker indicates the rarity of women wearing pants during Celie’s time period, which shows the difference between Celie and Shug’s world. However, once Shug helps Celie make her first pair of pants, Celie opens a new beginning for Shug. (Eddy). Celie’s pants-making business becomes a “ticket to freedom” for herself and the women around her, allowing them to participate in Celie’s protest against society while giving Celie enough income to support herself independently. From the moment Celie wore her first pair of pants, she embraced a new era and a new beginning for all women.
One of the main points is the novel itself, and the name of it, The Color Purple, although the color itself does not appear in many places throughout the text, it is clear that the color purple is associated with Celie and with her transformation from a young girl to a strong woman. As Alice Walker writes in a preface to the novel, “purple, is always a surprise but is found everywhere in nature” (Walker 2). The color purple represents all the beautiful and precious things in the world, in which God has created for his people to appreciate and enjoy in life. Celie had lost all the sense of appreciation for things that surrounded her due to her long life of distress. She was entirely oblivious to the beauties that God had created for her. Her horrible life practically alienates her from all good things and dysfunctions her morally and emotionally. The article "Themes and Construction: The Color Purple" reads, “the primary symbol of The Color Purple is found in the title, The Color Purple . The significance of the color purple, is that it stands for human hope. It is a miraculous color when found in nature and one which indicates that the feeling of hope despite misery is a miracle of the human spirit” (“Themes and Construction”). In the beginning of the novel, the color purple represented Celie herself and all of the dreams that she would never be able to accomplish. Celie thought that she would never wear the color purple, that she could never have the color purple, and that the color purple did not suit her. Throughout the novel, as she grew older and wiser, Celie’s viewpoint on the color purple began to change. In supportive of that theory, the article "Historical Context: The Color Purple" adds that Celie later realized that God created the little things like the color purple for His people to make them happy. This enlightens Celie, knowing that God wants her to realize and appreciate His creation for her, she becomes motivated to enjoy life which is exactly what God wants her to do. Celie learns to appreciate and enjoy His creation and express her love and gratefulness for God and herself. Celie's life, lacking of any color is exposed to perceive not just the color purple but also appreciate the beautiful things around her (“Historical Context”). Sensing the existence of the little things that God created and appreciating the color purple brings a physical, emotional and spiritual healing to Celie. She finally learns to overcome her trials and see life in a positive light. No longer did she stand in the dark shadow of male domination, but, Celie now walked on a vibrant purple path filled with pride and dignity as a strong independent woman.
The novel is an epistolary novel which consists of Celie writing letters addressed to God some of the time, and then to her sister Nettie some of the time. In the very beginning of the novel, the first page reads a letter about a small girl who is abused and raped by her step-father. In her lonely world, she cannot find anybody to trust in and share her despair with besides God. Since it started, her step-father Alphonso says “You better not never to tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy” (Walker 11), she finds the only solution to express her hopelessness in writing letters to God. God is Celie’s salvation for most of the novel, communicating with God through letters ables her to maintain a certain sanity. Frank Shelton in his article, "Alienation and Integration in Alice Walker's The Color Purple" makes a point:
“Virtually half of the novel consists of Celie's letters, initially written to God, and written both in hope and hopelessness. Since she needs to tell someone about her life, her letters become a confirmation of her own existence. Beyond this, however, is no indication that she actually feels she is communicating personally with God and receiving comfort” (Shelton).
Celie confesses that she sees God as a white man with a beard. Since Celie has severe issues with men, she now runs into issues with God. When Celie discovers that Mr. ____ has been impeding Nettie's letter from getting to her, she makes her strongest religious statement up to that time; addressing God, she states, "You must be sleep," (Walker 187). Preston L. McKever-Floyd in his article, ‘Tell nobody but God': the theme of transformation in The Color Purple," explains, “She stops writing God, giving up on Him as but another trifling, low-down man (McKever-Floyd). Through the remainder of the book Celie comes to realize that God has no gender and no race. God is not male and God is not white. However, her last letter is again written to God. Now we see that Celie’s view on God has dramatically changed. Celie’s final entry is addressed to "Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples, Dear Everything, Dear God," (Walker 213). Not only does Celie see God in nature, but in everything, including her fellow human beings, along with herself. Celie finally broke through the idea that all things were centered around male domestication. Seeing God as the creater of love in the earth and not as another foul and abusive man was yet another step towards liberation.
In The Color Purple, Walker portrays the drastic impact of male domination and brutalism over women, we see domination in every part of female life, but in the course of time the women want to release themselves from the abuse of man and become independent. As a result of the lifelong abuse from all the male figures that came into the their lives, it became hard for Celie and Nettie to find any good in the world. The male dominance of society stripped women of their worth, Celie’s transformation from an oppressed to a unrepressed women is symbolized through the use of pants. By denying the stereotypical idea of pants as being a male attire, this allowed Celie to break free from gender roles within the societal rules. Walker’s use of letters is a striking allegorical representation of Celie and her progression from a dependent to an independent woman. This form of writing allowed for the audience to see each stage of Celie’s life, letter by letter. The last literary device Walker uses in order to portray the central theme of the novel is imagery. Purple is used as the image of beauty and power and it appears in the novel when Celie is showing her new house to Shug. The purple Celie painted in her room illuminates her reflection and how she has grown to become an empowered person, despite her life of distress. In The Color Purple, Alice Walker uses symbolism, imagery, and epistolary structure to convey her theme of women's liberation from persecution, sexism, and patriarchy.
Eddy, Charmaine. "Marking the body: the material dislocation of gender in Alice Walker's The
Color Purple." ARIEL, vol. 34, no. 2-3, 2003, p. 37+. Student Resources in Context,
Harris, Trudier. "From Victimization to Free Enterprise: Alice Walker's The Color Purple."
EXPLORING Novels, Gale, 2003. Student Resources in Context,
"Historical Context: The Color Purple." EXPLORING Novels, Gale, 2003. Student Resources in
link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ2111500076/SUIC?u=dove10524&xid=dac121e8. McKever-Floyd, Preston L. "'Tell nobody but God': the theme of transformation in The Color
Purple." Cross Currents, Fall 2007, p. 426+. Student Resources in Context,
Shelton, Frank W. "Alienation and Integration in Alice Walker's The Color Purple."
EXPLORING Novels, Gale, 2003. Student Resources in Context,
link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ2111200441/SUIC?u=dove10524&xid=2f844e6f. "Themes and Construction: The Color Purple." EXPLORING Novels, Gale, 2003. Student
Resources in Context,
link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/EJ2111500016/SUIC?u=dove10524&xid=47227295. Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1992.