Alice Walker uses a variety of techniques in ‘The Color Purple’ to present the growing relationship between Celie and Shug. Using pages 68-70 as a starting point I will be exploring attitudes towards sexuality as well as a number of lexical, grammatical and phonological choices.
As soon as Celie encounters Shug Avery, we get the sense that she already has a sub-conscious sexual desire for her. “First time I got the full sight of Shug Avery” she says, “I thought I had turned into a man,” and from this description we can see that Shug Avery is a big factor in expanding Celie’s mind and feelings towards other desires and ideas. This point in then developed by a subsequent sentence, “I wash her body, it feel like I’m praying.” Celie, being a strict believer in God, is obviously moved in new and different ways by the presence of Shug. Celie uses prayer to escape from her life and talk about issues that have, or are currently, troubling her. Thus, the presence of Shug allows Celie to mentally free herself; even though Shug is slightly bitter towards Celie. Later on in the novel Celie discusses her frequent rapes by Alphonso; thus reinforcing the point that Celie is able to discuss private and sensitive issues with Shug only. A close and personal link is created by Celie and Shug’s first physical encounter.
Celie’s sexual urges for Shug continue to develop in a later letter. “If I don’t watch out I’ll have hold of her hand, tasting her fingers in my mouth.” The syntax of this sentence shows a change in desires; the caesura splits a relatively soft, harmless urge with one of more extreme consequences; thus showing Celie’s confusion over her desires. The use of a complex sentence represents that Celie does not wish to pause whilst describing the event as it offers her too much pleasure. On the other hand Shug still resists Celie and does not wish to know her, “Can I sit in here and eat with you? I ast. She shrug. She busy looking at a magazine.” It becomes obvious that Shug has other issues and matters on her mind; conceivably Shug is thinking about her current relationship with Albert and where her future lies.
The relationship between Albert and Shug begins to upset Celie and make her jealous, but jealous of whom? “He love looking at Shug. I love looking at Shug. But Shug don’t love looking at but one of us. Him.” Celie could be jealous of Shug, as she believes Albert is her husband and relationships should relate to the marital situation. Although, Celie could be jealous of Albert in that she doesn’t want Albert sleeping with Shug, Celie wants Shug to herself. This could reflect Celie’s growing feelings for Shug and the fact that Shug is beginning to become more involved in Celie and her life. The use of the third person singular object pronoun, ‘him’, portrays that Celie has little respect for Albert and that she is too disgusted to mention his name. The fact that it is a sentence on its own conveys that Celie wishes Albert was not involved in a relationship with Shug and also that Celie was not married to Albert. Celie views Albert as an intruder in her relationship with Shug.
In the following letter Shug approaches Celie and says that she must leave. Celie is devastated by this, and is shown by the following quote, “I don’t say nothing. Feel like I felt when Nettie left.” This extract highlights the growing feelings Celie has for Shug. Celie now begins to see Shug as a close personal friend; Nettie was the only female Celie had a close relationship with; Shug has now taken this role.
The first section of the letter on pages 68-70 conveys Celie’s jealousy towards the relationship between Shug and Albert. The first sentence shows that Celie is still upset that Shug is leaving; Celie then turns this sadness into anger through realising that Shug is sleeping with Albert. “Now we all know she going sometime soon, they sleep together at night.” The two diverse issues mentioned show that Celie is confused and does not know what to think of Shug. The alliteration of ‘sometime soon’ and also the consonance on the ‘s’ sound create a feeling of pace and rhythm, this conveys that Celie is willing to move onto another subject as the current one brings much sadness.
The second part of the sentence shows Celie’s hatred, the consonance on the ‘t’ and its plosive edge portrays Celie’s anger and frustration on the matter. This part of the sentence is also monosyllabic except for the word ‘together’, as this word contains three syllables we get the feeling that Celie is running this word over in her mind and picturing the relationship between Shug and Albert. As the rest of the section is monosyllabic it shows Celie does not wish to elaborate and so is shocked at the actions of Shug. In the next sentence there is more of a realisation from Celie that Shug and Albert sleep together frequently. “Not every night, but almost every night…” This strong, mid-line pause creates this understanding.
In the following paragraph Celie becomes frustrated at Albert’s treatment of women as mere objects, “And just to look at her.” The sentence begins with the conjunction ‘and’; this represents negative thoughts and anger from Celie over Albert’s lack of consideration for Shug’s personality. The use of the pronoun ‘her’ shows that Celie has little respect for Shug at this present moment. Celie may be confused as to why Shug has a relationship with Albert when Celie knows that she respects Shug as a person as well as taking into account her good looks. The quote is monosyllabic and conveys that Celie does not wish to waste her breath over something she has seen many times before. Celie is depicting Albert as a stereotypical male.
The feeling that Shug enjoys her relationship with Albert is shown through a number of sentences. “…do you mind if Albert sleep with me?” The wording of this extract builds up a feeling that Albert is very much in control of Shug; Albert sleeps with Shug, Shug does not sleep with Albert. Shug then openly declares to Celie that she enjoys sleeping with Albert, “…I just love it.” Additionally, Shug states that she still has a passion for Albert. It becomes clear that Shug still loves Albert even though she sees him as a ‘bully’ as well as ‘weak’ and many other negative statements. Celie seems to have latched on to the fact that Shug still loves Albert; this factor increases Celie’s jealousy and hatred towards Albert, and possibly Shug. “You still love him, I ast.” The lack of a question mark signifies the quote as imperative. Celie is not asking but simply stating, in an aggressive manner, that Shug loves Albert. The use of the pronoun ‘him’ conveys that Celie still has little or no respect for Albert. Monosyllabic words are used to create a short and sharp sounding sentence to reflect Celie’s anger and frustration. Celie is most likely confused as to why Shug is sleeping with a man who is violent towards women.
Although it looks as if Shug has a committed relationship to Albert, Celie nevertheless, attempts to persuade Shug to consider the consequences of her actions. “I say, You might git big again.” Celie does not wish to directly confront Shug and say that she doesn’t want her to sleep with Albert, as Celie does not wish to hurt Shug emotionally. Instead, Celie moves around this issue and tries to discourage Shug from sleeping with a man who wouldn’t care if a woman was pregnant. This quote is very plosive with consonance on the ‘g’ and also the ‘t’ sounds. It creates a feeling that Celie has hidden or repressed anger which she is trying to hide behind what she is saying. There is still an obvious desire for Celie to be with Shug.
Throughout the rest of the letter Celie describes how she dislikes sleeping with Albert; Shug begins to explain to Celie sexually arousing experiences to which Celie becomes recognised with. The concluding section of the letter sees Celie very upset and distressed over the issue of Shug sleeping with Albert.
From the beginning it is clear that Celie has deep feelings for Shug which continue to develop as the novel progresses. However, as Celie begins to realise that Shug is sleeping with Albert, jealousy begins to kick in and hatred for Albert, and occasionally Shug, begins to develop. Nonetheless, Celie still desires to have a relationship with Shug even though it becomes less apparent. The physical sexual relation between Celie and Shug increases as Shug explains sexual issues with Celie. However, Celie is still upset at Shug’s relationship with Albert.