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In every piece of writing, especially in great literature, the exists a deeper meaning that rests beneath the physical words on a page. For the characters of Alice Walker's,
The Color Purple
, these deeper meanings are laced with abuse, racism, frustration detween cultures, and self-dicovery and love. These themes define this novel and make Celie, the main character, and her struggles relatable to all readers of all generations.
The first theme mentioned above is abuse. The theme of abuse is not so obscure, as the intro paragraph may allude to. From the first page Celie struggles with constant mental, physical, and sexual abuse from the men in her life. At a young age she is raped by a man who, at the time, she believes to be her biological father. She is constantly put down and told she will never amount to anything. Though a reader may not be able to directly relate to Celie's situation, everybody has felt like they have failed themselves. They have felt put down by the world. The fact that Celie is sort of an underdog throughout the story makes her relatable as a character. It also makes readers want to cheer her on and see her succeed. Most of the characters in the story are affected by abuse at some point in their lives. It can be guessed that much of the abuse and overall frustration with life started with racial prejudice the African Americans of this book undoubtably faced at some time in their lives. Mr. ___ has had problems in his life, but was most likely never taught how to deal with them. He takes this anger and frustration out on Celie. Harpo learns, through his father's actions, that through violence, you can get people to listen to you. You can get your way. Harpo uses this learned behavior to try to beat his wife, Sofia, into line. This abuse travels in a vicious circle. This abuse showed itself in homes, father beats mother, son continues to beat wife later in life because that's the method he knows to handle his anger and get his way. Despite the abuse Celie suffers she is able to overcome her past and create a better life for herself, which leads us to our next theme. Something any reader could easily take away from the struggles of the characters of this novel, in regards to abuse, is that no matter the struggle one can always make a better life for themselves. You can remove youself from a harmful situation, as Celie did by leaving Albert, and create your own destiny.
Racism and Frustration Between Cultures
Throughout the last half of
The Color Purple,
Celie tells us the stories of her sister Nettie, through letters, who happens to be a Christian missionary in the African jungle. Nettie's story could easily be considered a sub-plot and blown-off as unimportant; however, Nettie's travels around the world give the reader a glimpse into the racism happening around the world at the time
this book takes place. It gives the reader the sense that this mental abuse is not just something that is happening in Celie's life, but in the lives of black individuals all over the world. Nettie talks about how she feels empowered as an African American in places like, the all-black, Harlem, New York, but feels repressed and hopeless in the, all-white, Christian ministry. After arriving in Africa she discusses the situation involving the African government. All the people on the governmental board are black, but none of them are native to the land. This story shows us, as readers, that racism exists all over the world. It broadens our perspective. Near the end of Nettie's story the African tribe she has been living with is slowly being destroyed by British imperialists. These white men do not understand the native culture and therefore destroy it. The same thing could be said about Albert marrying Celie. He does not understand her, and therefore destroys her. Through her characters, Walker shows us that we must be considerate of others and their beliefs. The end of the novel brings Celie the realization that until we stop casting others out because they are different we cannot be at peace as a world. If we, as human beings, could all realize what Celie realized then would there be war? Or would we think about the good of
people and settle our differences some other way? If we would stop casting people as villains or lunatics simply because they look or think differently, than the world would be a different and better place to live. Walker's message is simple. Have empathy for your neighbor. You don't know what someone else's life is like or what they have been through, so give them the benefit of the doubt and you can prevent fighting and conflict.
Self-discovery and Hope
As the novel continues Celie's life begins to take a turn for the better. The moment Shug Avery enters Celie's life she starts to look at herself from a new perspective. Celie,
for the first time in her life, thinks about herself and her own needs. She begins to feel better about herself as a person. By discovering her own romantic feelings for Shug she gains confidence and uses this confidence to leave Albert. The moment she is removed from such a terrible environment it is as if she has been released from prison. She starts looking at life more positevely. She has hope for the future. Celie discovers a God that she can relate to, a God that is not necessarily a man, and not necessarily white. She feels hopeful that someday she will see Nettie again, despite being cut off from her for such a long period of time. Shug Avery is the vessel by which Celie gets in touch with herself. Shug teaches Celie to put herself first, for once, and to stand up for what is important to her. Shug teaches Celie that she is worth something. She gives Celie hope. From Celie's newfound hope a reader could take away inspiration to improve their own life. The way Celie changes her life, though it takes her years and years, proves to her audience that it is worth it to get yourself out of harmful settings and it is possible to achieve your dreams if you persevere and think about yourself once in a while. It is important not to get caught up in your life and forget that life is the most precious gift you will ever receive. Do not take yourself for granted because you only get to be you once. You are worth something no matter your race, gender, or sexuality.
By: Julie Patterson
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