The Color Purple as Political Critique of Race Relations
If the integrated family of Doris Baines and her adopted African grandson
exposes the missionary pattern of integration in Africa as one based on a
false kinship that in fact denies the legitimacy of kinship bonds across
racial lines, the relationship between Miss Sophia and her white charge,
Miss Eleanor Jane, serves an analogous function for the American South.
Sophia, of course, joins the mayor's household as a maid under conditions
more overtly racist than Doris Baines's adoption of her Akwee family:
Because she answers "hell no" (76) to Miss Millie's request that she come to
work for her as a maid, Sophia is brutally beaten by the mayor and six
policeman and is then imprisoned. Forced to do the jail's laundry and driven
to the brink of madness, Sophia finally becomes Miss Millie's maid in order
to escape prison. Sophia's violent confrontation with the white officers
obviously foregrounds issues of race and class, as even critics who find
these issues marginalized elsewhere in The Color Purple have noted. But it
is not only through Sophia's dramatic public battles with white men that her
story dramatizes issues of race and class. Her domestic relationship with
Miss Eleanor Jane and the other members of the mayor's family offers a more
finely nuanced and extended critique of racial integration, albeit one that
has often been overlooked.(11)
Like Doris Baines and her black grandson, Sophia and Miss Eleanor Jane
appear to have some genuine family feelings for one another. Since Sophia
"practically . . . raise[s]" (222) Miss Eleanor Jane and is the one
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Purple." CLA Journal 28 (1985): 382-92.
Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. "Explanation and Culture: Marginalia."
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Stade, George. "Womanist Fiction and Male Characters." Partisan Review 52
Tate, Claudia. Domestic Allegories of Political Desire: The Black Heroine's
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