By Alice Walker
Alice Walker who was born in 1944 in Eatonton, Georgia is a black American Writer. She comes from a poor family and has a tough childhood, constraint family household. She becomes adept in the new cultural language of black arts to which she becomes a young writer. She is the author of a memoir. Her novel, ‘The Color Purple’ constitutes a remarkable fiction that it won the Pulitzer Prize and the American book award for fiction.
In The Color Purple, Alice Walker attempts to convey what has been one of the greatest absences in American history: the Black voice. It talks about the position of women in the white society as well as that of women in the community of their own black men. In every aspect, the Color Purple is a womanist novel in the sense that it shows the complete growth of its protagonist, Celie. Here the novel is not feminist in the radical sense of the term because it rather articulates a rabbit dislike of men or possesses a pierce opposition to male discourse. In Alice Walker’s novel, ‘The Color Purple’, the focus in the beginning is of the pain that Celie experiences.
From the very beginning, Celie is introduced to us as a slave. She neither controls, nor possesses her own body. At the age of fourteen, she is raped by her (step) father, and sold by him into marriage to a man, Albert, at least twice her age. Such is the evil of black male patriarchy as portrayed to us by Walker.
Celie’s marriage with Albert is a failed one because Albert, in fact, does not love Celie but he loves Shug only and it is clearly described in the novel that Albert leaves his first wife, Annie Julia and lives with Shug. A jealous Shug kept Albert away from home so often that Annie Julia would have to come begging for enough money to feed his ever enlarging brood of children. Annie Julia’s fate is to be shot dead in front of her children by her ex-boyfriend whilst coming home from church . . .Celie realizes that Albert does not love her as she says, ‘No body loves me’.
The very reason why Albert married her is because she would look after his children. Her marriage to Albert is not a remedy for her pains. Her painful experiences have not come to its end after her marriage. Even when she is married to Albert she faces regular physical abuses from him. There is no sense of personal fulfillment for Celie in her marriage life. She always feels as if every body that she has in her life continuously rejected her. Moreover her personal experience bears this out. The entire personal history of Celie is a saga, which is full of pain and agony. However, the way in which Celie responses to it is indeed marvelous. She neither refuses to launch a noisy protest nor uses violence against Albert. It is quite different if compared to her daughter in law, Sofia who is indeed violent against her husband, Harpo. Thus one can see two distinct and specific responses in the novel.
In The Color Purple the true extent of this appalling violation is made only too clear in a number of incidents. Celie herself writes ‘Bub in and out of jail. If his granddaddy wasn’t the coloured uncle of the sheriff who look just like Bub, Bub be lynch by now’. When Sofia is in jail for striking the mayor, Mr.-----, Celie’s husband, asks ‘Who’s the warden’s black kinfolks?’ The worst episode occurs when Mary Agnes is sent by Sofia’s family to gain her release: her own white uncle rapes her. The only weapon Celie’s family has is literally that of blackmail. By reminding the warden, and other powerful Southern whites, of their sexual and familial relationships with blacks, they can help each other to survive just. By the time Sofia is finally free, not much of her spirit remains.
The fulcrum around which the text seems to hold is the scene where Shug Avery converts Celie to her empowering vision of God and its creation. Before then, Celie had seemed all too resigned to her fate - ‘Heaven last always’ - she says at one point. Celie’s story, if it is anything, is how she escapes this terrible negativity, and how she learns to embrace life. Besides, it is also Shug Avery from whom Celie realizes her sexuality as in one occasion Shug tells her how she can explore her body and realizes her sexuality (Walker, 1982, p.82).
Celie is saved from this fate in a crucial scene in The Color Purple, which is similar to the finale of Beloved. Probably the saddest part of Celie’s story is how she first comes to be raped by her stepfather. When she was young, she had a passion for cutting hair. Until, that is, her stepfather began to use these barber sessions as an excuse to rape her. It is by no means coincidental that the way Celie unconsciously reacts to the revelation that Albert, her husband, has hidden Nettie’s letters from her, is to stand behind his chair with his unsheathed razor at his throat.
If Celie had cut Albert’s throat, it is more than probable that she would have shared the fate of Sofia - a brutal prison sentence. Above all the other misrepresentations and absences that Walker portrays in The Color Purple, the ones that state that abused Southern black women must remain victims all their lives, are the ones that must be overturned above all others. As Walker herself has said, ‘I liberated Celie from her own history. I wanted her to be happy’. And in that, she has succeeded admirably.
Celie shows mature, adult behaviour despite going through the toughest odds in life. Even though Celie’s life can be called disastrous by any yardstick, including rape, incest, killing of her babies by her step father, and both physical and psychological abuse by Albert, her husband yet she is able to express herself and successfully shows herself as an individual in this world. To everything and everybody who listens, Celie says, “I am here”.