Tragedy and Triumph in Alice Walker`s the Color Purple

Tragedyand Triumph in Alice Walker`s the Color Purple

Literaryworks have always played a fundamental role in the society. It haswell been acknowledged that literary works are the mirrors of thesociety, in which case they outline pertinent issues as they are.More often than not, literary works aim at bringing out the ills thatplague the society and creating the impression, on society members,that it is possible to change and eliminate these ills so as tocreate a better place to live in. In essence, it is no wonder thatliterary works have been responsible for some of the world’s mostfundamental social changes both in the traditional and thecontemporary human societies. Of particular note is the fact that thethemes by which the literary works ride are guided by the occurrencesof the society within which the author lives at that particular time.This is the case for Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple”.

Writtenin the early 1980s, “The Color Purple” weaves a sophisticatedmosaic of women who are connected by the love they have for eachother, the children that they take care of, as well as the men whosubject them to immense suffering. At the beginning of the novel, thereader is introduced to Celie, a 14-year old black girl who hasendured immense injustice and abuse from her father. Thirty yearslater, Celie has managed to create a better life for herself in spiteof living in a racially prejudiced and male dominated society. Shemanages to go through life while questioning almost every lesson thatshe has been taught. In her first letter to God, Celie informs thereaders that she has endured sexual abuse from Alfonso, her father.These abuses forces her to abandon schooling twice as she becomespregnant with kids who are eventually put up for adoption.Eventually, she is married off to a widower, thereby trapping her ina loveless and emotionally draining marriage. Unfortunately, thephysical beatings and sexual abuse do not stop as she is subjected tothe same on a regular basis. Cellie is not the only one who suffersfrom physical and emotional abuse from the men in her life. However,there is a dramatic variation in the manners in which the femalecharacters react to this violence. As the protagonist, however,Cellie reacts to the persistent violence from her husband andstep-father by shutting down herself emotionally, as well as becomingextremely submissive to them. This, nevertheless, is not the case forother female characters as they prove that the abuse meted on themwould not drag them down (Schefflerand Naus, 852).This may be what makes the protagonist eventually acknowledge themagnitude of emotional and physical violence that she gets from herhusband and step-father. This realization gives her the necessarywillpower and strength to leave her abusive husband and create anentirely new life for her. All in all, the three forms of abuseincluding verbal, sexual and emotional abuse come out clearly in thelife of Cellie.

Sexualabuse is, undoubtedly, the most evident in Cellie’s life. Indeed,Cellie states that “Firsthe put his thing up against my hip and sort of wiggle it around. Thenhe grab hold my titties. Then he push his thing inside my pussy. Whenthat hurt, I cry. He start to choke me, saying You better shut up andgit used to it. But I don’t never get used to it. And now I feelssick every time I be the one to cook”.(Walker, 1.4-5). This happens in the full glare of her mother, whodoes not even inform her that the man that she regards as her fatheris actually her step-father. It is well acknowledged that sexualabuses result in learned helplessness, dissociation, anxiety and lowself-esteem. Indeed, women who get these symptoms, in turn, becomemore vulnerable to victimization in the future. This helplessness isexemplified in Celie’s statement that she does not know how tofight against her tormentors. Unfortunately, she is not saved fromthis even when she gets married to Mr._. Indeed, Celie resembled aslave who had been bought and marked for life to her husband. Thefact that she does not have consensual sex with her husband isevident of rape in marriage, she wrote in her journal that “He doeshis business on top of me”, which indicates that engaging in sexualintercourse was not aimed at dealing with or enhancing passion orcementing their love for each other, rather it was simply what herhusband had to do. In all the traumatizing episodes, she never knewhow to love and even lost respect for her own self. It is notsurprising that she loses control over her own life. Scholars discussthis loss of control by women who undergo domestic violence or abuseof any nature and indicate that the battered women are at the mercyof another person’s unpredictable or predictable temper and moodfluctuations to such an extent that she feels that she is not incontrol over her life. In this case, no person seems to be mindful ofher moods, in which case she is forced to stifle them and deny theirexistence (Schefflerand Naus, 845).Existing in this manner leads to generalized fear, as well asemotional paralysis.

