Using letter 22, explore Walker’s use of language to present Celie’s impression of Shug. Examine how the manipulation of language contributes to our understanding of the significance of Shug to Celie.
Shug’s significance to Celie plays a pivotal role in the novel ‘The Color Purple. Through Walker’s use of language, we understand the importance of this significance, which helps to develop Celie’s character throughout and is already prominent in letter 22. Firstly, we understand that Shug’s arrival excites Celie a lot and she feels ecstatic that Shug is there to be taken care of. Celie uses a metaphor to explain ‘I think my heart gon fly out my mouth’ as soon as she notices Shug’s foot alone, revealing how fast her heart is beating and how much influence Shug has over Celie before we have even seen her face. Celie even wants to ‘cry’ and ‘shout’ to welcome Shug however we realise that Celie believes it is not her place to speak and she ‘don’t say nothing’, which shows that Celie has become accustomed to not voicing her opinions. This develops later when we realise that Shug is one of the main reasons for Celie’s character development and her ability to speak for herself much more.
The first description Celie gives of Shug’s appearance in letter 22 is that she is ‘dress to kill’ giving a striking first impression. The use of the powerful verb ‘kill’ promotes Shug’s dominance and authoritative aura that she gives off and Celie’s use of this highlights the contrast between Celie and Shug’s characters. Additionally Celie pays close attention to what Shug is wearing from the ‘chickinhawk feathers’ to the ‘snakeskin bag’ which she describes ‘match her shoes’ showing Celie’s eye for detail. This close observation could portray how captivated Celie is by Shug and might suggest that Celie has been staring and constantly looking up and down at Shug in fascination in order to take in every part of her appearance. Also, the fact that ‘And she dress to kill’ is a single sentence reveals Celie’s stunned tone when exclaiming this and how her admiration for Shug is already beginning to appear. In addition, the description of Shug’s ‘snakeskin’ and ‘chickinhawk’ wardrobe choices, gives the reader an idea of Shug portraying a femme fatale image.
This contrasts to the image the reader already has of Celie who comes across as a much more feeble character, highlighting Celie’s longing to be like Shug and be able to voice her opinions and express herself in a way similar to Shug. Additionally, by describing that her clothes are made of animal skin and feathers portrays Shug’s elegance that Celie obviously looks up to as she longs to own such lavish clothes. Walker uses much more dynamic language when describing Shug, which also helps to reveal how awe-stricken and drawn in Celie is by her. The simile “she look so stylish it like the trees all round the house draw themself up tall for a better look” implies that Shug has a very dominant presence and that Celie admires Shug’s appearance. The fact that Celie uses much more animated language here marks how Shug’s arrival is already beginning to change Celie in that she is becoming more sophisticated in her use of language.
When Celie looks at Shug she describes ‘Like, sick as she is, if a snake cross her path, she kill it’. This simile could illustrate Celie’s admiration and respect for Shug as it implies Shug gives off the idea that she is a strong and independent woman, impressing Celie. It also may spark slight jealousy in Celie as it implies Shug is able to defend herself and we do not consider this something that Celie is able to do. However, we realise that this might trigger one of the key changes Celie goes through in order to gain more freedom later in the novel and it is all due to Shug’s presence. Furthermore, Celie describes “I don’t move at once, cause I can’t” showing that she is so amazed and excited about Shug’s presence that she physically cannot move. This signifies that Celie finds Shug mesmerising and is extremely enthralled about her being there.
Moreover, Celie uses another simile to describe Shug’s ‘cackle’ saying that it ‘sound like a death rattle’. The use of ‘cackle’ implies the sounds of a witch and could be linked with evil. From this we could determine that Celie considers Shug to have a darker side to her. Even though Shug is ill, Celie still portrays her as having an animated attitude, especially when Shug says to Celie ‘You sure is ugly’ showing that Shug is able to put up a front even when she is seriously ill. This again highlights Celie’s respect for Shug and although Shug insults Celie, we get the impression that Celie is not bothered by the offence, only impressed by Shug’s ability to voice her opinions so bluntly, unlike herself.
Celie’s description of Shug’s ‘glossy’, ‘feverish’ and ‘mean’ eyes could imply that Celie sees many other sides of Shug. The ‘glossy’ description might portray Shug’s more vivacious and friendly side, the ‘feverish’ comment shows how sick Shug is and the ‘mean’ look in her high could convey ideas of Shug’s darker side, which we learn is her trying to put up a strong front.
Walker’s use of descriptive language here shows how Celie is developing her writing as well as her character as it might portray how Celie is already learning to have a better judgement of character and pay attention to closer detail. In conclusion, through Celie’s voice, Walker is able to portray Celie’s strong affection towards Shug and reveal how Shug’s character influences changes in Celie’s attitude right from the start. From letter 22 we understand how much Celie idolises Shug and respects her, even when other members of their town outcast her, highlighting her significance even more.
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