Sexism in the Color Purple

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The traditional male and female roles that take place in Celie’s life in the American south often mirror the gender roles in her sister Nettie’s African culture. In both worlds, women are considered inferior and therefore are subservient to the males surrounding them. This custom was prevalent throughout the world at the time of The Color Purple’s setting (circa 1930).

Beside the hierarchy of male dominance, many other similarities between the sexism of Nettie’s African surroundings and the sexism of Celie’s American society exist. In both cultures, women were the primary caretakers of their children and their homes. The man or husband acted essentially as an owner and dictator of his woman. The woman would act as mother, maid, and sexual partner in her home, without the respect and dignity that is given to modern women.

Something interesting that differs between the Olinkan women of Nettie’s world and the women in Celie’s is that the Olinkan women worked while the majority of American women at the time of the story did not. The women in the Olinkan tribe of Liberia would work in the fields and tend to crops while the main job of the American woman was taking care of her home, the children, and the man who inhabited it.

Another difference between cultures in the book is the way that Tashi’s mother, Catherine is treated after her husband dies. It is said in the book that she is treated as an “honorary man” because of the fact that she had so many male children. With this title, Catherine does not have the obligation to remarry that most women have in her situation. This differs from the American culture slightly because women were not exactly forced to remarry if their husbands were to die. It may have been expected of them to resume the role of mother and wife with another man, but it was not obligatory.

Some similarities between the two cultures concerning gender roles overlap with race relations of the depicted era. For example, in the Olinka tribe’s...
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