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The Color Purple

by Alice Walker

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How does Sofia's statement about not loving Eleanor Jane's white baby in letter 87 relate to the wider concerns of The Color Purple?

Quick answer:

A wider concern of The Color Purple that is reflected in this passage is the intersectional discrimination against black women. Some literary features of this passage that demonstrate this are dialect, syntax, and diction.

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Within this passage from The Color Purple, we see an example of the relational power dynamics that are examined throughout Alice Walker’s novel. In the tradition of Zora Neale Hurston, Walker employs dialect to further highlight the variances of the different characters.

In the southern United States in the early twentieth century, social class was determined by multiple structures, like race, gender, and economic status. Consider that Eleanor Jane is a white woman and Sofia is a black woman. They have equal social status according to gender, but not according to race. Not only does society view Eleanor Jane as a higher class than Sofia, but Sofia has also been in the employ of Eleanor Jane’s family since Eleanor Jane was a girl. The difference in both race and economic status establish Eleanor Jane as the holder of power between the two women. We can also see the difference in their upbringings by examining the syntax and diction of their respective dialogue. Eleanor Jane’s speech demonstrates her level of schooling, while Sofia’s lack of formal education is apparent.

Eleanor Jane believes that Sofia will naturally love her child because Sofia helped raise her. She does not see, or refuses to see, the truth of the power dynamic between the two women because of her emotions. Eleanor Jane asks, “Don’t you just love him?” (Letter 87). In response, Sofia finally states that she does not love the baby. She elaborates,

He can’t even walk and already he in my house messing it up. Did I ast him to come? Do I care whether he sweet or not? Will it make any difference in the way he grow up to treat me what I think? ... I don’t feel nothing about him at all. I don’t love him, I don’t hate him. I just wish he couldn’t run loose all the time messing up folks stuff. (Letter 87)

Sofia, like many black women in the novel, is forced to spend her time and energy explaining the logic behind her emotions to someone in a position of power over her. This clear disparity of power is further illuminated when Sofia points out that her feelings about the baby now will not affect his power over her in the future.

Much of the novel examines the power dynamics between people of different races, genders, and economic statuses in its setting. The example of intersectional discrimination in this scene between Eleanor Jane and Sofia is one example in which the person of a lower status is able to enumerate their opinion to the member of a higher status. But, as would be expected, this opinion is not respected. Alice Walker further highlights the differences between these two characters by employing their respective dialects as a part of the text.

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