Alice Walker’s The Color Purple takes place in the 1920’s-1930’s during the times of segregation and women’s suffrage. In this passage Celie’s step-son confides in her one night sitting on her front porch steps.
Read the following passage from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Then, in a well-organized essay analyze how the author’s style exposes the tone towards the unequal treatment of women by the use of literary elements such as appeal to emotion, syntax, and irony.
Harpo sitting out on the steps, crying like his heart gon break. Oh, boo-hoo, and boo-hoo. He got his head in his hands, tears and snot running down his chin. I give him a hansker. He blow his nose, look up at me out of two eyes close like fists. What happen to your eyes? I ast. He clam round in his mind for a story to tell, then fall back on the truth. Sofia, he say. You still bothering Sofia? I ast. She my wife, he say. That don’t mean you got to keep on bothering her, I say. Sofia love you, she a good wife. Good to the children and good looking. Hardworking. Godfearing and clean. I don’t know what more you want. Harpo sniffle. I want her to do what I say, like you do for Pa. Oh, Lord, I say. When Pa tell you to do something, you do it, he say. When he say not to, you don’t. You don’t do what he say, he beat you. Sometime beat me anyhow, I say, whether I do what he say or not.
That’s right, say Harpo. But not Sofia. She do what she want, don’t pay me no mind at all. I try to beat her, she black my eyes. Oh, boo-hoo, he cry. Boo-hoo-hoo. I start to take back my hansker. Maybe push him and his black eyes off the step. I think bout Sofia. She tickle me. I used to hunt game with a bow and arrow, she say. Some womens can’t be beat, I say. Sofia one of them. Besides, Sofia love you. She probably be happy to do most of what you say if you ast her right. She not mean, she not spiteful. She don’t hold a grudge. He sit there hanging his head, looking retard. Harpo, I say, giving him a shake, Sofia love you. You love Sofia. He look up at me best he can out his fat little eyes. Yes ma’am? he say. Mr.___ marry me to take care of his children. I marry him cause my daddy made me. I don’t love Mr.___ and he don’t love me.
In this passage from The Color Purple, the author’s opinion of the way men treat women is clearly displayed through the tone of the text and style of her writing. Alice Walker exposes her strong disapproval of the mistreatment of women through literary elements such as syntax, appeal to emotion and irony.
Walker uses specific syntax in order to emphasize the importance of the points that Harpo’s companion makes. The word “Hardworking.” is treated as a sentence in itself, and the neighboring phrases such as “Good to the children and good looking.”, “Godfearing and clean.”, and “Sofia love you, she a good wife.” are short and punctuated like sentences in the same way. The author does this to point out that amongst all the dialogue written, these phrases are the most significant text in the scene because they demonstrate her opinion that men, including Harpo, should not mistreat women, and especially women who take care of themselves, behave according to religious teachings, and are good to their families and husbands. She also uses this same sentence structure to emphasize the ways Sofia doesn’t act; for example, “She not mean, she not spiteful.” and “She don’t hold a grudge”. This shows that Sofia’s behavior does not deserve punishment, and therefore she and other women of similar character should not be harmed.
The passage contains emotional appeal which serves the purpose of pointing out the author’s opinion of the mistreatment of women. Sofia’s redeeming qualities are plainly stated: characteristics such as hardworking, loving, religious, and loyal to family. When the reader learns that Sofia’s husband tries to beat her despite her mannerisms, sympathy is evoked. The appeal to emotion continues when a briefing on the lady companion’s past is supplied. The reader learns of the woman’s misfortunes including beatings that take place regardless of her actions, and a forced marriage that leads to her upbringing of another woman’s children.
Imbedded deeper in the text, is situational irony. Walker uses imagery like “He got his head in his hands, tears and snot running down his chin.” and onomatopoeic words such as “sniffle” and “boo-hoo” to point out Harpo’s exaggerated reaction. Harpo feels that his inability to beat his wife puts him in an unfair situation. These examples are used to point out the reality of the situation; women such as his companion [Celie] are the unlucky ones because they are forced into unjust relationships in which they are beaten and mistreated. The imagery and onomatopoeia making fun of Harpo’s actions, serve the purpose of pointing out his hypocritical ridiculous behavior.
Throughout the passage provided, Walker uses stylistic techniques such as syntax, emotional appeal, and situational irony to illuminate her critical opinion of the mistreatment of women. Her particular methods provoke reflection and contemplation in the reader once the passage has been comprehended. As a result, this increases the value of her work as a whole.