Table of Contents
The decisions and actions people take in the course of life are significantly influenced through the context of people and environment in which they find themselves. The protagonist in walker’s “The color Purple” is inherently influenced through the women close to her. Consequently, relationships are formed which are held together through the bonds of sisterhood. Celie derives her strength and motivation from her younger sister Nettie, Sofia and Shug. These women are the pillars in which Celia looks upon when facing challenges in her life either physically or spiritually. Women’s relationships with one another can be sisterly, motherly, mentor and student relationship or downright friendship. Walker emphasizes the significance of these relationships in bringing about the strength derived in sisterhood in black women’s struggle for survival and freedom against social-economic discrimination. Walker perceives the potential for empowerment of black women provided they create and cultivate a community where women are able to re-define the concept of man and woman.
As a consequence of the unification of bonds amongst black women through love, friendship and similar tribulations, they amass sufficient strength to break away from their bondage while creating an equal and free existence for their loved ones, as well as themselves. Meanwhile, men perceive the bonds between women as a threat and a prerequisite to rejection, hence a means of retaliation against them. The men in the narrative are unable to comprehend the significance of the bonds between women. For instance, Samuel observes that women who are friends will do anything for each other. Additionally, women are capable of sharing a husband harmoniously; however, a husband has no share in the women’s friendship an aspect which he finds confusing (Walker 141). This is also illustrated through Albert’s consternation as to how Celia and Shug become friends, given that Shug is Albert’s mistress. These aspects illustrate that the bond between women is reinforced significantly in situations where they share a common problem.
Women’s Contribution towards the Protagonist’s Liberation
The novel has numerous instances where the women’s strength is reinforced through sharing, reassurance and identifying with one another. The bond existing between Celie and Nettie is the first to be established. The challenges facing them begin with an affectionless family; where the father abuses Celie sexually while their mother is ill. Nettie from the onset has been Celie’s solace and source of strength. Furthermore, when Celie is suffers frequent beatings from Albert, her husband, Nettie urges her to defend herself and fight back while at the same time showing Albert’s children an example they can emulate. In so doing, they are made ware that she is in control (Walker 25). While staying with Celie and her husband, Nettie observes his brutal treatment towards her sister; therefore, she aspires to enlighten and teach Celie in an effort to save her from illiteracy and marital bondage. Celie is taught how to write and read; hence she expresses her feelings through the writing, more so her lamentation of God’s abandonment.
The ability to write and read characteristically becomes her refuge when Nettie is a way; moreover it brings her joy when she learns through a letter of her lost children’s wellbeing. The news of her children rejuvenates Celie’s strength and spirits; therefore, enabling her to persevere any challenges and difficulties in her way (Lauret 97). The belief that one day she will see her children is a constant source of strength. Meanwhile, Celie on her part acts as a substitute mother to her younger sister. She does this through self sacrifice especially in instances where their step father attempts to abuse Nettie sexually. In taking Nettie’s place, Celie acts as a guardian who is willing to sacrifice herself for the safety of her sister.
Sofia, though married to Celie’s step son, has critical lessons to offer in strengthening Celie’s resolve towards self liberation. Sofia’s family has a majority of men; therefore, in order to survive she had to fight her way through, “all my life I had to fight my cousins and my uncles, a girl child ain’t safe in a family of men” (walker 38). In contrast to Sofia, Celie suffered silently when she was abused. Celie’s concession that men are superior to women infuriates Sofia; she believes that this belief is unfair and subjects women to servitude. Sofia’s strength in asserting herself is premised on her upbringing, where there were many men than women in the family. Consequently, she had to learn to defend herself at an early age. Sofia’s resolve to refuse to be viewed as inferior to men or the upper class people; is demonstrated when she retaliated against the mayor after he slapped her because she turned down his wife’s offer.
These actions impact on Celie’s self awareness and awaken to the reality of liberal women; who refuse to conform to traditional social norms for the sake of maintaining the status quo. Significantly, Sofia goes against traditional social norms when she proposes to Harpo and subsequently asks Albert for his permission in order for Sofia to Marry Harpo. These actions are traditionally the duties of a man; however, Sofia breaks tradition an aspect which astonishes Harpo’s into rejecting her request, additionally she refuses to submit to his insults concerning her pregnancy and responds to him in the same tone. She tells Harpo, “stay here. When you free, me and the baby be waiting” (Walker 38). In spite of the opposition towards their marriage, Sofia and Harpo marry to the bewilderment of his family. Sofia’s resistance towards male domination acts as an eye opener for Celie, who been afraid of speaking out against men.
