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Themes In The Colour Purple

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Autor:   •  March 22, 2011  •  9,098 Words (37 Pages)  •  950 Views

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The theme of Alice Walker's The Color Purple is very straightforward and simple. Like many other novels devoted to the mistreatment of blacks and black women especially, The Color Purple is dedicated to black women's rights.

Much of the narrative in Walker's novel is derived from her own personal experience, growing up in the rural South as an uneducated and abused child. In short, the goal of this book and indeed all her writing is to inspire and motivate black women to stand up for their rights. Celie, the main character, undergoes an inner transformation, from a submissive, abused wife to an unabashedly confident and independent black woman and businesswoman.

There are other more secondary themes, such as the rejection of the traditional, Christian, "white-man's" God. Thanks to the influence of Shug Avery and Nettie, a new age kind of God is developed and is a great comfort to all three women. Even Celie's last letter is written to this vague kind of god-- a god of nature and stars and people

Race and domesticity in 'The Color Purple.'

An important juncture in Alice Walker's The Color Purple is reached when

Celie first recovers the missing letters from her long-lost sister Nettie.

This discovery not only signals the introduction of a new narrator to this

epistolary novel but also begins the transformation of Celie from writer to

reader. Indeed, the passage in which Celie struggles to puzzle out the

markings on her first envelope from Nettie provides a concrete illustration

of both Celie's particular horizon of interpretation and Walker's chosen

approach to the epistolary form:

Saturday morning Shug put Nettie letter in my lap. Little fat queen of

England stamps on it, plus stamps that got peanuts, coconuts, rubber trees

and say Africa. I don't know where England at. Don't know where Africa at

either. So I stir don't know where Nettie at. (102)

Revealing Celie's ignorance of even the most rudimentary outlines of the

larger world, this passage clearly defines the "domestic" site she occupies

as the novel's main narrator.(1) In particular, the difficulty Celie has

interpreting this envelope underscores her tendency to understand events in

terms of personal consequences rather than political categories. What

matters about not knowing "where Africa at" - according to Celie - is not

knowing "where Nettie at." By clarifying Celie's characteristic angle of

vision, this passage highlights the intensely personal perspective that

Walker brings to her tale of sexual oppression - a perspective that accounts

in large part for the emotional power of the text.

But Walker's privileging of the domestic perspective of her narrators has

also been judged to have other effects on the text. Indeed, critics from

various aesthetic and political camps have commented on what they perceive

as a tension between public and private discourse in the novel.(2) Thus, in

analyzing Celie's representation of national identity, Lauren Berlant

identifies a separation of "aesthetic" and "political" discourses in the

novel and concludes that Celie's narrative ultimately emphasizes "individual

essence in false opposition to institutional history" (868). Revealing a

very different political agenda in his attacks on the novel's womanist

stance, George Stade also points to a tension between personal and public

elements in the text when he criticizes the novel's "narcissism" and its

"championing of domesticity over the public world of masculine power plays"

(266). Finally, in praising Walker's handling of sexual oppression, Elliott

Butler-Evans argues that Celie's personal letters serve precisely as a

"textual strategy by which the larger African-American history, focused on

racial conflict and struggle, can be marginalized by its absence from the

narration" (166).

By counterposing personal and public discourse in the novel, these critics

could be said to have problematized the narrative's domestic perspective by

suggesting that Walker's chosen treatment of the constricted viewpoint of an

uneducated country woman - a woman who admits that she doesn't even know

"where Africa at" - may also constrict the novel's ability to analyze issues

of "race" and class.(3) Thus Butler-Evans finds that Celie's "private life

preempts the exploration of the public lives of blacks" (166), while Berlant

argues that Celie's family-oriented point of view and modes of expression

can displace race and class analyses to the point that the "nonbiological

abstraction of class relations virtually disappears" (833). And in a

strongly worded rejection of the novel as "revolutionary literature," bell

hooks charges that the focus upon Celie's sexual oppression ultimately


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