Alice Walker’s The Color Purple portrays the epitome of the consciousness meaning of the term “No”. Walker’s feminist ideas are at the core of all events taking place within the novel focusing on the mistreatment of the male characters. In a series of letters to God, womanism is at work, as Walker creates an inspiring story of an unforgettable woman by the name of Celie who finds the strength to triumph over adversity and discover her voice in the world.
The countless feminist concepts throughout the novel carry the burden of the African American woman’s struggle during such a fragile period. As women are deemed to be voiceless and powerless, we are introduced to a quote in the novel that allows the reader to see beyond the circumstance and see life for what it was for women in the 1980s.
At the beginning of the novel, Walker can dissect the idea of how diverse two people can become later in life with the smallest change of details within a person when they are young.
One of Celie’s opening statements as a child states, “I’ve always been a good girl, maybe you can give me a sign, let me know what’s happening to me”, introducing the reader to the degrading circumstances that she lived under (Walker, 1). Two sisters of contrasting lives, Nettie and Celie are sisters, one in the form of torture and one in the form of successful life-fulfilling adventures; however, there lies a common ground between the two.
This similarity exists within both due to the strong connection with God. As Celie is introduced in the novel as being the older, yet less attractive sibling, she was always seen as the ugly child. Despite the vulgar behavior toward her, she finds comfort in her younger sister, Nettie. As the novel progresses, it reveals the theme of self-discovery while also showing the desperateness of a change within society.
According to the OED, the term womanism means having typical behavior regarded as typical or characteristic of a woman; womanish. The unique experiences portray religious roots in the relationship that she has with God. The main passage that I want to focus on is when Celie has been writing to God through her tough times and she receives no answers to her prayers. With a respect to her faith, she never goes against her beliefs, but questions her faith when she begins to wonder about whether or not God is a white man because all of the men in her life have only caused more detriment to her life. The passage states, “When I found out God was white, and a man, I lost interest” believing that God is a white man and will treat her just as the white men have in the past (Walker, 74). The idea that God is not a person gave Celie more security and hope in believing the unknown, but it also drives her and other women in the novel to coexist due to forgiveness. There seems to be a magnanimous spirit that challenges the idea of forgiveness not as a means of denying the situations or forgetting, but through asking for forgiveness. The phase of growing and changing over time that Celie endures is truthful, yet uplifting as she finds multiple different ways to forgive. There seems to be so much hope in the challenging situations that happen throughout the novel and the source of that hope seems to be forgiveness and love.
Focusing in on the passage, when Celie talks about how she is under the impression that God may potentially be white, it notions at the harsh experiences that she has already encountered among white men. There also is a negative connotation that is associated with her identity, being that she is a poor black woman in the rural south, she sees everything through a colored lens. She has the wrong idea of God and believes that if he is white, then he too will treat her as harshly as the white men have. Although being faithfully devoted to the Bible and sticking to its encouraging words, she sees religion as potentially being another opportunity for white society to oppress blacks, black women in particular. The lack of knowledge that Celie has is seen when she discovers that the God she has been writing to is dead, leading to her realization that divinity is all around and that everyone is a part of it.
The silence within the passage is expressed in a meaningful, yet calm manner. All that she has endured from childhood to adulthood, has shaped her into a woman that chooses to keep everything between her and the God she worships. The behaviors and male dominance by the men in Celie’s life allow the reader to look deeper into oppression against women and how the women in the novel were exploited by the work the men had them do. As the violent past with her father is seen, Celie states, “He beat me today cause he says I winked at a boy in church. I may have got something in my eye, but I didn’t wink. I don’t even look at me”, proving that the beatings are something that she is used to (Walker, 35). With Celie being verbally and physically abused on top of her being under the impression of being worthless, Celie seems to think that she deserves the abuse. Thinking about the intimidation along with the incapability to escape such harsh circumstances, there was none else to run to, besides the almighty God. To believe that Mr. s’ actions towards her are to be swept under the rug is to believe that the pain she endures is meant to happen.
Focusing on the men during this period is essential because the harassment and abuse that Celie had to go through were not few and far between. The beatings were not something that she was fond of, but she was led to the belief that Mr.’s actions were to be tolerated because that’s all she knew. As Celie grows weary of the actions toward her she states, “Everything you’ve done to me, already been done to you”, showing the beginning stages of her becoming fed up with being treated so unfairly (Walker, 60). There becomes a sense of longing to be more intimate with a period where women’s rights did not exist. We start to see how Celie’s sister Nettie exists and becomes one of Celie’s psychological ideal selves representing true femininity and feminine beauty. Ideal identities are key elements when looked into, being that Mr. is physically, mentally, and sexually abusive causing turmoil in the lives of every woman that he comes in contact with. However, we later in the novel learn that he is a victim of an overbearing and abusive father who he realizes later in the novel made him the way he is. As Shug Avery is introduced later in the novel, she brings along with her the essence of sex and confidence. Upon first meeting Celie, Shug tells her, “You sure is ugly”, only marginalizing Celie’s self-confidence even more (Walker, 80). It is only to find out that despite the harsh words from Shug, she is dealing with her issues from her past, proving the inside battles that women dealt with.
Losing interest in God indicates letting go. Letting go in a sense of finally saying no to what Celie would normally put up with and putting an end to waiting on God to relieve her of her pain and take matters into her own hands. She releases her pent-up rage, angrily cursing at Mr., stating, “I curse you! Until you do right by me everything is gonna crumble!” allowing herself the opportunity to move forward (Walker, 92). The oppression that is demonstrated works the idea of exploitation and the outcome of advocacy. This is an important shift in the novel simply because the act of letting go and releasing all the emotions that she had held inside of her needed to be diminished before she could begin the healing process and allow her life to be shifted from everyday torture to a successful and free lifestyle.
This novel does an exceptional job of humanizing all of the characters within while giving the reader the permission to both understand and forgive the abusers. The ambiguity present in many portions highlights the reasons why Celie not only lost interest in the religion that she looked to for so long but also lost interest in the negative effects of abuse and colorism that went along with it. The feeling of degradation in Celie’s life and among other black women highlights the need for change. Walker not only subconsciously gives the reader permission to move forward in thinking about how a change can be brought about, but takes the reader on a journey through Celie’s inner thoughts and allows us to see firsthand that change doesn’t come on its own. She provides evidence of past and present, men versus men, and women versus women. The novel proves that to overcome unjust treatment, it was necessary to have strong a strong relationship with not only God but with other female role models. To defy the odds is to say no and break the chain of what used to be acceptable.