In The Color Purple the protagonist, Celie, is alienated from the world. Celie comes from a poor black family and the reader learns in the first of her letters (the novel is epistolary in form) that she has been raped by her step-father. The man concerned, Alphonso, has told Celie that she should not tell anyone what has happened because “it’d kill your mammy” (Walker, 1990) . She believes him and decides to deal with the situation by writing letters “to God”, who she envisions as an imposing white man with a beard.
Her reaction to her rape and Alphonso’s threats show that she is innocent as to the reality of the world: she is afraid to tall anyone because of what Alphonso has said will happen to her mother. Celie has to travel through one of the most difficult times of her life with a rapist’s baby, that soon turns into two when he molests her again. Celie writes to God at this early stage in the book, hoping that he will save her. Her identity is essentially that of a little girl looking to be reassured.
Celie actually develops well beyond this early point of impotence, in which she says “I don’t know how to fight”. Essentially she moves from ignorance and fear to knowledge and self-respect: she travels much further in her search for identity than most people do . She is a young, abused and inexperienced girl at the beginning, a mature woman at the end who understands the world. More than half the letters are written from Celie to God, and so her relationship with the deity is essential to an understanding of her development of identity.
She starts by writing to God as a blue-eyed white male, something akin perhaps to Robert Powell’s portrayal of Jesus in several Hollywood movies. Because God does not answer her prayers Celie assumes that he “must be asleep” (Walker, 1990). The personalized vision of God that fails to answer her prayers, one that seems to stem from a the naturally egocentric view of the world so often displayed by a teenager, moves slowly into a different vision as the novel progresses.
God develops into something that is neither male nor female; it is a God that is present in all things. While she remains at least nominally Christian, Celie is influenced by those around her into seeing a broader vision of the world. Nettie says, “we know a rootleaf is not Jesus Christ, but in its own humble way, is it not God? ” Celie ends up answering this question with a resounding “yes”. In one of the later letters she starts with the following greeting: “Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear everything.
Dear God. ” (Walker, 1990) As her vision and definition of God develops into something far more inclusive and universal, so Celie becomes more happy and self-aware as the novel progresses. Her identity essentially expands form the frightened, terribly abused girl to a confident woman who can stride through the whole world and recognize God everywhere. Perhaps most importantly, she realizes that God may not answer all of a person’s prayers, because it is up to the person to fulfill their own wishes and win their own struggles.
Part of this inclusiveness exists within the women who both support and nurture Celie as she grows up, a favor that she can return as she becomes a wiser adult. Celie becomes an integral and vibrant part of the world around her. Celie recognizes these same traits, but realizes that forgiveness and generosity are what is needed in the world. She has truly suffered but through suffering comes redemption. ____________________________ Works Cited Walker, Alice. The Color Purple, Pocket Books, New York: 1990.