The assignment to analyze the book The Color Purple as a work of feminist literature can take many approaches. For instance, it can be read as a story about the evolution and development of the main character in the novel, Celie. Celie has no agency when the story opens. Not only is she a woman, but she is young. As a result, she is vulnerable to the actions of the men around her, beginning with her abusive father, who rapes her and then forces her into a bad marriage with a man who also abuses her, Mr. In this marriage, Celie is little more than a built in housekeeper and caregiver and someone with whom he can have sex whenever he wants. In fact, Celie’s father convinces Mr. to marry Celie by telling him that “she can work like a man,” which underscores just what her role is in Mr.’s household.
Celie and the other women she knows as a teenage girl are all without voice and without control over their lives. In fact, it seems clear that her mother knows that the father is raping his daughter, but she does nothing to stop it because by turning his attention to Celie, his abuse of her has ended. She is relieved by this, which is both sad and emblematic of the lack of control women have in this community and their subjugation by men. In one of her letters, Celie writes that her father began to choke her and told her,
You better shut up and git used to it.
Yet despite her deplorable and pitiable situation, Celie has some fight in her. When she notices her father eyeing her younger sister as the likely next target of his sexual abuse, she thinks to herself
I see him looking at my little sister. She scared. But I say I'll take care of you. With God help.
The assignment can also analyze how Celie’s relationships with other women inspire her strength and give her the courage to take agency. Celie’s relationships with the men in her life are dysfunctional and horrific. These men abuse her in physical and emotional ways. They tell her that she is ugly and worthless, and she internalizes these feelings so that she truly believes that she cannot fight. However, it is through her relationship and friendships with other women that Celie gains insight into her own situation and her ability to take greater control of her life. For instance, Sofia tells her,
All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A girl child ain't safe in a family of men. But I never thought I'd have to fight in my own house. She let out her breath. I loves Harpo, she say. God knows I do. But I'll kill him dead before I let him beat me.
The hope and growing confidence that Celie takes from these relationships, including with Shug, inspire her to leave her husband, something she has wanted to do for a long time. When she announces that she is leaving, he abuses her verbally:
He laugh. Who you think you is? he say. You can't curse nobody. Look at you. You black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman. Goddam, he say, you nothing at all.
However, he can no longer subjugate Celie as he once was able to do. She is no longer the powerless young girl she was at the novel’s outset. She can take charge of her own destiny now and will not allow men to abuse her any longer, thanks, in part, to her relationships with other women and the role models they provide. She answers Mr. that he is really the powerless one until he makes amends to her,
Until you do right by me, I say, everything you even dream about will fail. I give it to him straight, just like it come to me. And it seem to come to me from the trees.