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Rock Street, San Francisco

 The Color Purple is an epistolary novel written by Alice Walker in 1972 which was later made into a film by Steven Spielberg in 1985, gaining her even more recognition for her work. The Color Purple is a story that follows the life of Celie, an impoverished, uneducated African American woman who struggles to escape from the brutality and degradation of her treatment by men. The story is told through letters she writes to God in moments of desperation, weakness and pain, all of which she suffers in solitary. When Celie started to view God as a “distant white man” who disdained women of colour, she implicitly accepts the white and masculine dominance that has been imposed on her and makes the assumption that her voice can never be heard. Due to this, she stops writing to God and starts writing letters to her sister Nettie instead, which marks the point of her newfound strength and resilience in battling the perpetual racism and sexism that surrounds her. Over the course of the novel, the progression of the way by which Celie chooses to live her life drastically changes. She goes from living a life that is achromatic and futile to adoring and relishing in the creation of life which is otherwise known as the concept of the color purple.Whether it be from hearing stories about her grandmothers that were consistently getting beaten up by their husbands or watching her mother pick up a coconut and smashing it on her father’s head, Walker had develop a keen interest in wanting to understand the concept of violence. She had previously stated that her family comes from a history of ‘slave-owner’ ancestry which instills a ‘slave owning’ mentality in the men in her family, thus constantly being surrounded by sexist and abusive men from her childhood. Due to the environment she was surrounded by, Walker felt compelled to write stories that address the themes of female assault and oppression, especially in the African American community. American writers in the 1970s placed a large emphasis on the community and its subversive future especially during the point of time in which the black nationalist movement was at its peak. Walker chose to highlight the importance of the notions of black unity and its revolution by showing that their utopian ideals would not be achieved without acknowledging the pre-existing damage in relationships between black men and women, which has already altered their lives. Walker shows how violence, specifically in domestic spheres, has ruptured female subjectivity. She shows that not only has this violence posed a threat to women’s wholeness but also the establishment of a whole black nation. The plethora of violence in the form of harsh economic, social and emotional crisis facing the blacks, notably in women is shown through the life of the character Celie in the novel. The ways by which these are specifically shown are through her relationships with the various men in her life, her relationship with God and lastly the reliance of the females around her.Relationships with the various men in Celie’s lifeOne of the key character traits instilled in women in the 1900s was obedience. Women were expected to comply and abide by the rules created by the men in their household. Only then were they considered the ideal woman, thus showing that a woman’s opinion was of no matter or significance at the point of time. In the novel, it is evident that Celie is inhibited from exploring and asserting her own identity and sovereignty due to male dominance exerted over her. This initially begins with her stepfather who uses her as a substitute to fulfill his sexual wants and desires, ‘First he put his thing up gainst my hip and sort of wiggle it around. Then he grab hold my titties'(1). The explicit language and tone used in this sentence is ample to evoke emotions of disgust and abhorrence from the readers. The choice of the word ‘wiggle’ is not only graphic but emphasizes on the amount of force needed in order to penetrate Celie, which further shows the discomfort and invasive nature of his actions. The use of the word “titties” also shows how the objectification and lack of respect that was shown to Celie, was now projected by her as well. In the 1900s the word “titties” were viewed as cuss words that were most commonly used by men. This shows how from a young age, Celie’s perception of herself has been annihilated due to what was supposed to be her father figure’s abusive tendencies towards her. Furthermore, after hearing that the second child Celie birthed after getting impregnated by her stepfather was sold, she says ‘I got a breast full of milk running down myself’. This casts an illustrative and literal image of Celie’s womanhood being drained out of her. The purity of the milk carelessly spilling over her breasts is messy and unsightly, showing how Celie is stripped away from her fecundity and womanhood. More specifically, this shows that from a young age, Celie’s body has been transformed into a site of subversion and oppression, and constitutes as the site of permanent anxiety which is seen throughout the novel. The lack of control Celie has over her body reflects the overarching