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The Color Purple

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The Color of Freedom
Life for black women in the early 1900s was difficult, not only because of racism and lack of women’s rights, but because of the subjugation they faced from the men in their lives and from society. In the novel, The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, the narrator is an abused black woman named Celie. Walker uses this unique protagonist to comment on the racism, sexism, and abuse of women that was so prevalent in the early 1900s. Walker used Celie’s inner monologue (in the form of letters to God and her sister Nettie) to convey the overarching message of the novel; the power of finding that inner voice that leads to freedom from the oppression of society’s expectations.
Celie started off the book as a powerless victim of the men in her life with no voice. Walker uses Celie’s first person point of view to tell her life story of abuse and submissive silence. Celie’s only form of communication about her thoughts and feelings are through letters to God that are brief at first but then are more complex as Celie gets more confident and finds her voice. In the beginning, Celie’s inner voice had been beaten into silence at an early age by her abusive step-father and later by her husband with emotional and physical abuse. She survived by “[not] fight(ing)… stay[ing] where (she) told” and staying silent letting her step father believe that she is” too dumb to keep going to school” (Walker 2.254, 3. 342) Celie was only able to find her voice once she stood up to her husband and confronted him about his abuse telling him “youse children is rotten”, “why you beat me for what you done to them?” (Walker 7.94,7.92) Once Celie found her voice, she began to “see the world the way God sees it” thinking that “it piss God off, you walk through a field and not notice the color purple” (Walker 6.96,6.99) Celie couldn’t appreciate life until she broke free of her oppressors and was free to live it. For that reason,Walker purposefully portrayed Celie as the quintessential female in the Deep South in the early 1900s, quiet and subservient to the men around her, to call attention to the blatant sexism that was common then and to demand change.
Another of the common occurrences in the early 1900s was the abuse of women in the home. Walker herself experienced the violence directed towards women first hand, growing up in a violent and sexist environment. Walker made sure to set the abuse apart and make the reader take notice of it in the only line in the book that isn’t in one of Celie’s letters. The first line of the novel spoken to Celie by her step-father after raping her “You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy” (Walker 1, 1). Walker’s portrayal of the abuse that was common towards lower class colored women in the early 20th century. In backwoods Georgia in the early 1900s, women were regarded as useless except for laborers and child-bearers. (New Georgia Encyclopedia.1) They were expected to go to school but not to finish, as they had to leave to get married and serve their next master. (New Georgia Encyclopedia.2) Celie’s situation reflected that philosophy; from an early age her father talking about her like she was an object to be bartered away saying that “she ugly…but she ain’t no stranger to hard work” (Walker 2.17) Walker never tells the reader the name of Celie’s husband, or her father, referring to them as “Mr.___” to make the male characters seem more general allowing the reader to focus on their actions toward the women of the novel exposing the exploit and abuse the men take of them. The South in the early 1900s was a hotbed of activity for civil rights and suffrage. Walker was very involved in the civil rights movement of the 60s, even travelling down to Mississippi and being invited to Martin Luther King’s home to protest the racism directed toward the black people. Her life experiences translated to her novel, the themes of freedom from oppression being one of the major themes of The Color Purple. Celie’s life and the lives of those around her were greatly impacted by the racism of the South. Celie’s own father had been " lynch” leaving her with a mama [who was]crazy” left to the mercy of her abusive step-father (Walker 17.46). Celie was forced into the roles of mother, wife, and slave because she had no choice. The prejudice of society trapped her into a loveless, brutal marriage because it gave her no other option. Walker wrote the other side of racism, from the victim’s point of view forcing the reader to see the result of bigotry. Racism not only affected Celie’s life, but the life of her friend Sofia. Sofia was a headstrong young girl who took charge in her life, and provided a role model for Celie to look up to and model herself after showing her how to stand up for herself. Sofia was a victim of the corrupt justice system of the South as much as Celie was. Sofia was put in prison because “she sass[ed] the mayor’s wife” because she refused to work for them as their maid (Walker 5.83). The racial prejudice against her put her in the county prison for 6 months, and then in another kind of prison as the mayor’s maid for 12 years. The prejudice of the time made it virtually impossible for any woman, but especially black women, to find work outside the home, and thereby escape abusive situations like Celie’s.
Environment plays a key role in any author’s writing, and this is certainly the case with Alice Walker. Walker’s background and life experiences did drive her to speak out against the problems that she saw within society and made her strive to speak out against it. Walker’s creative vision is clearly reflected in the emphasis that she places on breaking free of abuse and exposing racism and its effects on people’s lives in her books.

Works Cited
"Biography of Alice Walker (1944-)." Biography of Alice Walker. Web. 23 Mar. 2012. <http://www.gradesaver.com/author/alice-walker/>.
Kane, Matt. "Quotations from The Color Purple Explained." Key Quotations. New Found Growth, 2001. Web. 17 Mar. 2012. <http://homepage.ntlworld.com/matt_kane/quotes%2061-75.htm>.
"New Georgia Encyclopedia: Alice Walker (b. 1944)." New Georgia Encyclopedia. Georgia Humanities Council and the University of Georgia Press. Web. 18 Mar. 2012. <http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/nge/Article.jsp?id=h-998>.
SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on The Color Purple.” SparkNotes.com. SparkNotes LLC. 2003. Web. 21 Mar. 2012…...

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