Walker uses Sofia to illustrate the emerging liberal and independent woman capable of holding her own. Meanwhile, Sofia’s strength and refusal to submit to her husband is unheard of; therefore, Harpo succumbs to pressure from his father and seeks methods in which to make Sofia a submissive wife. He seeks Celie’s counsel, and she affirms that the only way is through beating her; however, when Sofia learns of Celie’s words she feels betrayed. In the long run, Sofia’s friendship becomes the basis in which Celie defines herself as a strong, independent and courageous woman; who ultimately liberates herself from social bondage.
While Celie acted as a mother towards Nettie, the same case applies to her relationship with Shug; however, their relationship has more implications than mother daughter relationship. While Shug acts in the capacity of a mother towards Celie, she is also a mentor, teacher and lover, as well. Shug urges Celie to acknowledge and appreciate her femininity (Lauret 111). Shug is first Celie’s friend and Secondly her lover. However, she has a subtle air of mother like influence towards Celie; which eventually contributes towards Celie’s transition to an independent woman who has severed ties with conditions that subjected her to bondage. Since Celie has grown up without sufficient attention from her mother, Shug steps in assuming the role of a protector, especially when Albert attempts to beat Celie, “I won’t leave…until I know Albert won’t even think about beating you” (Walker 79).
The constant subjection to beatings and rape has left Celie feeling ugly and without the desire to know her body intimately. As a protective mechanism, has had to distance herself from her body; consequently, treating it as an alien part of her being. However, in order to liberate herself, Celie must confront her fears and put her femininity into perspective. This will require both the physical and emotional strength to overcome whatever challenges might come her way. While the object under attack inherent in men’s aggression towards women is their body; therefore, most women feel disgust for their bodies (Ross 70). The confrontation of her body symbolizes the enslavement of women not only socially but also within their own minds; therefore, characterizing the degradation of their dignity and subsequent consignment to inferiority. Shug encourages Celie to confront her own fears through making her appreciate her feminine beauty. Celie for the first time looks at her genitals in the mirror, consequently appreciating the power of her body and its magnificence. Celie’s self awareness can be attributed to the strength she draws form Shug; therefore, she identifies with her and characteristically desires to be like her (Donnelly 91).
The sight of Shug’s naked body is a prerequisite to Celie’s acceptance and appreciation of her sexuality. Therefore, Shug acts as the primary object towards this direction. Celie is characteristically a weak woman whose strength is derived from those closest to her; meanwhile, as her strength grows, she becomes more confident in herself leading to the eventual liberation from her limitations (Eder 7). Significantly, in spite of Celie having borne two children, the concept of female orgasms is unknown to her since she has never experienced it (Hooks 445). On the other hand, Shug has had significant experience in the subject and through her sexual encounter with Celie; she initiates her to the pleasures of the intimate sexual encounter. As a result, Celie experiences an orgasm for the first time in her life, leaving her feeling loved, “heaven is what it feel like, not like sleeping with Mr._ at all” (walker 98).
Celie’s tribulations and Shug’s mothering nature towards her leads them into lesbianism. However, their sexual relationship is not influenced through indecent behavior, but it emerges through affectionate and natural circumstances. Celie’s relationships with men have been loveless, violent and sexually abusive. In light of this, it would have been impossible for her to have a consensual relationship with a man. Therefore, the availability of Shug is not only a convenience but also an alternative to men. Their sexual relationship is characteristic of breaking away from the expected social norms to the advent of conscious decision making which has no bearing to genetic or biological inclinations (LaGrone 86). The sexual experience between Shug and Celie serves to strengthen the bond between them; moreover, Celie’s orgasms are essentially a gift from Shug. Additionally, Celie feels accepted and loved; therefore, strengthening her desires to liberate herself towards a spiritual discovery of self. Awakening to the sight of Shug alongside her in bed gives Celie a sense of security and love. Consequently, this symbolizes a stepping stone towards Celie’s liberation and fight against male domination.
Celie opens up to Shug and narrates her tribulations both in childhood and adult hood, in so doing, Shug acts as an outlet of suppressed emotions, pain and pressure. Shug acts as a pillar in which she could lean and depend on for support without judging her shortcomings. This aspect strengthens their relationship into a lifetime partnership; furthermore, Shug supports Celie through her tribulations with Albert and as a solace from her abusive childhood. In spite of Shug’s marriage to Grady, the two women continue with their relationship taking advantage when either’s husband is not around. Consequently, Celie feels comfortable enough to narrate her story to Shug while at the same time expressing her loveless life; however, Shug reassures her saying, “I love you, Miss Celie” (walker 97).
Walker points out in the narrative that spiritual liberation is as critical as sexual or physical liberation. Spiritual re-invention is essential in Celie’s re-invention. It is evident that the childishness and naivety of Celie’s beliefs is subjected to various transitions as her life progresses. Initially Celie accepted the white man’s presentation of the scriptures, her perception of God was that he was, “big and old and tall and gray and white” (Walker 165). Celie’s follows religious teachings faithfully in spite of the implications their interpretation can have on her well being or safety. For instance, since God’s commandments require that a person should honor his or her parents, she is unable to resist her step father’s sexual abuse (Walker, 39). In subjecting herself to this religion, she has enslaved herself and opened an opportunity for others to misuse and abuse her as she contends that eventually God will come to her aid. Consequently, Celie suffered silently form the abuse she suffered in the hands of her father and her adult life, in the hand of her husband.