theme of having a woman’s body reduced to a point lower than its reproductive function, and having men fight for dominance and power with women themselves over the literary terrain that is the women’s body. It also acts as a broader message to show the lack of control Celie now has on the physical environment around her due to the lack of ownership of Celie has over her own self. However, despite this concept being further emphasized on when Celie gets married off to her husband Mr __, otherwise known as Albert, it is also through him where she finds empowerment. From the start of their relationship, it was evident that Albert had no interest whatsoever in marrying Celie. He viewed her as ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’, and saw no worth in her. The only reason why he agreed to marrying her in the first place was because she was promised to have been a good mother to his kids, and she was guaranteed to have been the perfect fit to take on the domestic role in his household which was expected of women in that era. Not only did Celie function as a labourer and source or work in the household, but she was also the source of his pleasure thus further dehumanising her. Due to the fear instilled in her from both Albert and her stepfather, Celie takes a passive approach as a means of survival and does as she is told, thus emphasising on her weakness. However, despite his abusive tendencies and inability to show any form of love and compassion for his children and Celie, it is revealed that Mr __ is indeed capable of displaying these affectionate qualities and is not as stone cold as he is portrayed to be. This is seen when the character Shug Avery, his previous lover, is introduced and stays with them for a while due to her illness. The first instance in which we see Mr __ putting another person, let alone a woman before him, was from the time when he heard she had fallen sick, showing that he was capable of love. Upon hearing the news, he takes matters into his own hands and asks Harpo to “hitch up the wagon” without telling anyone in the family as to why he needs to leave so urgently, so that he could personally pick Shug up and bring her to his home where he planned on nursing her. This is the first indication of selflessness that is seen from Mr __ which adds a new dimension to him and suggests that he was indeed capable of showing respect and empathy. It can also be seen that the second Shug Avery enters their home, Mr __ stops abusing Celie. This is first seen when Celie manages to get Shug Avery to finally consume food which puts Mr __ to ease. Upon seeing this, he is content and starts to develop a certain propensity towards Celie which can be seen when he initiates a normal conversation with her. He asks ” how you git her to eat” followed by a laugh to her response. This is the first instance of Celie and Mr __ having a normal relationship without having him assert his dominance and authority as a male. This glimpse into Mr __ and Celie acts as a moment of foreshadowing as it reflects the type of civil relationship they are both able to have despite the confinement they are bounded by due to their individual genders, which is seen later in the text. As mentioned before, it is seen that after Shug’s arrival, Mr __ stops abusing Celie and Celie starts to morph into her own person. However, what brings her further empowerment was when she deliberately made the decision to leave Mr __ after fully comprehending the oppressive environment she was forced to live in. When Celie makes the choice to leave, Mr __ is left in genuine confusion and shock as he was unaware of the effects that the patriarchal system he religiously followed had on Celie. This again adds a different dimension to Mr __ as it can be inferred that he was genuinely naive and thought that this was the only way of life. It is mentioned that Mr __ was brought up in a household that was strictly governed by his strict and demanding father, where the idea of male dominance had to be asserted and that a woman was not allowed to have her own opinion. If she did, she was deemed as unworthy and unfitting to be a wife which serves as an explanation as to why he was unable to marry Shug Avery when they were in love. Due to the fact that this was the only way Mr __ viewed women, he was unable to comprehend the reason as to why Celie was unhappy, as all he has done is merely live his life the way he was told he should. This further empowers Celie’s character as she too was brought up in a household where male dominance was enforced. However, she manages to grasp the concept of the derogatory and abusive nature of her environment and leave which is especially empowering, considering the fact that Celie was indeed uneducated and not familiar with the concept of women’s rights. The fact that Celie herself was able to comprehend and acknowledge the concept of the patriarchy and Mr __ could not, acts as one of the markers and major turning points in Celie’s character turning from submissive to autonomous. However, what truly marks Celie’s reformed character would be effect Celie’s departure had on Mr __. He starts taking on more domestic roles such as cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children, and