Overcoming Prejudices for Self Acceptance
Throughout Alice Walker’s novel, The Color Purple, the main character, Celie, reveals all of the hardships she has endured during her life. Celie confides in her younger sister, Nettie, and God to express the way she feels in certain situations. As the story progresses, Celie eventually finds her voice and breaks away from all the men who oppressed her during her life. For the duration of the novel, prejudice becomes a reoccurring theme. Not only does Celie struggle with the external prejudices of sexism and racism, but she also struggles with the internal prejudices toward herself.
By using Celie’s struggles as an example, Walker teaches the reader that one must overcome prejudices in order to accept themselves. Sexism becomes one of the main external struggles throughout the novel. With the use of the name “Mr.” for Celie’s husband, Albert, Walker shows the reader Celie’s growing resentment towards him. The use of this name “suggests fearful effacement of an identity too dangerous to reveal” (Heglar). She begins to show bitterness when she says, “I scurry bout, doing this, doing that. Mr. sit by the door gazing here and there” (Walker 43). Celie takes the traditional roll of caring for the house while Mr. _ sits by and tends to his own needs and not the needs of the family. Celie’s dislike towards him grows throughout the novel as he becomes more selfish. Sexism occurs again with the use of gender roles in Harpo and Sofia’s relationship. Sofia represents a strong woman who does not let men dominate her. She and Harpo struggle with these roles throughout the novel. Sophia takes on a more masculine roll and Celie describes their arguments as “fighting like two mens” (Walker 38). Harpo believes that he should beat Sofia because she does not act like Celie in the sense that she does not give in to his every command.
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Finally, the use of gender violence is passed down through the generations. Gerri Bates stated that “The act of gender violence is almost handed down from father to son” (97). When the conflicts between Sofia and Harpo begin, Mr. encourages Harpo to beat Sofia so that she will give in to his ways. He uses Celie as an example because she never fights back and remains very obedient. With the use of sexism throughout the novel, Walker shows the reader all of the struggles Celie faced during this time period and how she overcame them. Racism also becomes a major external struggle during this novel.
During this time period, whites embodied the image of higher class citizens. Many of the women in this novel aspire to look like white women in order to become more sophisticated. The white women of this time period wore an array of bright and vibrant colors that stood out from the rest. Celie describes the barrier between the races when she says, “Us dress Squeak like she a white woman, only her clothes patch” (Walker 95). This quotation depicts the difference between the races at the time, and how even though they tried to bring Squeak up in society, they couldn’t quite reach that level because of their race.
The role of racism occurs again when the mayor’s wife treats Sofia’s children like animals. While walking around town one day, the mayor’s wife approaches Sofia and her children and begins petting them like animals and saying “and such strong white teef” (Walker 87); she looks down on the family because of their race and treats them like animals. This again builds the wall between the races and shows that the white race believed that they were superior to the black race. The theme of racism contributes to the plot again with the roles of blacks and whites within society.
When Sofia begins to work for the mayor and his wife, she is discriminated against solely for her race. This act is seen when she says, “Have you even seen a white person and a colored sitting side by side in a car, when one of ’em isn’t showing the other how to drive or clean it? ” (Walker 99). This quotation demonstrates the separation between the races during this time period. The mayor’s family “continually expect her to behave according to their cultural representations of the black mother” (Selzer). Whites and blacks could not create friendships and could not talk unless it was for business purposes.
The roles of races play a major role in understanding the attitudes during this time period. With the understanding of the roles that the blacks and whites played in society, one can infer that Celie had to overcome more struggles than what she had originally dealt with in order to blossom and become herself. In ultimately finding herself at the end of the novel, Celie had to overcome the internal prejudices against herself. With the use of Shug Avery in the novel, Walker displays the hardships Celie must face with her new found sexuality.
Because this relationship uses different and new feelings it “evokes so profound an erotic awakening that Celie believes she was "still a virgin" prior to it” (Hankinson). When Celie begins to have feelings for Shug, they start out innocent and then become more serious. She describes a night that they spent together when she says, “Me and Shug sound asleep. Her back to me, my arms round her waist” (Walker 116). Celie begins to allow her feelings with Shug to become reality and shows that she does not have the shy personality that everyone thinks she does.
Celie breaks out of her inner prejudices again when she confides in her sister, Nettie. Celie begins to yell at the dinner table one night when she could no longer take the verbal abuse from Mr. and stated “You took my sister Nettie away from me, I say. And she was the only person love me in the world” (Walker 202). Celie believed that she could only confide in Nettie and God during difficult times, but she began to realize that all of her friendships would help her out in the end to become a strong, independent woman.
Lastly, the growth of Celie throughout the novel is shown through all of the women that help her along the journey in becoming herself. Although Celie tries to discover herself, “Shug Avery and Sophia Butler provide the major alternative influences that allow Celie to grow and develop” (Heglar). All of the female relationships throughout the novel help Celie to realize that women do not need men to control their lives. She also realizes that women can become self-sufficient and brave without the help from other people.
With help from all the women in the novel, Celie discovers herself and comes to realize that the support of a man is not necessary in the journey to happiness. By using Celie’s difficulties as a model, Alice Walker teaches the reader that self acceptance comes over time and that one must overcome prejudices in order to find themselves. During the course of the novel, Celie struggles with both internal and external prejudices. In the end she conquers them all and becomes the person that she truly wants to be. She realizes this when she says “I am so happy. I got love, I got work, I got money, friends and time” (Walker 218). Walker teaches the reader that no matter what other people think, what truly matters is the beauty within and being able to handle one’s self in the worst of situations.
- Bates, Gerri. Alice Walker A Critical Companion. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press: 2005. Print.
- Hankinson, Stacie Lynn. “From Monotheism to Pantheism: Liberation from Patriarchy in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. ” Midwest Quarterly. 38. 3. Gale, 2003. Literary Resource Center. Web. 1 Feb. 2011.
- Heglar, Charles J. "Named and Nameless: Alice Walker's Pattern of Surnames in The Color Purple. ANQ 13. 1 (Winter 2000): 38-41.
- Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Janet Witalec. Vol. 167. Detroit: Gale, 2003.
- Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 Feb. 2011. inchell, Donna Haisty. Alice Walker. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992. Print.
- Selzer, Linda. "Race and Domesticity in The Color Purple. " African American Review 29. 1 (Spring 1995): 67-82. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Janet Witalec. Vol. 167. Detroit: Gale, 2003.
- Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 Feb. 2011. Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. Harcourt, Inc. 2003. Print.
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