The Color Purple - Analyse How Celie and Sofia Cope with the Problems They Encounter and Consider the Effects on Them of Living in This Society.

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In The Color Purple there are a number of female characters who respond in different ways to the problems of being a black American female at a certain point in history. Analyse how Celie and Sofia cope with the problems they encounter and consider the effects on them of living in this society. Although in 1865 slavery was abolished in America, strong political themes of racism and sexism remained. The Color Purple’s characters of Celie and Sofia cope very differently to the problems they face as black American females in the 1930s, such as: enslavement, sexual and physical abuse in the powerful patriarchal black society. Alice Walker has received much criticism of her portrayal of black women of the time and this essay will analyse Walker’s approach to how she saw Celie and Sofia cope with their problems and some of the arguments towards the novel. Celie is poor and uneducated; a black female in a triple oppressive society, one of race, gender and class degradation. It is evident at the beginning of the novel that Celie has little self-esteem but overcomes this by gradually learning to love herself, becoming independent and not having to rely on others for her own happiness. It takes Celie many years to learn these painful lessons. According to Harris, one of Walkers harshest critics, it would not have been unusual for Celie to have not understood her pregnancies as many black girls during those years were taught that babies were found in cabbage heads or in hollow logs (Harris, 1984, p. 156). In letter five we learn that Celie will not be having any more pregnancies in a very naïve, childlike way ‘A girl in church say you git big if you bleed every month. I don’t bleed no more’ (Walker, 2004, p. 7). Walker suggests that the stereotypical patriarchal roles assigned to men and women can be damaging if strictly enforced and this is becomes evident with Sofia’s relationship with Harpo. She shows how this issue is overcome with role reversal between the two where Harpo does the cooking and childcare while Sofia is up mending the roof; Harpo's challenge of this fails miserably. Through Sofia, Walker expresses that there was not any need for the patriarchal family system by contrasting it with that of Celie and Mr___ where they have the extreme master/servant relationship. Harris accepts Sofia’s character to be genuine, suggesting that ‘What sane black woman … would sit around and take that crock of shit from all those folks?’, but rejects Celie’s character as a woman who ‘just sat there, like a bale of cotton with a vagina, taking stuff from kids … waiting for someone to come along and rescue her’ (Harris, 1984, p. 155). It is suggested by Smith that the narrative of Sofia powerfully depicts the damage caused by racism in America (Lister, 2010, p. 11). Sofia is unsuited to her imprisoned role by her nature, she was meant to rule and not be ruled over. Her survival though the novel takes its toll on her character and she loses a lot of her strength and dignity, which was depicted very well in Spielberg’s film when she makes her very short visit home. Sofia learns a hard lesson from her resistance to the racist and sexist culture of the time and place which is indicative of a woman with the courage to stand up and fight for her own beliefs. Graham, whilst finding The Color Purple outstanding, argues that Walker has compromised its authenticity by side-lining historical circumstance and the simplification of gender politics. She goes on to say that whilst male supremacy and sexist oppression pervades our society, it is misguided to think that a mere personality change in a person, such as Celie’s, is the remedy. She feels that Walker has only approached this broader view of black women’s oppression in the story of the defiant victim, Sofia (Lister, 2010, p. 12). It could be argued that both Celie and Sofia are survivors where Celie is broken from the beginning but Sofia is strong until being broken by her unjust...
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