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Alice Walker Presents The Female Network As A Key Theme In The Novel 'The Color Purple'. Discuss

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Alice Walker presents the female network as a key theme in the novel 'The Color Purple'. Discuss

'The Color Purple is a novel which deals with what it means to be poor, black and female in the rural South during the first half of the twentieth century#,' a period defined by the patriarchal society in which women were uneducated and kept oppressed by the male dominated society. Walker uses the female network to teach the reader that through unity, strength and support of other women the female characters are able to rise, stand up to the men that keep them oppressed and begin to live.

The character of Celie is central to the female network; through Celie Walker has aimed to present a process of emancipation of a woman, body and soul, from the domination of men.

The novel is written in the form of letters 'In using the epistolary style Walker is able to have her major character Celie express the impact of oppression on her spirit as well as her growing internal strength and final victory. This novel spans two generations of one poor rural black family , interweaving the personal with the flow of history; and the image of quilting is central to its concept and form. But in the Color Purple, the emphases are the oppression black woman experience in there relationships with black men (fathers, brothers, husbands, lovers) and the sisterhood they must share with each other in order to liberate themselves. As an image for these themes two sisters, Celie and Nettie, are the novel's focal characters. Their letters, Celie's to God, Nettie's to Celie and finally Celie's to Nettie, are the novel's form.'#

She sees and portrays a world from the inside outward: she uses the eyes of Celie, a surname less, male-dominated and abused woman, who records her experiences in letters.

Celie writes her story in her own voice. She tells her life as only she knows it; a girl, merely a child, raped by her stepfather whom she believes is her natural father.

Celie finds herself beleaguered and victimized by what Todd describes as the 'Scheme of patriarchy.' Laying claim to the 'right' of pater familias. Albert attempts to impose a pattern of dominance and submission on his wife and children. 'He beat me like he beat the children' writes Celie, 'It all I can do not to cry.' Advising his son Harpo, Albert declares, 'Wives is like children . You have to let ' em know who got the upper hand. Nothing can do better than a good sound beating.#'

When Nettie escapes from her stepfather she comes to live with Celie and Albert. Because she rebukes Albert's amorous attentions, however she is forced to leave, and is not heard from for many years. Celie later discovers that Albert has been intercepting Nettie's letters from Africa where she has gone with a missionary couple, Samuel and Corrine who have adopted Celie's two children. Albert's unsuccessful attempts to expropriate or conceal Nettie's letters suggest again, Walker's intention to subvert male efforts to suppress black woman in life as well as letters. Over and over again , Celie accepts abuse and victimisation. When Harpo asks her what to do to control his wife Sofia, Celie, having internalised the principle of male domination, answers, 'Beat her#.' When Celie next sees Harpo 'His face is a mess of bruises.' Sofia , then, becomes Celie's first model of resistance to sexual, and later, racial subjugation. Cheeky and rebellious Sofia is described as an "amazon of a woman." She scorns rigid gender definitions and prefers fixing the leaky roof to fixing the evening dinner. Moreover as Harpo quickly learns , Sofia gives as good as she takes. 'All my life I had to fight,' Sofia explains to Celie, " I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain't safe in a family of men." Not only does Sofia resist Harpo's attempts to impose submission, she is also jailed for "sassing" the mayor's wife and knocking the mayor down when he slaps her for impudence.

Unlike Sofia however, "Celie submits to a system of beliefs and values which reinforce conventional notions of race, class and sex-and relegate her to a subordinate status. Celie submits to male authority because she accepts a theology which requires female subjugation to father and husband. Having been taught to "honor father and mother no matter what," Celie "couldn't be mad at [her] daddy because he [her] daddy." She suffers Albert's abuse for the same reason "Well, sometime Mr.____ git on me pretty hard, I have to talk to old maker but he is my husband. I shrug my shoulders.#"

"Old Maker" is for Celie, "big and old and tall and graybearded and white." In linking her notion of divinity to a white male figure, Celie accepts a theology of self-denial. It is a theology which validates her inferior status and treatment as a black woman in a racist and sexist culture. Not only does she devalue herself but she attaches little value to a world which reflects her image as "black...pore...[and] a woman . . . nothing at all."

If Albert separates Celie from Nettie he introduces her to Shug Avery his former mistress. Celie moves from a relationship with a stepfather who is sexually abusive to a relationship with her husband who exploits her labour and sex, to finally, a relationship with Shug Avery, who loves her, teaches her the reverence and mystery of her body, and the means of earning a livelihood through her own industry and creativity.

Opposite Celie in every way, Shug has the reputation of a high living adventurous, independent blues singer, whose life-style gives her greater freedom than Celie's more conventional status. Yet when Celie nurses and coaxes Shug back to health, the two woman become intimate friends instead of rivals. Unlike the men who have subjugated Celie, Shug seeks neither to control nor possess her. Celie subsequently forms a relationship with Shug which evolves from a maternal, to a sororal, to an erotic attachment. Shug initiates Celie into an awareness of her own sexuality and an appreciation of her body-for despite the fact that she has had two children, Celie remains a "virgin" in that she has never shared a loving relationship. Until Shug introduces her to the beauty of her own body, Celie remains devoid of any sense of self-esteem or self value:

[Shug] say, Here take this mirror and go look at yourself down there, I bet you never seen it, have you?




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