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The story tells of one lady who, through fruition and hardship, discovers the proficient, content, and proud woman repressed inside of a young "shut-mouthed" girl. The Color Purple, the third novel written by the Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker, has been both respected and berated in numerous essays and reviews. Although the critics agree to disagree about many aspects of this novel one thing is clear, The Color Purple affirms "the survival and liberation of black women through the strength and wisdom of others." (Draper, 1810)
In Walker's personal view, the black woman's history falls into three stages; the woman suspended, the artist thwarted and hindered in her desires to create, living through two centuries when her main role was to be cheap source of cheap labor in the American society, and the modern woman. (Washington, 139) The feminist Alice Walker writes in a circulatory pattern. Her female characters move in a common three-stage cycle: 1)the suspended woman-cruelly exploited, and spirits and bodies mutilated, 2)the thwarted woman-desires most to be a part of mainstream American life, and 3)the modern woman-exhibits the qualities of the developing emergent model. Before Celie, our main character, makes her way into the cycle the story sets her as a child, eager to learn, love, and enjoying life. She and Nettie, her, sister attend school on a regular basis, complete all of their chores, and still make time to talk, to play, and/or to just spend time together. Then, just as Celie reaches womanhood, she finds her way into the first stage: the suspended woman.
The suspended woman plays the role of the inclement exploit with a warped spirit as well as body. Celie's body is first desecrated through her stepfather's sexual misconduct. Succeeding this comes continuing sexual and physical abuse by her husband Mr. ______. Here, Celie slips into the second stage: the thwarted woman. In this stage the character desires most to become a part of mainstream American society. In most cases, they are also victims of psychological abuse that alienates them from their roots and real contact to the world. The desecration and abuse her body survives, notwithstanding, her spirit is broken when not only have her children been taken away from her by her stepfather, but Nettie is forced, by Albert, to leave he and Celie's house.
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"Shug Avery was a woman. The most beautiful woman I ever saw. She more pretty then my mama. She bout ten times more prettier then me. I see her in furs. Her face rouge. Her hair like somethin tail. . .An all night long I stare at [the picture]. An now when I dream, I dream of Shug Avery. She be dressed to kill, whirling and laughing." (Walker 16)
The final stage is the modern woman, one who realizes her strengths, her weakness and accepts them. In this stage, the lady works with what she has. Celie approaches this stage only with the help of Shug Avery during her stay with Albert and Celie. As fate would have it, Shug becomes deathly ill after a performance in Celie's home town. All of Celie's years of wondering about Shug Avery comes to an end here. In the story, Albert goes to see Shug sing and Celie wants to ask him so many questions.
"What she wear? Is she still the same old Shug, like in my picture? How her hair is? What kind of lipstick? Wig? She stout? She skinny? She sound well? Tired? Sick? Where her children at while she singing all over the place? Do she miss 'em?"
Shug and Celie start off unfavorably, however, after Celie begins to take care of Shug and nurse her back to health they develop the only kind of friendship, and love, that can stir Celie back to life. Through Albert and Shug's relationship, Celie finally hears from her sister Nettie. Thirty years has passed since they last spoke. Why? Well, Albert never let Celie sift through the incoming mail. In doing this, he keeps her in a subversive state. At any rate, thanks to Shug, who takes the letter from the mailbox, she gives Celie a sense of hope for herself. In that letter Celie learns that Nettie is still alive and that her two children are with her. After searching the rest of the house, she and Shug find all of the letters that Nettie has sent to her for the past thirty years. Celie learns that her family is coming home. Eventually Celie leaves Albert, deplorably only to become attached to Shug. At any rate, when Shug needs to have her "last fling" and leaves Celie, Celie realizes that she can do just fine by herself, thus completing the cycle.
This is one of those stories with a lot of "self-help" potential. Celie loses everything that matters to her, becomes a victim of unthinkable abuse both in her child life and adulthood, Then, she reunites with her sister in a happily-ever-after motif. Nothing is impossible for a woman to accomplish in this world. After Celie leaves Albert, she starts her own business and runs it throughout the rest of her days. The novel really affirms the notion of "survival and liberation of black women through the wisdom and strength of others." (Draper, 1810) Celie's survival through this story is due greatly to Shug, and even Albert. Her debt to Shug is the most recognized, for if it is not for Shug; 1)Albert never would have stopped beating her, 2)her spirit would never have been rekindled, and 3)she never would have heard from her sister again. Basically, if it isn't for Shug, Celie's existence will have been a bleak one. If she hadn't gone mad, she probably would have died from loneliness and despair.
Like Shug, Albert is a character who significantly effects Celie's life. Albert represents Celie's stepfather at the beginning of their marriage. He represses her and strips her of everything she holds dear, but he, himself, is victim. He has a weak will and no initiative to accept responsibility for his actions. He shows her that he is just as lonely as she. Albert helps her to reach an understanding about her stepfather and about himself. Through a friendship, that develops after their marriage ends, she also forgives them. Celie's stepfather, who she calls Pa, and Albert are two of the major male characters in the novel. They share as much as the differ.
