Themes in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple

The Color Purple voices a theme of the silencing of women’s voice. Celie represents many other women who are forced to keep their voice unheard in the man’s world. The novel unfolds with silence, “You better not tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy” and continues several lines later, “He start to choke me, saying you better shut up and get used to it” (3). These lines suggest that Alphonso, Celie’s stepfather, forbids her to talk about sexual assault.  Moreover, he labels Celie as an ugly girl who “tell lies” (10) and “too dumb to keep going to school” (11), and justifies his opinion by referring to her teacher, Miss Beasley, who runs off at the mouth so much no man would have her” (11). Thus, Alphonso not only thinks that Celie’s voice is not worth listening, but also tries to cut her off from the society she lives in.

Albert takes Alphonso’s place as the agent of silencing as Celie enters his family life. Celie’s calling Albert as Mr. ____ suggests that she is denied access to the man’s world. A more significant example is illustrated by his denial of female network as he prevents Nettie and Celie from corresponding after Nettie rejected his lustful move. This denial of communication is symbolized by Albert’s hiding Nettie’s letters. One of the letters also proves the silencing, as Nettie writes,“He said because of what’d done I’d never heard from you again” (107).

The man’s world which is represented by Alphonso and Albert denies Celie’s voice, and she has to keep herself from insanity by writing to God. Up to a certain point in the story, this is her relief that would later lead her to the breaking of silence to articulation, as she writes, “long as I can spell G-o-d I got somebody along” (18). Yet, reliance to God is not enough, and later Celie learns to fight to make herself heard with the help of female network.

The Color Purple is also a story about women’s network. This network provides Celie with women like Nettie, Sofia, and Shug Avery, from whom she learns to break her silence and to fight. Nettie keeps telling her to fight, “You got to let them know who got the upper hand” (17). One of Nettie’s letter continues telling her “to fight and get away from Albert. He ain’t no good” (107). Yet, Celie only knows how to stay alive. She questions whether Nettie is saying the right thing, while reality tells her differently, and she tries to justify her silence by saying, “I think bout Nettie, dead. She fight, she run awayI don’t fight, But I’m alive” (21).

So far, Celie’s justification is not challenged, for Nettie is no longer around. Yet, the reliance to the Old Maker whenever she is beaten up is now challenged by Sofia’s outspokenness. Sofia thinks differently, probably saying that reliance to God is not enough, “You ought to bash Mr. ___ head open, think about heaven later” (39). Sofia affirms Nettie’s position by providing a real example of a woman has to fight all her life and will not die for love. She says, “ I loves HarpoGod know I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me” (30).

Shug Avery, whose “mouth just pack with claws” (45), continue threading the network. Shug dares to yell at Albert, “I don’t need no weak little boyI need me a man” (43). Celie knows now that Albert can be defeated only if she dares to open her mouth, and that is how she does her first fight as she talks back to her husband, “You a low downdog is what’s wrong. It’s time to leave you and enter into the Creation. And your dead body just the welcome mat I need” (170).

This female network proves as building support for women in hard times. Only by having a sense of belonging to community can women now grow strong and finally find their own selves, as Celie finds her independence going back to her own house and have a job of her own.

Celie’s struggle to find her whole self with the help of female network is symbolized by sewing, itself representing women’s work. As it functions, sewing involves threading and needling which bring pieces of cloth together to form a union. At the beginning of the story, Celie seems to collect her pieces as she meets a beautiful woman with a little girl who looks like her baby Olivia. Celie introduces us to the first embroidery of stars and flowers she made for the baby and the cloth the woman bought at the store (14). These are the pieces of life that Nettie helps gathering for Celie, as Nettie tries to bring Corrine into her conversation with Celie at the store by finding a quilt that has squares from the dress material Corrine bought that day. She writes, “Do you remember buying this cloth. I asked, pointing to a flowered square. And what about this checkered bird” (159).

In spite of her silence, Celie subconsciously finds her self as she feels just right for the first time when she is quilting. The quilt also builds connection between her and Sofia as they work on it (53), with Shug as she contributes her dress for scraps. At least, there is one thing now that makes her important in front of Shug, because she is the one who shows Shug the art of needlework when she asks, “How you sew this damn thing?” (51).

Celie’s independence is represented by her new occupation as a seamstress, and this suggests that she finally achieves her wholeness. It is interesting to note here that Celie specializes in folkspants, which symbolize mobility. Even the advertisement has a lot to say, “Folkspants, Unlimited /Sugar Avery Drive / Memphis, Tennessee” (182). Celie has turned into a mobile woman, as she starts the business after leaving Albert’s house to a female space. Thus, Celie proves that a woman can be mobile and independent without leaving her female sphere.

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