“Teach only the boys.”1 (Page 146) In many cases this term would be considered sexist: However, when reading The Color Purple it becomes evident that the men as well as the boys are the ones who are in need of education. This education is not confined to the academic sense, but Walker rather emphasises their need to acquire the understanding of equal rights. The women may not receive any academic education but they were still equal to men in their ability to work, as Walker shows through several strong female role models throughout The Color Purple. The things that the women have experienced have taught them things about life that no man would ever understand: The gift of tolerance, understanding and a positive mind.
Celie has to undergo a lot of traumatic experiences throughout The Color Purple. Walker uses this to mould her into the “stereotypical” submissive woman. Walker then continues to develop Celie’s stereotypical role of mother and wife by forcing her into another destructive relationship, both emotionally and physically. This relationship affected her attitude towards men but also her self-confidence towards women and children who possess the confidence she does not. Although Walker has portrayed Celie as a weak individual, Mr calls her “You black, you pore, you ugly, youa woman.” Quotations like this show just what level of racism and sexism Celie and maybe Walker herself had to compete with. Walker may have portrayed Celie in this way to exaggerate the fact that she is also filled with courage. She tries to stand up to Mr ____ , and claims she will ” curse him” until “you[ he] do right by me”. Mr ___, claims Celie is “nothing at all”. Despite this abuse Celie has the courage to carry on and live her life despite its restrictions.
Walker uses each character to reflect all the different elements of female identity. Celie is portrayed as weak, Sophia is portrayed as powerful, Nettie educated and Shug leads the glamorous life every women dreams of. Walker seems to use a variety of different characters to provide comparison and influence in all of the female characters lives. The ongoing influence is the typical 1930s society. Society is responsible for imposing the status quo, which heaven forbid Celie would ever rebel against. “I don’t fight; I stay where I’m told. But I’m alive.”(Page 22)She has lost her sister, her freedom and her self respect; she can’t lose her life as well. Sophia however is an excellent example of a powerful woman in society. Not only powerful in body, but also in mind. In the beginning of the book she seems to show no fear and determination no to be moulded by society. Unfortunately this is a short lived dream. Even though Sophia is a powerful woman, she is still victim to discrimination due to her sex and race which results in hr being moulded into the typical stereotypical woman.
After being thrown out of Celie’s house by Mr ____, Nettie finds refuge in the home of a missionary couple, who teach her the importance of god and educating others. She abandons the role of housewife and takes on a role more favourable which benefits others and not just her self. Shug Avery abandons all traces of the female stereotype. Her life revolves around the finer things. Her music offers the passion and yearning for the glamorous life, especially for Celie, whose life is made up of orders and abuse, whereas Shug is a woman who doesn’t take orders and on many occasions’ is the one who makes them.
Parts of the prejudice society of the 1930’s were the men. In Celie’s mind, men have a kind of meanness that women don’t possess. Women, though they may scream and swear, are not harmful in the way men like Pa are Mr_____
When she was younger the only male she knew was Alphonso, who she then believed to be her father. Although she was treated poorly by her “father”, she listens to the bible and “Honor[s] father and mother no matter what.” (page 43-44).This even included forgiving him for the constant sexual abuse. By obeying the Bible she had to obey her father, no matter what the consequence was. The dramatic betrayal of someone she could trust had been destroyed and therefore jeopardised her relationship with any other man, instead of feeling love or respect, she only felt fear. “That’s the truth. I look at women, tho, cause I’m not scared of them.”
Although Mr_____ is her husband,their relationship appears to be one of convenience. When he first approached Alphonso it was to marry Celie’s sister, Nettie. Alphonso however refused. Claiming that Nettie was too pretty and that he should have Celie instead. Compared to Nettie, Celie was hardly the trophy wife that Mr___ desired. “She ugly. …..But she can work like a man.” (pg.18.) Mr ____ only wanted a wife to look after his kid and to satisfy his own selfish needs. Walker portrays Celie as an object only to be used and abused by men.
Walker shows a very dysfunctional relationship between Sophia and her husband Harpo; however it is not abusive as all of Celie’s relationships have been. It is a true relationship that was built on a love and not on necessity. Another factor that Walker has used to create the couple is the reversal of personas. So Walker has created her to be the “man” of the house, as she is stronger than Harpo in more ways than one. This is alien to Celie and she advises Harpo that Sophia needs to be “taken down a peg” (Page 35) so he can become head of the house again. Nevertheless Sophia refuses to accept this treatment and fights back. Although Sophia managed to defeat one member of society, it was her second and final confrontation that would finally destroy the confidence that Celie so desperately wanted.
When Alphonso refused to hand over Nettie to Mr ____ it showed some compassion that had not already been seen in him. It could be possible that Walker wanted to show that he knew Nettie could be so much more than Celie, not just because of her looks but of her ability to learn. It was his actions that led her to become a missionary. Mr___ also played a part in Nettie’s calling. When she was staying with her sister when Mr___ tried to use Nettie in the same way he used Celie: for his own personal pleasure. Her determination to escape from his hold meant Nettie overpowered Mr___, not in strength but in cunning. This then directed Nettie to become a missionary and educating the men of the Olinka tribe. The Olinka men still maintained their dominance over woman by denying them an education; however it was Nettie’s education that caused her to receive the respect she deserved.
Unlike the other women in The Color Purple Shug Avery is the only character doesn’t seem to be overpowered by a man. The men in her life are love interests and not men trying to degrade her or mould her into the woman they want. Walker does this because Shug is not only a role model for some of the other female roles, but she is also a fantasy for the men with her “long black body” (page 47) and “wearing skintight red dress”(page 69) Mr____ is the one man who seems to possess a mixture of love and fear for Shug. They have shared a bed on many occasions and this fills Mr____ with pride that he is the one Shug chooses to go to bed with. However Shug considers him to be “weak”( page73). By saying this Walker could be trying to express that Mr____ does it so he can feel like he has some control in his life. That because he can’t control how Shug feels about him he takes it out on Celie instead on confronting the issue. The second man in Shugs life is Grady, who Shug introduces to Celie in such rash manner that it could be that Walker was using him a device for her to show Mr___ and Celie’s feelings. This would then provide them with some common ground.
Alice Walker has integrated her own experience with the events and issues of the 1930’s into The Colour Purple with great skill, which should be admired. Her writing has shown that woman can easily be portrayed in many different lights and the female stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth. Men have a kind of meanness that women don’t possess. Women, though they may scream and swear, are not harmful in the way men are. Walker has shown that this phrase is sexist for both men and woman. As portrayed through Sophia woman can be harmful in the same way as men and as shown through Mr___ and Alphonso men can also be the ones to fear. Although it may be out of weakness and shame.