Themes in Alice Walker the Color Purple
Alice walker, the author of The Color Purple, the novel which was released in 1982 has
won two major awards, which are, best fiction from the national book award and the Pulitzer
award for best fiction (Alsen 45). The novel has since been adopted into a musical and film while
retaining the same name. The book focuses on colored women’s lives in the southern state of
Georgia (LaGrone 53). Moreover, the book paints a picture of how low the colored woman is
regarded in the social culture of Americans. Alice walker is not only known as being an AfroAmerican writer but is known for her use of dominant themes. Some of the well known themes
include; gender, racism and religion.
The novel essentially focuses on the struggles and suffering of the black people in the
United States. Walker is keen to show that being a black woman is fundamentally different that
just being a woman, she documents the survival of black women through very difficult situations
and conditions. Celie, the protagonist in the book, is a southern black woman, she is hardly
literate and she is desperately trying to get away from the brutality and degradation such as rape
and racism by men. Through her book walker also shows the determination and resilience of the
African-American women, despite them suffering from immense psychological, emotional and
physical abuse beyond what any human being should endure colored women sill persevered to
overcome and improve their conditions.
Themes are universal and essential ideas used in a literary work. The book color purple
by Alice Walker explores numerous themes within it such as racism, sexual violence and sexism
just to name a few. This paper therefore, will explore the themes in this book in relation to the
characters and their impact.
Racism and Sexism
In walker’s novel there are many instances of discrimination both gender wise and by the
color of the skin. Most perpetrators of these acts in the novel can be considered monsters or evil
due to their one dimensional nature. Ironically, the perpetrators of violence in most instances in
the novel are also the same people who suffer from racism, paternalism and sexism. For
example, Harpo beats up Sofia shortly after Harpo’s father implied that the resistance of Sofia
makes him less worthy of being called a man (Walker 112). Additionally, Mr.___ violently
mistreats his family similar to what his tyrant like father did to them. Another instance is when
Celie was jealous of Sofia’s assertiveness and strength and advices Harpo to beat her up.
Sadly, the characters who are involved with these cynical behaviors are fully aware of the
harm they cause. For example, Sofia admits to Eleanor Jane that her baby boy will automatically
be racist when he grows up due to societal influence (Walker 94). Eventually, women in the
novel understood that only by voicing their concerns to the male abusers and directing them to
other ways of solving problems was this cycle of violence and sexism broken. The perpetrators
who were mostly men would now hesitate and rethink their ways.
The Power of Voice and Narrative
Alice Walker maintains throughout the book that the ability of a person to express his
feelings and thoughts is important in the development of that person. At first, Celie is incapable
of doing anything to her abusers. Maybe Alphonso’s warning that she must never tell anyone
other than God about those who abuse her still rung in her mind, she still thought that remaining
invincible and quite is the only way to persevere (Walker 73). The silence turns Celie into an
object that lacks assertive powers to express herself in any way. The only way to let her
frustrations out is through her letters to God where she starts to tell her story.
However, since Celie is used to keeping things to herself her letters to God are at first
muddled in spite of her efforts to make them as transparent as possible. Sofia and Shug
eventually sympathizes with her and from them Celie learns how to speak out. Shug further
empowers her by renaming her a virgin, she learns now that she is capable of creating her own
story, create a new image of herself and cast away the past histories that were forced on her.
Eventually, she opens up to Shug begins to tell her narrative. However, her narrative only
becomes clear and complete when Celie and Shug discovered Nettie’s letters.
The novel reaches its climax when Celie with her newly acquired power curses Mr.___,
for the many years he had abused her. Her story leaves Mr.___ dumbfounded and he is left to
gaze at his life, which eventually led to him changing his own life. Despite walker emphasizing
for most of the novel on the power of assertion against discrimination and oppression through
speech, she advices that that methods has its downsides, for instance, Sofia’s outburst when she
was asked by Miss Millie to go and work for her as a maid resulted her being imprisoned for
twelve years. Although she eventually regains her freedom, she paid a very high price for her
Relationships and Transcendence
When the novel ends Celie had gone through experiences such as acceptance, become a
business woman and love. She is completely transformed into a woman from the small girl at the
beginning (Alsen 132). She forgives and become close to Mr.___ due to the love they both have
for Shug and listening to each other and understanding one another, this close relations helps
them to talk to each other without any bad feelings of their past. Walker uses friendship as a
means for changing and growing people from their past selves.
Several relationships are ruined but later mended as the novel went on. Sofia finally
returned to her family and Harpo, Shug also returned from where she had gone to with Germaine
and finally, Nettie brought back Celie’s children. All this instances showed cases where people
parted ways only to be re-united later. Each took their own journey and learnt their lessons,
however, when they later meet their families and friendship bonds are restored which are
stronger than their earlier transgressions.
Despite the many positive themes that are presented in the novel, there is an issue with
the theme of voice and silence especially when sexism and racism are considered. One can
conclude that walker is claiming that female speechlessness is caused by patriarchal surveillance.
Another discrepancy that can be noted is with the theme of voice of the narratives, for instance
Nettie and Celie letters shows two non similar narrative voices which are complementary and as
a result place the narrative in a larger cultural context.
Alice Walker, in deed succeeded in highlighting the suffering of black women during the
slavery days. The characters in the novel face challenges ranging from gender discrimination,
racial discrimination, sexual abuse, violence, determination, and resilience. Furthermore, Walker
even touched on the often secretive issue of incest. Walker managed to show what black women
endured during that time and the challenges that extended beyond just racism.
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