The Color Purple, written by Alice Walker, details the life of an African American girl called Celie, who narrates her life story through letters that she writes to God. The major themes of The Color Purple are the importance of sisterhood, the presence of racial tensions, and the irrelevance of religion. The female characters in The Color Purple are seen as only objects to men, stranded in a male dominated world, that they are unable to retaliate against. This male domination stems from the desire of black men to have authority in a white dominated world, and this desire is carried out on the women.
The best way for women to survive in this world is to stick together and to band together as sisters. Sisterhood is the love, support and guidance that women provide each other. There are many examples of sisterhood in the novel. The most important case of sisterhood in the novel is the relationship between Celie and Shug Avery. Although the first time Celie and Shug meet they do not get along, throughout the novel they evolve to become sisters, friends and lovers. Shug takes a role of a protector of Celie and says 1’I won’t leave… ntil I know Albert won’t even think about beating you’. It is Shug who emancipates Celie in all aspects of her life, guiding her to financial, emotional and sexual independence. Celie originally is unable to see any way out of the world she lives in, but Shug provides a ticket to freedom and life. Shug helps Celie to contact Nettie, by retrieving the hidden letters from Mr____’s trunk.
Shug also helps to bring out a voice in Celie. The first time Celie’s rebellious nature is evident in the novel is when she 2’drop little spit in Old Mr____’s water. Celie and Shug confide in each other about the events of their lives. Shug explains to Celie why she has no children 3’My kids went they grandma, she say. ‘ Celie tells Shug of the sexual abuse she has suffered throughout her life. Shug is the first person that Celie reveals this information to, and this illustrates the trust that they share with one another. With Shug’s help, Celie overturns the idea that sewing is a trivial women’s labor, and finds an empowering source of independence, in the form of a pant making service.
Shug maintains the notion of equality because of her own confidence as a person, and she passes this idea on to Celie. The relationship between Celie and Sophia is a unique one. Celie is very submissive and puts up with the abuse of Mr ______ . She states at the beginning of the novel 4’I don’t fight, I stay where I’m told. Sofia, however has a voice and uses it because she wants to be in a equal relationship with Harpo without being dominated and declares, 5’I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me’. Sophia and Celie also talk to each other, and support each other.
Mary Agnes and Sophia, like Celie and Shug, do not become friends at first, however, when Sophia is in jail, Mary Agnes looks after her children, and then later on in the novel, Sophia looks after Mary Agnes’ children as she travels the country. Mary Agnes even endures rape to release Sopia from prison. Sophia also teaches Mary Agnes to find her voice, and this is evident when she says to Harpo 6’My name Mary Agnes’. This illustrates that she wants Harpo to call her by her real name for identity and respect. She becomes an independent woman as a result of Sophia’s guidance.
Although the novel is set after slavery was abolished, racial tensions still remain. Celie is the daughter of a successful Negro shop owner, ‘lynched’ by white men for his financial success. All the characters in Celie’s family and the extended family she comes into contact with are the poor exploited blacks of the American South, segregated from white society. They are almost all ill educated, badly housed, unable to travel and incapable of escaping their dire situation. White people in the novel do not hesitate to offend.
When Nettie is going to Africa, a white bystander remarks 7’Niggers going to Africa… ow I have seen everything. ‘ White people in the novel are unable to comprehend the idea of equality between the two races. This is evident when Miss Millie says to Sofia, 8’Have you ever seen a white person and a colored sitting side by side in a car, wen one of ’em wasn’t showing the other one how to drive it or clean it? ‘ The few characters in the story who do manage to change their fortunes juxtapose the misfortune of the rest. Shug, Samuel and Corrine are the exceptions, but the majority of the characters in the novel have to struggle to survive, trapped by poverty and lack of education.
The character Eleanor Jane is included by Walker to show that it is possible for black and white to repair relationships and begin to understand and accept one another. By the end of the novel, Eleanor Jane and Sofia relate like equal women rather than black servant and white mistress. The church is an important part of the social life of the community in which Celie lives. Her letters are addressed to God and she looks to God for support and help. Her faith is naive, and it experiences changes as the novel progresses. Celie realises that the God she needs is not the one she originally visualises.
It is significant that she sees him as 9’old and tall and greybearded and white’. Shug rejects the narrow minded Church, preferring to have a personal religion with God, who 10’ain’t a he or a she, but a It. ‘ Celie embraces this interpretation and by the end of the novel she acquires a relaxed attitude to religious belief and a finds purpose in her life. Shug admires the natural world and its beauty, in all its richness and variety. This is shown when Shug remarks 11’it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. ‘ Celie’s last letter begins 12’Dear God.
Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky dear peoples . Dear Everything. Dear God. ‘ This shows that Celie is optimistic, independent and feels that God is all around her, supporting and guiding her. Sisterhood is a very important theme in the novel The Color Purple. As many dominating forces were around them, the female character’s found sticking together to form the best way of carrying on with their lives. Racial tension is displayed throughout the novel, through relations between black and white characters. The irrelevance of religion in the form it is presented to black people is also explored by Alice Walker.