Celie’s allegiance to the “white man’s God” where she had placed all her hopes and faith does not bear any results. Additionally, it appears as this God is in agreement with her father and husband through letting them abuse her without intervening. This God has allowed men to abuse her and has given them power to rule in a patriarchic world that subjected her to servitude. The characterization of God to a Whiteman infuriates Celie; therefore, the elimination of any ties with this God who has allowed others to oppress her is critical to her spiritual salvation (LaGrone 275).
The process of spiritual liberation occurs in gradual reintroduction to the basic concepts of religion. For instance, Nettie’s representation of God as a black man with hair similar to that of a lamb and not white is the beginning of her doubt towards the God she has for so long been praying for his help. Celie is eventually, convinced through the explanations and interpretations that Shug presents to her towards God’s purpose and intentions. Shug dismisses the perceptions presented through the teachings of the convention churches where God is personified to be a he or she; meanwhile, Shug prefers placing God aside from any human reference, hence refereeing to God as “it’ (LaGrone 275). In Shug’s opinion worshipping should entail freedom of doing what a person pleases and admiring things as they are; however, they should not be subjected to ambiguous interpretations made with the intention of serving the agenda of those in positions of power.
Shug’s representation of religion catches Celie’s attention, and she begins to appreciate herself and her surrounding environment. Shug’s makes Celie realize that among the most critical aspects of life are admiration, love, happiness and enjoyment of the world’s beauty. Celie realizes that her relationships with men have clouded her judgment. This is because men did not give her an opportunity to understand the significance of the things which free people such as men take for granted. She contends, “you have to git man off your eyeball before you can see anything a’ tall” (Walker 168).
The strength that Celie derives from Shug’s representation of religion enables her to free herself from the clutches of the patriarchic God. Subsequently, she transforms her spirit towards the appreciation of nature, love, happiness and life. In her prayers, she makes a chronological order of things she believes in re-inventing her conceptualization of God; hence making her a new person spiritually. She believes that God is inherent in all things and that all things have an element of God in them; an aspect which helps her to realize the immense nature of the world and God. Her realization that she is part of God’s creation; therefore, God resides within her as a source of strength and support for her. In so doing, Celie liberates herself form spiritual subjection and appreciates her significance of her existence.
A woman’s ability to participate in economic endeavors without the influence of men is characterized as an economically independent woman. Therefore, economic liberation is the basis in which a woman exercises her free will in determining her life’s course; therefore, it is an inherent pre-requisite of a woman’s absolute liberation (Donnelly .4) Walker presents the shocking nature of Celie’s poverty in the narrative; where teenage Celie has no clothes other than those on her back. When she is told to wear some decent clothes she wonders what she is being asked to wear as she points out, “but what I’m sposed to put on? I don’t have nothing” (Walker, 5).
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Though her life involved working in the fields and the house, she was left with nothing to show for labors. Celie and Harpo are the only ones in the family who go out in the field to work; however, when it comes to harvest time, the master, Albert takes it all. When she declares her intention to leave, Albert denies her everything that she had owned or worked for, leaving her empty handed. Celie’s poor living conditions have contributed to her feeling inferior in life; meanwhile, her choice and desire to wear purple clothes is met with resistance from her husband who is unwilling to buy clothes for her.
The color purple; therefore, represents Celie gaining the strength that is necessary to liberate her from abuse, violence and subjection she has experienced since her child hood. As a black woman, Celie is not formally educated; however, she is talented in making clothes such as pants. Through Shug’s advice, Celie relocates to Memphis where she learns how to conduct a business through making and selling pants. Consequently, on Shug’s advice she becomes an entrepreneur leading to the creation of her company, Folkspants Unlimited Company. In so doing, Celie liberates herself economically
Celie desired clothes in the color purple; however, her husband refused to acquire these clothes for her. Walker uses the color purple to be symbolic to the strength that women in the narrative required to liberate them; however, they were constantly denied freedom through sexual abuse and physical violence against them. The strength women derived from each other was crucial in strengthening the Protagonists strength to liberate her, sexually, economically and spiritually. In light of this, the bonds created through the various relationships amongst women enable them to discover their strengths.
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Subsequently, women are able to free themselves form factors, which hold them back from self actualizing and realizing their real potential. Walker uses women in the narrative to demonstrate the struggle and challenges in the quest for women’s liberation and freedom against male domination and subjection. Walker demonstrates that women are capable of success in social and economic endeavors, which have long been regarded as male dominion. Women need strength and someone to help them get there.