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To what extent is ‘The Color Purple’ a novel dedicated to the rights of black women? ‘The Color Purple’ is often argued to be a novel dedicated to the rights of black women owing to a number of features the book holds which point to this conclusion. Firstly, the story is told through the letters of Celie, a black woman living in Georgia and later there is the second narrative voice in the letters Celie receives from her sister Nettie. Through each we encounter the lives of Shug Avery, Sofia and Squeak. Therefore the simple numerical fact that a novel follows the growth of five black women points to their rights being a key theme.
The way in which the novel is an epistolary can be seen to confirm this, as a fundamental human right is to have a voice and feel heard. Walker’s use of first person narrative through letters marks the beginning of the journey of empowerment Celie will take in the novel to finding her voice and feeling heard. Yet Walker points out how this is an incredibly difficult struggle for a black woman in that time and context from the offset, with the words of Celie’s stepfather which begin the novel “you better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy”.
This sets the scene as to the invisibility of the women in the black community at that time, and the sentiment is continued through the generations of the male characters. When Celie is first introduced to Mr. _______, the second most prominent male in her life, he admits, “I ain’t never really look at that one. ” Later in the book we see the same concept in Mr. _______’s son, Harpo, whose attitude to Squeak when he is distracted at the news of Sofia’s imprisonment, is that he simply “looks through her head, blow smoke. ” The author shows us through Mr.
_______’s advice to Harpo, ‘wives is like children’ the governing influence that black men held over black women at that time. Mr. _______ makes all the decisions in her life at the beginning of the book, whether she works, goes out or has sexual intercourse. Walker uses a religious image through Celie’s writing in the early letters, as she refers to her stepfather as “He,” with the capital letter that is only usually used in reference to a God, to emphasise how oppressed Celie’s patriarchal society is making her – it is men who have power over her like a God has power over his followers.
In this way, Walker implies such sexism and racism is cyclical and needs to be constantly fought against through the assertion of black women’s rights in such ways as are taken in the novel, namely the bonds of sisterhood which give each character strength. It is between Shug and Celie that we see possibly the strongest bonds of sisterhood in the novel. It is Shug’s strength and individuality which first helps Celie to realise her potential and the fact that men do not have to have the hold over her that they have been shown to have as she grows up.
She tells Celie that “Man corrupt everything . . . soon as you think he everywhere, you think he God. ” She voices what seems to be Walker’s idea of what God should be, ‘everything’, and once Celie realises this, she begins to take control of her life, the implication being that she finds the God, the governing power, that exists within herself, with the help of her sisters. This manifests itself in the success of her pants-making business and in the development of her first true adult relationship, that of the sexual side she shares with Shug.
This is an arguable feature of the novel as a dedication to black women’s rights, however, as Celie’s experiences up of men throughout her life have been violent and oppressive. She says she likes to look at women because she’s not scared of them, and in this way we encounter the debate of whether sexuality is in our nature or whether it can be the result of the circumstances we are brought up in. This would appear to be a theme that people can identify with universally, and not just a struggle of black women.