The Colour Purple Essay Sample

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1) What do you learn about Celie’s attitudes to life in these letters?

2) Write about Walker’s method of telling the story in letter 90.

3) Some readers see the ending of the novel as a triumph of the human spirit. Some see it as sickly and sentimental. What do you think about the novel’s ending?

1) By letters 89 and 90 Celie’s attitudes to life have changed considerably from the early letters of the novel. Celie’s attitude is extremely positive and she appears to have triumphed over her oppression, through her human spirit, attitude to life and bonds of sisterhood. This is shown in letter 89 by the way her and Shug respond to each other:

” She look at me funny for a minute, I look at her. Then us laugh.”

This shows her sense of contentment and an almost carefree and happy attitude towards life. Laughter being a symbol of healing and regeneration suggests that despite Celie’s horrendous past experiences her psyche has been healed and she is content in her life.

In letter 89 Alice Walker portrays Celie with an air of confidence and defiance, Celie is finally prepared to not be passive in her response to discrimination and oppression she is prepared to question authority. Walker shows Celie to be proud of Sofia’s authority over a white man: “she scare that white man. Anybody else colored he try to call ’em auntie or something. First time he try that with Sofia she ast him which colored man his mama sister marry.”

There is a lot of symbolism used in letter 89 which imply aspects of Celie’s attitudes to life. She shows her room to Shug:

“Well here it is, I say, standing in the door. Everything in my room purple and red cept the floor,”

The colours purple and red symbolise bruises on a beaten woman’s skin and in painting her room these colours her attitudes towards life are revealed, it suggests that Celie accepts her past life of abuse. However purple also symbolises beauty, royalty, it is a color Celie associates with vivacious women such as Shug and a color she feels was put on earth by God. By surrounding herself with purple it represents Celie’s new found confident attitude to life and contentment that her future life will be beautiful.

Letter 90 shows Celie’s changed attitudes to spirituality within her life, opening the letter “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees…Dear everything. Dear God” Celie’s changing outlook upon religion with the rejection of a patriarchal God and new belief that God is within everything, as well as the return of both Shug in letter 89 and Celie’s family in letter 90 has led to Celie’s sense of calm and inner peace, which is portrayed within these letters. This is expressed in her final sentences:

“But I don’t think us feel old at all. And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this is the youngest us ever felt.”

These final sentences also depict Celie’s final self-acceptance and philosophical reflection upon her life. It concludes her journey to freedom from oppression, which the book has charted.

2) Just as Celie’s attitudes to life have changed, by letter 90 there is a noticeable change in Celie’s language style, she has a mo

re sophisticated lexis and syntax which contrasts significantly to her early letters to God. Whereas

Walker’s use of language for Celie’s character in the early letters expresses her lack of education, Walker’s change in Celie’s language shows Celie’s “life education”. It depicts the change from Celie being a naive “innocent narrator” to a confident woman, educated through life and others such as Nettie. The change in Celie’s vocabulary and grammatical style suggests she has learnt from Nettie’s carefully composed letters.

However, letter 90 also shows how Walker does not abandon Celie’s mimetic style and her use of the colloquial black American dialect:

“This Shug and Albert, I say. Everybody say pleased to Meetcha”

Celie continues to include phonetical spellings such as “Meetcha” and to use the present tense for past events such as “I say” instead of I said. Both of these are features of the dialect of the Deep South and show that Walker has continued to express aspects of black American cultural identity through Celie’s language throughout the novel. Often throughout history the voices of this community have not been heard and in her method of telling the story Walker allows them to have a voice through Celie’s vernacular.

The use of the present for past events such as “I say” instead of I said and the absence of speech punctuation also continues to give the novel the feeling of a play script. This first person narrative gives a sense of intimacy and immediacy with events in the novel and Walker continues to gain the closeness of the reader with Celie right until the novel’s conclusion.

Walker continues through her use of the epistolary form, which has connotations of a diary, cleverly to capture the reader’s interest and empathy towards her protagonist. By using this form she continues to play on the readers emotions and the reader feels a sense of intimacy and immediacy with Celie, in this sense it seems as if the reader has experienced Celie’s life, thoughts and journey to freedom alongside her.

The opening of letter 90 addressed: Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees…Dear everything. Dear God” is a method used by Walker to show changed attitudes to spirituality within her life, but also contains symbolism to represent aspects of the story. Addressing “Dear stars” links to slavery. It has been claimed that many slaves followed the Northern star as their guiding star to escape to freedom from their slave masters. Therefore through symbolism Alice Walker suggests that Celie’s “happy ending” has been achieved through her following of her “guiding stars”, Shug and Nettie.

3) The “happy ending” to The Color Purple is, in my view, absolutely necessary for Alice Walker to achieve her purpose and appropriate her views. It shows the triumph of human spirit and follows a necessary route to appropriate Alice Walker’s views of womanism as having strength and power to allow women to break free from oppression. It is the only logical conclusion which can instil in women throughout all communities that they do not have to accept their fate, be submissive and continue to accept oppression.

Critics such as bell hooks have taken issue with the novel’s ending, bell hooks feels the ending is an unrealistic fantasy in so far as it suggests we can have everything: material well-being, no sexual exploitation, concern towards racism and tolerance of sexuality. She feels the novel suggests all these things are possible without a huge struggle or effort. I agree in some ways that certain parts of the novel could incorporate a greater struggle, although for Alice Walker’s purposes I feel the fantasy expresses ideas of hope and an ideal others wish for.

However, I can see how some readers can see the ending as sickly and sentimental as at times the language used to portray Celie’s triumph appears superficial. Despite her earlier treatment by “Mr_” they seem, in my opinion, too easily reconciled through the love of Shug: “Us talk about you, I say. How much us love you.” This type of language does make aspects of the ending seem sickly and sentimental. However I do feel this reconciliation to be necessary to Alice Walker’s purpose and although slightly unrealistic does effectively, in a fairy tale style, show the triumph of human spirit through forgiveness and love. The ending of the novel is in my opinion how most readers wish and hope the novel to end.

I do not view the novel as a realist novel, but rather as a novel intended to metaphorically portray the triumph of the human spirit. I agree with the critic Andrea Stuart who said that the novel should not be read as “a realist novel in the ordinary sense” but instead as a fairy/folk tale or fable. The novel’s ending advocates ideas that through strength of character, self-acceptance and positive thinking you can achieve freedom and I feel that through Alice Walker showing that black women can achieve, she sets in place a self-fulfilling prophecy inspiring and instilling hope in others, no matter what their background, that it is possible to achieve things within their life. Therefore I see the novel’s ending as integral to the story and as an inspiration of hope.

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