Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: African American Literature, Revised Edition)
The concept of the regenerative power of love and the murderous effects of meanness is manifest in Alice Walker’s works. The author’s novels, short stories, poetry, and essays are all about a search for understanding and truth. Celie’s story is a transcription of her psychological and spiritual growth. Through the device of letter writing, Walker brings her audience into intimate communication with Celie, the principal storyteller in the novel.
As a poor, half-literate black woman, Celie lacks the apparatus for success and happiness. Her transfiguration into a joyful soul proves that redemption is possible for all people open to human kindness and love.
Soulful poetry emerges from Celie’s speech, with its lyrical cadences. “Angels strike they cymbals, one of them blow his horn, God blow out a big breath of fire and suddenly Sofia free,” Celie writes of Sofia’s homecoming. The figurative and expressive qualities of Celie’s language make the novel more than simply a story. Inherent in the epistolary format of the book is the idea that language itself can be salvific. Celie’s letters for a time are her only sustaining lifeline, as they confirm her existence. Celie’s words are evidence of a life lived.
Celie’s relationships, described in Celie’s own disjointed style, are well-drawn and colorful. Her native Georgia community comes to life as a network of individual characters.
Sensitive to conflict in...
(The entire section is 485 words.)
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Christian Themes (Masterplots II: Christian Literature)
In The Color Purple, Alice Walker explores the nature of God and religion. Celie shares a traditional Christian view of God with the rest of her community. The church is an essential part of this society, although there is a clear hierarchy within the congregation. The Bible is a guide for correct behavior, and the local preacher uses it to help shape the moral values of the community as a whole. The early letters demonstrate the key role that religion plays in determining Celie’s behavior, even to the point where she refuses to criticize her father for raping her because the Bible says she should honor her father. God, to whom Celie addresses her letters, is both a confidant and a source of protection. She pictures God as he appears in many Christian images, an Old Testament patriarch with long hair and flowing robes. However, after the revelation that Mr.—— withheld her letters for all those years, God suddenly seems a representative of the two groups that abused and betrayed her all her life, men and white people.
Shug Avery, a self-confessed sinner who is denounced by the churchgoing community, defends God. God is not “him” to her, but rather “it.” She espouses a pantheistic view of the world in which all nature is God, and God appears in all nature. God is a joyful and loving being. The novel’s title reflects this as Shug tells Celie that she thinks God may become angry when people walk past a field and fail to appreciate the...
(The entire section is 391 words.)
As may be surmised from the discussion of social concerns, while Walker writes of the sources (and possible modes of resolution) of black violence, the paucity of love, and the loss of faith, she also addresses more specific themes which are related to these concerns.
First, she probes the whole issue of personal identity. Celie's last name is never given; Pa's true identity is not revealed until late in the book; Albert remains the anonymous "Mr." until he develops into a secure, caring man; and Celie's children, raised as virtual Africans, do not even realize they were adopted until they reach adulthood. The deliberate confusion which Walker generates points to the tenuousness of personal identity in a world where little girls are forced to marry strangers, where men derive their sense of virility from sexual abuse and violence, and where work is a harsh, hopeless activity necessary purely for physical survival. For Walker, a major step in the achievement of personal identity is the emergence and nurturing of one's creativity. In Alice Walker's own life, it was her ancestors' quilts and her mother's gardens which served as outlets for creativity and enabled them to leave their marks on an otherwise hostile world. In The Color Purple, it is not until she receives Shug's support in establishing "Folkspants Unlimited" that Celie finds her own identity as a successful designer and manufacturer of pants. But creativity is not the only source of...
(The entire section is 657 words.)
Sexual relations between men and women in The Color Purple is a major theme. Alice Walker sets her story of Celie's transformation from a passive female to an independent woman within the culture of southern black rural society from the 1920s to the 1940s. In the beginning of the story, Celie is dominated first by her father, whom she later learns is really her stepfather, then by her husband, Albert (Mr.). The catalyst for the character change in Celie is the relationship she develops with Shug Avery, her husband Albert's mistress. Because Celie has been warned by her stepfather, Alphonso, not to tell anyone but God about how he repeatedly rapes her, she begins to write letters to God. It is through the letters that the reader develops a sense of Celie's being, which at first is self-effacing, but eventually becomes strong and independent.
In the novel there are a number of role reversals that take place between men and women. Harpo, Albert's son, tries to emulate his father and attempts to dominate his strong-willed wife, Sofia. By the end of the story, Harpo and Sofia have reversed traditional male-female roles. Harpo stays home to take care of the house, while Sofia works. Celie and Albert also reverse roles. By the end of the story, Celie is an independent businesswoman, and Albert is her assistant. Celie has also learned to speak up for herself, claiming her house when her stepfather dies. The sexual relationship between...
(The entire section is 1307 words.)