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Race, Gender, And Nation In The Color Purple

2037 words - 8 pages

Forcefully silenced into submission and subject to continuous abuse by the man, she thought was her father, Celie adopts the private mode of letter writing to express her grievances. Growing up in a southern working class household, Celie is exposed to the full force of sexism in a primarily black society. Addressing her concerns to God, the first letter immediately brings to light the plight of the innocent girl child who is rudely forced to acknowledge her womanhood at the age of fourteen when she is constantly raped and impregnated by her step father. The letters are written in the first person but even though she assumes the “I”, she does not sign the letters as she is perhaps aware that her private life is still dictated by the patriarch of the household. This can also be read as conscious attempt on Walker’s part to suggest that the plight of Celie is the plight of most black women of her age, hence the deliberate omission. The novel opens with the silencing of the girl child, “You better tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy” (Walker 8), so that what emerges is the figure of the obedient slave, “the mule of the world…carrying the burden that everyone else refused to carry”(Walker, “In Search Of” 237), who assumes the gender role thrust upon her by a society which seems to sanction abuse.
The letters in the first half of the novel, though addressed to God are more of a dialogue with the self. They are open, honest and provide a black woman’s reality where notions of race and sex intersect as oppressive forces in a predominantly patriarchal set up. Her abuse is limited to the domestic space and continues even when she is married to Mr._ who marries her but for convenience and looks her up and down as he would a farm animal, in this case a cow. The allusion to women as toiling farm animals is also referred to by Harpo, after his fight with Sofia, who like his father is brought up within the ambit of patriarchy. Celie is forced to assume the role of both wife and mother. She has no right even to her own body and the womb which is seen as a receptacle for future generations becomes a burden. The letters lay bare her condition and through them can be traced the gradual transformation of the protagonist from a creature “so abused and mutilated in pain” to one who is later initiated into a loving and sustaining relationship with Shug Avery. Assuming the role of a dutiful wife, she learns that passivity is the only way to survive and emotions are shunned. The only way to survive is by making herself wood like, “I make myself wood. I say to myself, Celie you a tree.” (Walker 23)
By shutting out the world she associates herself with a tree, which though ignored and devoid of attention continues to live and grow, drawing sustenance from the earth, while at the same time acting as a witness to passing events. She is also the labouring woman, drawn perhaps from the slave narratives and the man is no longer one who is revered as the male and...

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