starts being viewed as a grandfatherly figure. The reason as to why he chooses to do this is due to the fact that Celie has become her own person and these domestic roles no longer define her. The second Celie started becoming her own person, she also no longer addressed him as Mr __. Rather, she started addressing him by his real name, Albert. The concept of addressing him as Mr __ highlighted the fear that Celie faced when it came to him. The fact that she was unable to address him by his real name and was only addressed by Mr __ shows how a large emphasis on his gender was placed. Furthermore, there is an element of power from having her husband be known without a name as it undoubtedly erases the idea that he has a real human quality. However, when she finally returns back to Georgia and sees that he has indeed made an effort to change, she finds it in her to forgive him and starts calling him Albert. This is largely significant as it shows that she has come into acceptance and forgiveness with the past thus indicating a new beginning for her. She maintains a healthy friendship with Albert after Albert’s character begins to change as they both start to discover and understand their mutual affection for Shug. By being more vulnerable and letting go of his oppressive ‘male’ conditioning in this way, he is enabled to transform himself into a man who can act naturally and in tranquility with his environment rather than coercing it. His love of beauty and creativity re-emerges in his shell collection and shirt designs and the compassion and care he once could only bear for Shug starts to extend to his wider family, whom he learns to appreciate rather than try to dominate. Ultimately he forges a relationship with Celie based on respect, at last valuing her opinions and skills. The fact that Celie was able to spark this change in Albert is telling enough of the power she starts to have over him, thus showing that her relationship with Albert though dehumanising and degrading at first, was one of the key events and relationships that eventually led her to a state of empowerment and strength, thus showing the evolution of Celie’s identity through her relationships with the men around her. Relationship with God Another key event that occurs which marks Celie’s growth as a person would be the fact that the letters she writes begin addressed to God but eventually starts being addressed to her sister Nettie. At the start of the novel, Celie’s birth mother dies (6) which leads Celie to feeling more isolated and lonely than she ever felt before. Furthermore, when she got married to Mr __, Nettie, her only friend that she could confide in got taken away from her. Due to the loneliness that consumes her, Celie turns to God and chooses to confide in him. Due to the conservative society that they live in, Celie was brought up to be religious. Due to the patriarchal religious teachings that has been used to instil obedience and subversion in women, Celie felt that she was unable to express her innermost feelings of anger and hurt. Due to Celie’s upbringing that revolves around submitting to the ideologies of the patriarchy, she uses the biblical teaching as a tool to navigate her life. She entrusted her life in God’s hands and believed that God was indeed responsible for change and that by writing to God in a colloquial manner, he would eventually hear her desperate cries for help and solve her pre-existing issues. However, after finding out that Albert had been keeping Nettie’s letters from her, she accuses him of falling asleep on her and loses her faith in him altogether. After this incident, Celie starts to realise that her belief and faith in God has no relevance to her needs. She realises that by aimlessly writing to God, none of her problems were going to be resolved which was a fundamental moment for Celie. From this point on, she realises that it is her that is responsible for her own actions and life therefore deciding to stop writing to God. Upon learning that Albert has been keeping the letters Nettie writes to her, she recovers the letters and chooses to write to Nettie to express her feelings instead of God. There is a stark contrast in the way Celie starts to write her letters after she started writing them to Nettie. Each letter after the ones addressed to God started to become more concise, less pleading and much stronger. In her letters to God, Celie merely questions the situation she is in and aimlessly recounts events from that day. However, in her letters to Nettie, she is braver and more confrontational. Celie starts to opens up and talks about events such as her stepfather raping her as a kid and how that had truly affected her which shows her coming into acceptance with the traumatic events in her life. The fact that Celie is coming to terms with and accepting the horrific events that has occured in her life serves as a marker of her strength. This is because she would consistently neglect and push aside her feelings that she felt, and worse still would withstand and carry around the pain and agony of all these events. Furthermore, at the time, women were also forced to comply and accept their fate no matter how cruel and grotesque due to the patriarchal expectations of the era. However, the fact that she chooses to against that and share her feelings and stories with Nettie shows her pushing past the societal boundaries and in fact challenging the notion of the patriarchy.  