Celie's stepfather, Pa, is a swindler. After Celie's real father dies, this man, (who has received word that there is a new well-off, slightly out-of-sorts, widow in town), zeroes in and sweet-talks Celie's mother right down the aisle. Celie is two years old at the time. Well, this man enjoys his new life and his new wife, but when she refuses to succumb to him who does him turn to? Pa uses his power of authority to force Celie into a situation no barely fourteen year old girl should be in. "Never had a kine word to say to me," Celie says, "Just say You gonna do what your mammy wouldn't. . .When [penetration begins to] hurt, I cry. He start to choke me, saying You better shut up and git used to it. But I don't never git used to it." (Walker, 1) Even sadder is that after her mother dies, not only must she take care of the house and her sisters and brothers, but she has to willingly offer herself to Pa in order to spare Nettie. Pa is a true abridgement of a tyrant, using his authority for degenerate ends. Of course Albert begins the same way. Albert marries Celie because 1)he can't have Nettie and 2)he needs someone to watch his children. Ensuing his decision to marry Celie, he and Pa have a little chat.
"Pa say, Your sister thinking bout marriage. Didn't mean nothing to him. [My brother] pull my dresstail and ast can he have some blackberry jam out the safe. I say, Yeah. She good with children, Pa say, rattling his paper open more. Never heard her say a hard word to nary one of them. Just give 'em everything they ast for, is the only problem. [Albert] say, That cow still coming?"
No love materializes between these two and their marriage is one reminiscent of arranged royal weddings. Of course when he reaches his house, he on horseback, she on foot, a young Harpo "laid [her] head open with a rock." His punishment is a reprimand. Albert is, in essence, a capering child, running from his responsibilities, and avoiding the consequences of his actions. Nevertheless, Albert has a redeeming quality, he, as Celie, finds an understanding about himself and attempts to compensate for all that he has done in the past. He makes peace with Celie, and thus he releases himself from his past. Albert is truly the most dynamic character in this novel, next to Celie. In looking at Albert and Pa we find many insites into the human psyche. As symbols, one represents an immense amount of pestilence, the other represents the same but allows for change.
The major symbol of the novel is the color purple. It has many associations, positive and negative. Purple symbolizes love of truth, patience, humanity, and spirituality along with sublimination, martyrdom, and resignation. In connection with the novel, Celie is the epitamy of patience and humanity. She never asks for anything from anyone. When things don't go her way, she waits. For example, she waits for Nettie's letters for thirty years. On the other hand, Celie also shows a great bit of resignation in her patience. Culturally, purple signifies virtue and faith as does Celie. During she and Shug's conversation about sex, Celie tells Shug she feels nothing during sexual intercourse with her husband. Shug deduces this to mean she is still a virgin, but in reality Celie succumbs her body to Albert but not her spirit or her soul. Another purple reference is to the Easter holiday. How coincidental that the color purple is associated with the resurrection of Jesus Christ and this novel, considering that Celie does have a "rebirth" of her own as she moves through Walker's cycle. Ultimately, the color purple, as a prize, represents a winner over all classes, strangely coincidental isn't it. The use of purple as a symbol is a virtue to this novel but also a fault. In the preparation of death, Roman soldiers carried amulets of purple amethyst. There are many virtues as well as faults in this novel.
One of the most obvious faults in the story is its likeness to a fairy tale. "Celie becomes the ugly duckling who will eventually be redeemed through suffering. This trait links her to all the heroines of fairy tales from Cinderella to Snow White." (Harris, 159) At the conclusion of the story not only does Celie find her sister but also both of her lost children. Another example of the novel's surreal quality, the woman Celie fantasizes about for years, not only lands in her house but falls in love with her. Likewise, let's ask what The Color Purple, ultimately, predicates. "In true fairy-tale fashion, it affirms passivity; heroines that do little to help themselves," says Trudier Harris in "The Color Purple Stereotypes and Silence." The entire novel contains a virtual acceptance of cruelty, violence, and violation. Some things about this novel are too good to be true. Others are too appalling. In uncovering a novel's discrepancies, the story can become a vehicle of the social and political views of the author. Some critics feel that The Color Purple is just a forum for Alice Walker to repay "IOUs".
Being a feminist, there are a few wisps of homage to the feminist community in Celie. She is a woman that triumphs over impossible odds. The effeminate relationship between Celie and Shug has been said to pay a debt to lesbians. "She pays homage to the lesbians by portraying a relationship between two women that reads like a schoolgirl fairy tale in its ultimate adherence to the convention of the happy resolution." (Harris, 160) Born-again feminists receive there dues in Albert and career-minded women are acknowledged in Shug. This two hundred and fifty-one page novel contains enough between the line information to double its size.
The Color Purple, a story of one lady, named Celie, who triumphs through adversity to discover a proficient, content, and proud woman hidden inside of a young timid girl, is one that brings hope to any woman. A novel written by Alice Walker, it has been reviewed many times over, but even though the critics analyze and pull apart what very well could just be an enjoyable yet thought provoking story, they agree that one thing is clear, The Color Purple affirms the idea that the survival and liberation of the black woman can only come through learning from our past misfortunes and manipulating them to meet beneficial ends.