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The Abuse In The Color Purple English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 2608 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In society, both past and present, there has been a history of domestic violence within marriages or relationships. Nowadays, in most cases if someone is abused by either a spouse or a partner, there are people that you would be able to reach out to for help, such as: family, law enforcement, lawyers, and even support groups. Just imagine how it was for someone being physically, mentally, or even verbally abused back in the late 1800s or early 1900s and being totally defenseless; not having anyone to turn to in your time of need. In those days, it was segregated as well as conservative. It was rare for a woman to seek out for help or even leave her spouse after several occasions of being abused. Most people did not intervene in a family’s personal life or worst some people just did not care. Young girls would be married off once they hit a certain age and sometimes never returned to their families. In Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”, it depicts a young black woman named Celie, which had been raped by her father, whom fathered her two children. Throughout the story, Celie is abused numerous of times and the only people who come to her defense are her sister, Nettie, Shug Avery, her husband’s mistress, and Miss Sophia, her step-son’s wife; all of whom that have experienced some type of abuse in their lifetime as well. At the young age of about twenty, Celie is married off to Mr.______, who continues the abuse much throughout their marriage. As time goes, it is brought to our attention of the abuse that both Ms. Celie and the other female characters in the book endured. Therefore noticing how these black women are affected by the abuse and how this evolves them not only into characters in a book but as women in the rural early 1900s, were prejudice and hate strongly reside. The physical and psychological abuse is therefore what causes Ms. Celie to be depressed the majority of her life, which also contributed to her being a lesbian.

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“The Color Purple begins with a paternal injunction of silence: You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy. (11) Celie’s story is told within the context of this threat: the narrative is about breaking silences, and, appropriately, its formal structure creates the illusion that it is filled with unmediated “voices.” Trapped in a gridlock of racist, sexist, and heterosexist oppressions, Celie struggles toward linguistic self-definition. She is an “invisible woman,” a character traditionally silenced and effaced in fiction; and by centering on her, Walker replots the heroine’s text” (Abbandona 1106).Throughout the story, Celie is told to keep quiet about what has taken place between her and her father. “He start to choke me, saying You better shut up and git used to it. But I don’t never git used to it. And now I feels sick every time I be the one to cook” (11). She generally has no one to turn to in her time of need but her younger sister, Nettie, yet she never fully comes out and completely tells her story, it is just interpreted through the text as a mutual understanding within the family, all of whom knew what had taken place and still kept quiet until her mother laid on her death bed blurting out obscene comments to her own daughter. “The history of publishing is a record of female silencing; as many feminist critics have pointed out, women traditionally experienced educational and economic disadvantages and other cultural constraints that prohibited them from writing. When they overcame oppressive technologies of gender and took up the forbidden pen, the technologies of print could always be deployed against them. This may seem an over rehearsed, even an out-dated argument, but the problems are still acute for women of color. Feminist attempts to revise the canon and address sexism in discourse are frequently marred by their failure to recognize heterosexism and racism; the counter narratives of femininity that emerge continue to erase women who are not white or heterosexual. Sojourner Truth’s lament, “Ain’t I a woman?” is insistently echoed in the contemporary writings of lesbians and women of color” (Abbandona 1107). Celie, as well as her sister have disadvantages not only being females but there are black females,luckily her sister was given the opportunity to get and education. Celie on the other hand, was taken out of school because of her first pregnancy at the age 14. Although, both young women had all odds against them, they both over time learned how to articulate their thoughts well enough to put them down on paper. In a sense, the letters that Celie was writing to God and the letters that Nettie was writing to her sister, was a form a therapy, within those letters they had the freedom to write whatever came to mind, in such a form was their way of breaking their silence. “Put bluntly, how can a woman define herself differently, disengage herself from the cultural scripts of sexuality and gender that produce her as feminine subject? … If women are always constituted as objects (of desire, of the gaze) or as other, if “female” is always the negative of the positive value “male,” women find themselves situated in a negative space, neither participating in patriarchal discourses nor able to escape from them” (Abbandona 1107). In the story, Mr.____, as well as the other men characters, look down upon the women and disrespect to a level that is very common back in those day. Not only were Celie and Mr.____ married, but she was his property and that is exactly how he treated her. “Well how you ‘spect to make her mind? Wives is like children. You have to let ’em know who got the upper hand. Nothing can do that better than a good sound beating” (42). The only time in the book that Mr.____ is actually somewhat nice to Ms. Celie is when Shug was around and that was simply because all his attention was focused on Shug, whom he was having a known affair with. “What the world got to do with anything, I think. Then I see myself sitting there quilting tween Shug Avery and Mr. ______. Us three set together against Tobias and his fly speck box of chocolate. For the first time in my life, I feel just right” (61). “When Lauren Berlant describes Celie as “falling through the cracks of a language she can barely use … crossing out ‘I am’ and situating herself squarely on the ground of negation” (838), she attributes Celie’s situation to saintly self-renunciation; but I propose a different explanation. Celie’s burden in building a self on a site of negation is shared by any woman who attempts to establish an identity outside patriarchal definition. If women are constituted as subjects in a man-made language, then it is only through the cracks in language, and in the places where ideology fails to cohere, that they can begin to reconstruct themselves” (Abbandona 1108). Celie was only a victim because she allowed herself to be a victim. The moment she gained her identity and got to a place where she was somewhat happy with herself, she starts doing things that she enjoyed although she was limited because of the setting, such as the letters to God then later to her sister as well as making and wearing pants. “I am making some pants for you to beat the heat in Africa. Soft, white, thin. Drawstring waist. You won’t ever have to feel too hot and overdress again. I plan to make them by hand. Every stitch I sew will be a kiss” (192).