Not only does this show strength but this is indicative of Celie’s resilience. This is monumental as it shows that Celie is doing more than just acknowledging the issue, she is actually taking the steps needed in order to change her life which shows the vast change of character in Celie from the beginning point of the novel. From being extremely passive and compliant, Celie grew to be resilient and has mustered up the strength to actually talk about these “taboo” subjects. This shows the development of Celie’s character, from passive to strong and outspoken. More importantly, from this it can be inferred that the abandonment of God who is a symbol of the negligent male figure demonstrates Celie’s independence and self-sufficiency (173). The modifications in Celie’s letters reflect a developing autonomous woman.Another driving force that caused Celie to stop writing letters to God was Shug Avery. Shug introduced the concept of “The color purple”. The concept of the color purple is representative of ‘all good things in the world that is made by God for both women and men to enjoy’. In other words, instead of living everyday merely by surviving, the concept of the color purple is to enjoy and appreciate the nature of life made for every human to enjoy. According to Shug, God wants people to notice the beauty of his/her creation which includes subjects like sex.  She theorizes that God is within us and not outside of us which causes Celie to view the concept of God and religion differently. Shug has rejected the false ideas that the church has tried to inflict on her and redefines religion for Celie. She tells her that God has no gender or race, and exists as an ‘it’. She also states that worship is enjoyment and awareness of the whole natural world, including human sexuality. Shug’s religion is the shared experience of beauty and an appreciation of the richness of life. Celie’s liberation occurs when she accepts this view, which enables Celie to assert her own independence and find her self-confidence, thus no longer writing to God, but to Nettie instead. Again, this shows her growth as a woman and the growing self-love that has been imbued in her.Reliance on the females around herLastly, one of the most fundamental ways Celie has grown as a person was due to the influence of the strong ladies she was surrounded by. Apart from Nettie and Shug, the first instance Celie came face to face with a strong woman was Sofia, Albert son’s, Harpo’s wife. Envious of Sofia’s ability to stand up to Harpo, Celie advises him to beat her to discipline her. Sofia confronts Celie about this and deems her as weak and submissive which acted as a moment of self actualization for Celie. This is crucial because it was in this moment that Celie was challenged to be a stronger individual. Celie looked up to Sofia as a role model. When Sofia was in prison, she lost her sense of self and felt degraded. She goes on to say she “was like Miss Celie now”. After seeing Sofia at her weakness, Celie realizes that she could not be submissive anymore and had to start taking matters into her own hands. This scene served as a moment of realization to Celie. She realised that no woman could thrive in this world as submissive and forces herself to find the strength needed to be a much stronger person. Furthermore, characters like Shug evidently had a large part to play in aiding Celie to becoming more confident. Apart from the various ways she has helped Celie mentioned above, she allows for Celie to explore love and her sexual identity without any shame or remorse whatsoever which aided Celie in finding some sort of liberation and tenacity. Shug’s love for Celie made her feel important and wanted, feelings of which she lacked from those around her. A significant symbol of this would be when Shug decides to sing a song entitled “Miss Celie song” dedicated to Celie in a bar. This not only makes Celie feel loved and appreciated but also gives her sense of identity as it was the first time someone had written a song about her. This puts Celie to ease emotionally and through the course of their relationship, physically and sexually as well. This also symbolises motherhood because reason as to why Celie develops a sense of importance in the novel is owed to Shug. With Shug’s guidance and love, it made growing into an independent individual possible for Celie. ConclusionIn the novel, the character development of Celie indeed plays a significant part highlighting and accentuating the bigger themes such as racism and sexism in the story. Specifically, it is crucial how each individual relationship Celie has with people has aided tremendously in morphing her into the autonomous and resilient individual she has blossomed into. The degradation of womanhood from men, her reconstruction of beliefs in God and the immense amount of support she gains from the women she is surrounded by is used to exemplify her transformation.

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