Women's Identities in the Color Purple and Behind a Mask

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In an essay of not more than 1500 words, explore the theme of the creation of women's identities in The Color Purple and one other prose text from Literature and Gender, with a detailed examination of how the form of each fiction contributes to the impact of the narratives.

Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple has a rich array of female characters to examine when answering the above question. I feel that Louisa May Alcott's short story, "Behind A Mask" offers an equally rich array of female characters to consider. Through the course of this essay I will show how Walker and Alcott used different narrative techniques and made different use of language and dialogue to create their characters; and how they each respectively created very powerful pieces of work, identifying with their characters and the problems and obstacles faced by them in their everyday lives.

The Color Purple is written in the epistolary style where the main character writes letters to God. These letters are like a diary where Celie tells her story. This diary technique contains Celie's innermost thoughts and allows the reader to know the true Celie because she is able to completely open up in her writing. Walker writers the whole story thought Celie's (female) perspective, which is particularly useful when we are given Celie's impression main female characters in the novel, Sophia and Shug. We get a different view of Nettie because she writes her own letters to Celie.

Certain key events in Celie's life made her the character she is, for example: her continual rape by her stepfather; the subsequent pregnancies and the loss of her children; the death of her mother; and the loss of her sister, Nettie. However, through the course of the novel, Celie finds that she has managed to form close relations with the female characters of the novel, she finds love and friendship and is finally reunited with her sister and children who were taken from her.

The Color Purple opens, with Celie writing to God, describing herself as "a good girl" (the fact that she addresses her letters to God emphasises this) and how her stepfather's advances to her mother were rejected, resulting in Celie's rape. Before chapter one even begins we here a pre-echo of Celie's stepfather, "You better not never tell nobody but God. It'd kill your mammy." So Celie learns to keep quiet to survive and this is a habit that is hard for her to break.

Celie is a passive character. She is hardworking and domesticated and this is what allows her to be married off so young. Celie's father and husband describe her as ugly and stupid but she is able to work and look after children. Celie is made to feel worthless by the men in her life.

She misses out on the education that Nettie receives and this is apparent when comparing their styles of writing. Celie writes in the vernacular. This adds some authenticity to her character, makes it easier to sympathise with her.

Nettie is one of the few stimuli that turn Celie passive to active. When she finds out that Albert has been intercepting Nettie's letters, she wants to kill him. Shug has to hold her back.

Celie is in awe of Shug and Sophia. Both women show spirit and strength of character. Shug is infamous in the area, particularly due to her long-standing relationship with the married Albert, Until the arrival of Shug, Celie lived in fear of Albert (understandably considering the basis of their marriage) and she is amazed to see the effect Shug has on Albert, reducing him almost into a little boy. When Celie and Shug become friends, Celie's life improves dramatically. Not only does she now have a close female friend but Shug is able to use her influence and discourage Albert from beating Celie. Towards the end of the novel, the relationship that Albert and Celie both have with Shug draws them together and although Albert asks Celie to marry him again, she declines. Sexually she has no interest in men but is...
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