The novel the color purple by Alice Walker is well known for is revolutionary theme of black lesbianism. Until this novel and other leading writers touched on the subject of black lesbianism, it was viewed as dirty and unspeakable. The protagonist, Celie, brings respect and positive attributes to the idea of black lesbianism. Walker’s depicture of Celie not only relates constructive events towards lesbianism, but also journeys through the rejection of male dominance and how it brings Celie freedom.
Most of Celie’s freedom comes in the form of monetary relief and independence. However freedom also comes from Celie’s change of world view; from a repressive patriarchal society and God to a gentle and softer version of religion. Walker emphasizes the oppression black women face in relationships with black men (brothers, fathers, husbands, lovers) and the bond the women must form with each other in order to free themselves.
Right from the beginning of the novel, Walker introduces a hard to digest picture of rape, incest, and sexual cruelty. He never had a kine word to say to me… Then he push his thing inside my pussy. When that hurt, I cry. He start to choke me” (Walker 1). This telling of rape by her father is also seen through the eyes of the reader as lacking emotion or at least the emotions such as anger and anguish that come with an event such as rape. Celie’s life begins to form into a picture of a slave’s, with her missing feelings and reactions to the horrible fates that befall her. After this rape, Celie becomes pregnant and is forced to separate with her child straight after.
According to Ana Marie Fraile-Marcos who wrote a critical essay on Walker’s “womanist” representation of lesbianism, Celie’s sexual abuse becomes endemic after her two successive pregnancies and deliveries. Celie seems to accept sexual exploitation and oppression as shaping factors in her life and not only does Celie become a sexual object, her story also echoes the life of a slave. An auction scene is called to mind when Celie is told to walk in front of Albert, while he decides whether or not to take her as his new wife.
Along with the physical oppression, Celie also has to endure psychological oppression due to her sexual exploitation. During Celie’s pregnancies, she had to put up with the confusing torment of her mother at the same time as her father blames her for her mother’s slow passing. Finally Celie’s mother passes cursing her, although Celie is at a loss to what she did wrong. Next to her mother’s negative affliction, Celie also curses herself and believes that she is on the road to hell for committing incest imposed on her by her father.
In her mind, Celie is living in “sin without redemption” (Fraile-Marcos). The men were forces of her oppression, which made Celie turn towards women for her liberation. During her childhood, Celie was close with her sister and found a love that she would sincerely protect. “She scared. But I say I’ll take care of you. ” Although Celie’s love for Nettie is a bond that lasts through the whole novel, the most important figure to influence Celie’s change in submissiveness is Shug Avery.
Through uncovering the letters Nettie wrote to Celie, forcing Albert to beat Celie less, and just being the woman who did whatever she wanted, Shug was the leading character who taught Celie the beauty of sexuality. After quizzing Celie in Shug’s first stay, Shug deemed Celie a virgin due to her never having sex with someone that she loves. From that point, Shug begins to teach her about the female body, which Celie enjoys because sexuality turns from a negative and repressive force, to one that becomes exciting. Shug’s most important contribution to Celie’s self-realization is love, both sexually and spiritually” (Fraile-Marcos). Through this self-realization, Celie comes to the conclusion that she has a sister who loves her and will always write to her, and has Shug who has the intention of loving her and helping her get on her feet. All of the forces involved in Celie’s positive evolution come from the female gender, which leads Celie to her change in religion. Shug’s spiritual contribution to Celie’s self realization is the modification of the picture of God in Celie’s mind.
At the start of the novel, Celie’s version of God was one who was a white authority figure, who only gave orders and punished the people who stepped out of line. “Okay, I say. He big and old and tall and graybearded and white. He wear white robes and go barefooted” (Walker 194). Celie’s version of God did not have time for her and saw her sufferings as something to just move on from. However, Shug soon initiates a spiritual awakening that begins with her description of God, who doesn’t have specific characteristics and instead is more a spiritual presence. God ain’t a he or a she, but an It… Don’t look like nothing, she say. It ain’t a picture show. It ain’t something you can look at apart from anything else, including yourself” (Walker 195). Shug showed that God was found within everyone and everything, instead of a figure impossible to relate to. Celie’s journey dragged her from a hellish, detached existence to a life she could feeling pulsing through her body. After her self-revelation and freedom from oppression, Celie supported herself thorough making pants.
This created an independent woman out of Celie, and taught her to rely on herself more than the people around her such as her oppressors or even Shug. Believing God was a white, despotic figure lead Celie to her rejection of the world, rejection to male dominance, and her acceptance of an unfair society. However, femininity brought Celie back to the world and showed her the kind, caring, and gentle side of life. Walker took the reader through a journey of finding Celie’s personal voice and also helped the reader accept and appreciate the rejection of male dominance.
Courtney from Study Moose
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