“The Color Purple offers that “view from ‘elsewhere.’ “It succeeds partly be-cause Celie’s sexual orientation provides an alternative to the heterosexual paradigm of the conventional marriage plot: her choice of lesbianism is politically charged, a notion I develop later. For the moment I want only to point out that the novel is also lesbian in the much broader sense implied by Adrienne Rich’s concept of the “lesbian continuum,” which spans the whole spectrum of women’s friendships and sisterly solidarity. Walker’s own term womanist is clearly influenced by Rich; and in this womanist text, the eroticism of women’s love for women is at once centralized and incorporated into a more diffuse model of woman-identifying women” (Abbandona 1108). In the text, it becomes apparent that Celie has started to develop some type of fascination with Shug. “Shug Avery was a woman. The most beautiful woman I ever saw. She more pretty then my mama. She bout ten thousand times more prettier then me. I see her there in furs. Her face rouge. Her hair like somethin tail. She grinning with her foot up on somebody motorcar. Her eyes serious tho. Sad some. I ast her to give me the picture. An all night long I stare at it. An now when I dream, I dream of Shug Avery” (16). And as the story starts to unfold that Celie feelings for Shug grow stronger. “All the men got they eyes glued to Shug’s bosom. I got my eyes glued there too. I feel my nipples harden under my dress. My little button sort of perk up too. Shug, I say to her in my mind, Girl, you looks like a real good time, the Good Lord knows you do” (82).

