Alice Walker is a feminist writer who grew up in the state of Georgia, America. In the year that this novel was written things were a lot different to how they are these days. Despite the civil war between the North and South divide of America, slavery was still an every day occurrence in parts of South America particularly Georgia, which was still very pro-slavery. She applies a feminist approach to literature although she does not like to be called a feminist write as she prefers to be called a womanist, which she defines as being a black feminist. Walker’s a feminist as the whole of the novel portrays her influence on giving women equal rights to the rights of men.
Throughout the novel Walker highlights the realities that black women had to suffer and tries to convey that women do not like to be taken advantage of and need to fight for themselves and their rights for equality in gender and in race.
Alice Walker is an African American, a feminist, a civil rights activist, a religious believer and a poet, who expresses her thoughts and opinions on the oppressing black women by white people and white and black men. Some of Walker’s critics claim that Walker uses much “wit” and has “an amazing way with words”.
At the beginning of the novel, Celie has many misfortunes and negative ordeals including rape and several beatings but at the end of the novel she survives, grows in confidence, maturity and becomes independent due to the support given from other female characters. Celie is freed from degradation by men, marriage and the patriarchy and patriarchal society that was present at the time of the novel. The beginning and the ending, through Celie’s experiences indicates that the novel is a tragic comedy.
The life of Celie in “The Color Purple” emphasises the hardships of black people and also the joys and the gender inequality of domesticity. However, in contrast Nettie who becomes a missionary in Africa, becomes aware of colonisation and the oppression of African women by Europeans and also by African men. “The husband has life and death power over the wife”(page 142). Nettie becomes aware of the harsh reality of the patriarchal society as she is well educated and the reader becomes aware of her feminist role when she says to Celie “You got to let them no who got the upper hand”. During pages 141-142, Nettie realises that due to her education and geographical mobility that in order to survive, women have to support each other and therefore makes Celie aware that she deserves a better life. Through Nettie, Walker highlights the traditional roles of women ” … centre around work and their children”(page 141) and “They indulge their husbands”.
This conveys to Celie that she has based her life around men and others and it makes them “childish”. Nettie pin-points the cultural differences between the American society and the African society and also shows similarities between the two different cultures. The Olinka women seem happy to share their husbands, they can’t have men as friends and that women spoil their husbands. This highlights the relationship between Albert and Celie as Celie shares Albert with Shug and she spoils him by the traditional role of the woman for example, cooking, cleaning and taking care of the children. In contrast the Olinka women undergo much more suffering and oppression than black American women as they are forced into female circumcision and facial scarification for their culture and the patriarchal society in which they live in.
One of the themes in “The Color Purple” is the strength and joy women can find in solidarity with each other. They may be powerless in the patriarchal society and in the household but when they integrate they become powerful allies, they also start to believe they deserve better and can work together to improve and stop oppression amongst women. “… Women share a husband but the husband does not share their friendship”.
Celie has many allies throughout the novel for example Sofia. Celie wishes she could be strong minded and strong bodied like Sofia and speak her mind. “Like going to war…big strong, healthy girl…” (Page 29/30). Often Sofia gives Celie advice and educates her on relationships. As time goes by they become they become extremely close and create the concept of solidarity among women.
The concept of making a quilt dramatically emphasises solidarity between women. The quilt is made up of each of several patches sewn together. Each patch represents woman, on its own it is small, weak and insignificant but when together they create a strong unity and a sense of togetherness. This strongly underlines the theme of solidarity between women.
Celie also wishes that she could become more like Nettie and be well-educated. Each of the characters help and guide Celie through her life and each encounters difficulties which they overcome and provide learning experiences for Celie. They act as role models for Celie and provide the concept and theme of support and unity amongst women, they also empower and liberate Celie in to being confident and independent. Shug and Celie’s relationship especially emphasises women being a pillar of support towards each other in times of crisis.
The novel centres on Celie’s development from naï¿½ve, unaware adolescent into a mature, politically and emotionally aware adult who has discovered how to love others and how to let others love her too but in order for her to be like this she must overcome the agonies occurred earlier in life.
The theme of female support and unity is a major theme in the novel and slavery is also as it links the African and American cultures together and also links Celie and Nettie as in both Africa and America men are unable to see women as equal.
Walker uses the epistolary form to provide two points of view, two styles and two different cultures in comparison and contrast. The epistolary form also contributes to two women confiding in each other, educating each other and supporting each other through the difficult times. Celie’s letters are those of naivety and an uneducated woman whereas Nettie’s letters are critical observations of colonisation and oppression of women. The Epistolary form is used by Walker to convey that writing is a weapon for women and is only the way that women in the past could express and share their feelings clearly. Walker clearly shows that both Nettie and Celie write as an act of faith to each other, keep up their spirits and reaching out to each other by some means. Albert intercepts and hides Nettie’s letters portraying that he forbids the concept of sisterhood.
In Africa, the Olinka tribe way of life is changing. This also triggers off a shift in the power structure. The western influence destroys the Olinkans environment and village, it brings great hope for women. The Olkinkan men no longer have omnipotent control therefore the women assert their ideas and their daughters are beginning to be educated which will be passed down through generations.
The concept of sisterhood-the support of women for women “…the women are friends and will do anything for one another”, highlights and indicates that this concept is something that only women partake in and only women understand. “sisterhood” is about empowering other women and liberating them, it also portrays growth in confidence, love and unity amongst women. The quilt is symbolic to this as it shows history, art and women supporting each other. In order to fight and survive the patriarchal system women have to develop confidence and a voice otherwise they will become invisible. Through the epistolary form Walker allows the reader to hear Celie’s voice and the reader can immediately be seen as supporting Celie as we listen to her inner most thoughts.
Many critics criticise the realism at the beginning of the novel and the number of co incidents that happen at the end for example Nettie looking after Celie’s children after all these years and the happily ever after ending. Other critics objected to the lesbian theme and male violence. They also thought that Walker was trying to divide the black community. In my opinion the critics above are correct. The start is too much to believe that all those bad things could happen to one person and the same goes for the end. It is very unlikely that everything would go exactly according to how Celie had dreamt it.