“Everything want to be loved. Us sing and dance and holler, just trying to be loved.”
Alice Walker managed to gather all sorts of contradictory aspects of humanity in “The Color Purple”, such as the love of hateful people, the power of the weak, the voice of the voiceless, so it turned out to be as beautiful as it is painful. The themes which the author addresses are just as powerful and bold as the characters themselves – race, sexism, class, LGBT, feminism expressed through women’s ability to unite, power of belief (mostly in oneself) which gives a different kind of speech to the oppressed people.
The book is structured in letters that Celie writes to God and then, later on, to her sister Nettie, the action taking place during the first half of the 20th century, in Georgia and Tennessee. In the beginning we see that Celie is sexually abused by her father, leaving her pregnant twice, after her mother falls ill and eventually dies. She is then taken as a wife by Mr.____, after her father refuses to give him permission to marry Nettie, an intellectual. There, she continues to be physically abused and silenced, treated like nothing more than dirt, as Celie herself notices. Nettie ends up going to Africa, with a family of Missionaries, to help the Olinka people. New characters are introduced, some of them being representative for the disruption of traditional gender roles – Sofia, the wife of Mr.____’s son, Harpo, is a strong image of feminine power standing up against her husband’s brutalities. Harpo himself is the weak male, unable to fight his wife. The one seen as Celie’s savior is Shug, who also helps her find meaning and joy in life. At first, everyone seems to be against each other, but the situation alters slowly. I think it was a matter of habit – the characters change and grow, getting used to one another. They start their journeys surrounded by hate, victims learn how to speak out, relationships shift to indifference, then to tolerance to end up in a kind of mutual sympathy.
The abuse theme is covered well in the novel, as it can come in many forms and places, from unexpected people, from both the abusers (who are not necessarily evil) and the abused (who are not necessarily good). The frustrations of the victim start materializing into actions as Celie encourages Harpo to beat Sofia, because she can’t stand the suffering rooted in envy. Her morality is distorted and she persuades someone to become violent towards a friend. The abuse is passed on from Mr.____ to Celie to Harpo to Sofia, being shown as a cyclical process. So who is really the abuser here? Or are they all victims of a society that others like them have created? Either way, one thing is clear – for Celie, her first escape from the mad world she is trapped in is God.
So let’s talk about Celie’s God. Celie does not have a very clear view upon what or who God is. He is more of a refuge to her, and yet her only image of God is the one of a white patriarch. At first, this image of God was the only thing that gave her a voice, even if her speech was intimate, private and passive, in the form of letters. But when more friends gathered around her and she was no longer alone, the terrible experiences she had been through became stronger than her God, and she started blaming everything on Him: “he give me a lynched daddy, a crazy mama, a lowdown dog of step pa and a sister I probably won’t ever see again. Anyhow, I say, the God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all other mens I know. Trifling, forgitful and lowdown”. Shug doesn’t let her give up on her belief, even if it wasn’t a traditional one (because, after all, that belief kept her going for so long) and makes her see God in everything, like an “it” rather than a white male. Celie eventually understands life and belief in her own, completely different way by the end of the book, since her last letter starts with “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God.” God remains just a personal abstract concept.
The feminist figures of the book are Shug, Sofia and Nettie – strong women who will not let anyone stand in their way, dominating men. Even though Nettie experiences racial discrimination during her trip to Africa and encounters many different problems, her experiences are just the smaller-scale abuses that her sister has to bear in parallel. The established romantic relationship between Celie and Shug can also be considered, in this case, unity, women being there for each other on any kind of emotional level. This rediscovery of her own self makes Celie stronger than before – or at least she experiences a different type of power. She used to keep herself from crying, from feeling emotion or pain – “I make myself wood. I say to myself, Celie you are a tree. That’s how come I know trees fear man”. In time, she realizes that true power consists in being able to show your emotions and thoughts as they are, and she manages to be herself around Shug.
Strangely enough, some friendships in the book grow out of hatred, just as parts of the evil grow within the good. These contradictions show the uncertainty of every human being, never sure on which side they should be or if they should choose only one side. All the characters evolve continuously throughout the book and they almost seem to be polished rocks, each trying to get to their best version, none of them getting even close to perfection. And that is their beauty.
As Mr.____ puts it, “you know how it is. You ast yourself one question, it lead to fifteen. I start to wonder why us need love. Why us suffer. Why us black. Why us men and women. […] it don’t mean nothing if you don’t ast why you here, period. […] I think us here to wonder, myself. To wonder. To ast.”