“Walker’s descriptions of Celie’s bonding, first with the biological mother of infancy and later with suitable mother surrogates, is psychologically realistic and ranges from the ministrations of Celie’s younger sister Nettie, to Kate and Sofia, and to Shug’s facilitating Celie’s sensual awakening to adult females sexuality and a healthy emotional life. This “female bonding,” which occurs over an extended period of time, enables Celie- a depressed survivor-victim of parent loss, emotional and physical neglect, rape, incest, trauma, and spousal abuse-to resume her arrested development and continue develop-mental processes that were thwarted in infancy and early adolescence. These processes are described with clinical accuracy; and, as they are revisited and reworked in Celie’s interactions with appropriate mother surrogates, Celie is enabled to get in touch with her feelings, work through old traumas, and achieve an emotional maturity and a firm sense of identity that is psychologically convincing” (Proudfit 13). Celie feelings for women where strong and where more along the lines of real love was for the simple fact, that the only people who truly cared for her and where looking out for her, were women. She never had a positive male to look up to or to console when she while she was sad. “With Celie’s first anguished letter to God, Walker enables the reader to enter into the private thoughts and emotional state of her traumatized, guilt- and shame-ridden, and depressed fourteen-year-old protagonist, who has been repeatedly raped and impregnated by the man (Alphonso)whom she believes to be her biological father: “Dear God, I am fourteen years old. I am I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me” (11). Celie draws a line through “I am” and writes “I have always been a good girl,” because the child victim of rape and incest often blames herself for her trauma; or, worse still, believes that this bad thing has happened to her because she is bad and therefore deserves it. Celie writes to God because she is ashamed of what is happening to her (122) and because of the threat from Alphonso that immediately precedes Celie’s first letter: “You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy” (11). Threats and forced secrecy are usual parts of incest (Herman 88; Russell 132-33). The threats and the possibilities of the outcome of what would happen if she told, were very real to Celie. Even if she had spoke out about the abuse that had been occurring, the likelihood of any action taken place in that day and age was very uncommon. “The style of this letter, and of those that immediately follow, is characterized by short, choppy sentences, halting rhythms, repetitive grammatical structures of subject, verb, object, concrete physical descriptions in an ongoing present, and matter-of-facto ne. It is a style that mirrors Celie’s traumatized cognitive processes and depressed emotional state. We learn that Celie’s depression is partly caused by her repressed rage when later in the novel Sofia asks her what she does when she gets mad”( Proudit 13). “I think. I can’t even remember the last time I felt mad, I say. I used to git mad at my mammy cause she put a lot of work on me. Then I see how sick she is. Couldn’t stay mad at her. Couldn’t be mad at my daddy cause he my daddy. Bible says, Honor father and mother no matter what. Then after while every time I got mad, or start to feel mad, I got sick. Felt like throwing up. Terrible feeling. Then I start to feel nothing at all” (47). Celie had been forced to stay silence for so long that she is even able to get mad or angry about what has transpired in her life because of her faith and loyalty to God. Walker’s Celie, “What sane black woman . . . would sit around and take that crock of shit from all those folks?” (Harris 155). The excesses of Celie’s sufferings, however, fit into a narrower literary pattern than simply that of the fairy tale (Harris 159). The “years and years and years of Celie’s acquiescence, extreme in their individuality” (Harris 156) in fact resonate within their literary context to provide not so much an attack on black males as an examination of the very nature of women’s passivity and women’s defenses. Celie’s acquiescence is neither extreme in its individuality nor socially threatening. It is instead the covert resistance of a woman forced, like Griselda, to fit into an alien world and to make it her own” (Ellis 189).

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In conclusion, Celie’s only real method of survival, was indeed to confirm to the expectations of Mr.___ and keep him happy as long as possible so that the beatings would come less and less over time. “I don’t say nothing. I think bout Nettie, dead. She fight, she run away. What good it do? I do not fight, I stay where I’m told. But I’m alive” (29). And while living up to the expectations of Mr.___, it did at point control her emotions and actions momentarily, and almost caused her to turn her back on her faith, “Yeah, I say, and he give me a lynched daddy, a crazy mama, a lowdown dog of a step pa and a sister I probably won’t ever see again. Anyhow, I say, the God I been praying and writing to is a man. And act just like all the other mens I know. Trifling, forgetful and lowdown” (175). The obstacles that Ms. Celie overcame allowed her to fight through the depression and live a somewhat regular life after breaking away from her husband and become truly happy with herself and her sexuality. “I feel a little peculiar round the children. For one thing they grown. And I see they think me and Nettie and Shug and Albert and Samuel and Harpo and Sofia and Jack and Odessa real old and don’t know much what going on. But I don’t think us feel old at all. And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt” (251).


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