Onthe same note, Cellie endures immense emotional abuse both from herfather and even her husband. The verbal abuse meted on her alongsidethe sexual abuse throughout her childhood may be the underlyingreason why she is unable to fight her tormentors. Indeed, studieshave shown that insufficient fatherly admiration in the course ofone’s childhood may result in sexual discomfort and lowself-esteem. The emotional and verbal abuse she endures from herfather is blatantly evident when he attacks her appearance. Thisresults to the gradual destruction of her self-esteem. He, forinstance, tells her, “You’vegot the ugliest smile this side of creation,”to which she does not respond but rather looks down to the ground,covers her mouth in intense shame and hunches her shoulders forward.This emotional abuse also takes the form of separating her from thepeople that she loved, in this case her children and denying her ofany opportunity to form social relations with other people. Shestates that “”Hebeat me today cause he say I winked at a boy in church. I may havegot something in my eye but I didn’t wink. I don’t even look atmen”(Walker, 5.1). This only implies that she is prohibited from makingany social contact or even forming relationships with other peoplethat she may come across in her day to day life. This is,undoubtedly, bound to make her feel unwanted and depressed. Herhusband subjects her to the same physical beatings. Indeed, shestates “He…beatme like he beat the children. Cept he don’t never hardly beat them.He say, Celie git he belt…It all I can do not to cry. I make myselfwood. I say to myself, Celie, you a tree. That’s how come I knowtrees fear man”.(Walker 22). It is ironical that the same torture to which she issubjected by her husband is the same that she recommends that her sonmetes on his wife about whom he complains is too big-headed. Indeed,Celie tells Harpo, her son, that “Wellhow you spect to make her mind? Wives is like children. You have tolet ‘em know who got the upper hand. Nothing can do that betterthan a good sound beating.”(Walker, 9). This means that she has come to internalize her beatingsas deserved, which is essentially an indication of low self-esteem.She has been taught to feel that she is ugly, which is why she, byinstinct, uses her hand to cover her mouth in an effort to concealany emotion when her husband moves to physically assault her. It hasbeen widely acknowledged that abused women are often anxious abouttheir looks and appearances. This low self-esteem results inre-victimization as seen when she is handed off to a widower at thetender age of fourteen (Eisikovits44).This does change in environment does not lead to alleviation ofCelie’s situation as she is often verbally and sexually abused.This is evidenced by the fact that she detaches herself in an effortto cope with the abuse meted on her by her husband. Research hasshown that, more often than not, women detach themselves from theirhusbands and see them as strangers in an effort to avert thepossibility of abuse. In instances where their husbands provoke them,women try to take control through staying silent or talking back tothem so as to prevent further abuse. Indeed, Celie exhibitsindications of withdrawal and depression, which is testament of thelong-term psychological torture that she has had to endure. This isseen in her depression, deficiency of affection, low self-esteem, andwithdrawal among others. Of particular note is the fact that herdetached behaviors go beyond the manner in which she interact withher husband. Rarely does she smile of even utter a word tohouseguests, which is as a result of the low self-esteem (Eisikovits39).The detachment she has to the people that surround her is seen whenshe makes the decision to leave her husband. As much as she hasraised her self –esteem, which has enabled her to confront hertormentors, it is evident that she is emotionally detached from him.In an extremely controlled manner, Celie looks him directly in theeyeand says &quotYoua low down dirty dog. Time for me to get away from you and intocreation. And your dead body will be just the welcome mat I need.&quot.This statement shows that Celie was not intimately connected to herhusband. Scholars have noted that it would be impossible for her toestablish a livable distance from the violent events that sheencounters in her life if she had developed an intimate relationshipwith her tormentor.

Further,Celie has been subjected to verbal abuse from both her husband andher step-father. This is evident when her husband verbally abuses hersaying “Whoyou think you is? He say. You can’t curse nobody. Look at you. Youblack, you pore, you ugly, you’re a woman. God dam… nothingat all”(Walker 9). This verbal abuse causes Celie to exhibit generalself-consciousness and shyness as a psychological characteristic. Itis noted that since Celie endured oppression from varied men in thecourse of her life, she became extremely self-conscious and shy.Indeed, even when she is told about her tiny button by Shug, shestates that she has never looked at her genitals simply because ofthe shame that she experienced from the same. This is as a result ofthe physical, emotional and verbal abuse to which she has beensubjected. Right from the beginning, Celie had been told that she wasprohibited from expressing her genuine or own opinion and that shehad absolutely no voice. Indeed, neither her father nor her husbandever listened to her and she was subjected to physical beatings ininstances where she said things that they found unacceptable(Eisikovits39).Verbal abuse did not only entail her being called names and beingdemeaned but also being denied of any opportunity to air herthoughts. It is no wonder then that Celie always thought that allsexually-related things were a pleasure that was preserved for men.Indeed, looking at that tiny button is connected with pleasure, whichCelie does not think her and other women were allowed to experiencein coitus.


Walker,Alice.&nbsp TheColor Purple.&nbspNew York: Pocket Books, 1996. Print

Eisikovits,Z. Talking control metaphors used by battered women.&nbspViolenceAgainst Women, 1999,vol. 5,&nbsp845-869.Print

Scheffler,T. S., and Naus, P. J. The relationship between fatherly affirmationand a woman’s self-esteem, fear of intimacy, comfort with womanhoodand comfort with sexuality.&nbspTheCanadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 1999.Vol. 8,&nbsp39.&nbspPrint