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The Color Purple

by Alice Walker

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What are the internal and social conflicts in The Color Purple?

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In The Color Purple, the primary social conflicts are associated with racism and gender stratification. The combination is most evident in Celie, who struggles to assert her own identity as an African American woman. Internal conflict is also seen in Albert, whose abuse of Celie relates to his relative powerlessness in a racist society. Shug and Sofia offer contrasting examples of women who largely succeed or are viciously subordinated.

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Throughout The Color Purple, Alice Walker shows how widespread social conflicts are manifested in individuals, who experience internal conflicts as they struggle against oppressive social forces. The intersection of internal and external factors is revealed through the characters’ efforts, which are often unsuccessful, to develop into fully realized adults within narrow social constraints. The combined influence of such factors is most evident in the protagonist, Celie, but is also conveyed through other major characters.

For much of the novel, the racism and sexism that permeate rural Southern society prevent Celie from seeing an alternate to her dismal life with Mr. —— or Albert, a man who abuses her psychologically and physically. Walker conveys as well that the strong, negative effects of racism have contributed to making Albert a man who wrongly equates power with violence. She also shows him as capable of reflection and remorse.

The examples of Shug Avery and Sofia offer contrasting portraits of characters who largely overcome their internal conflicts, at least for a while. Shug exhibits impressive self-confidence as she apparently refuses to succumb to gender discrimination. Her success is still limited, however, by the negative public opinion associated with her sexuality and the constraints of racial segregation that restrict her fame to the Black community. Sofia, apparently strong enough to resist gender-based violence at the hands of Harpo, pays a much higher price. When she tries to stand up to white authority, the combination of racism and patriarchy leads to socially condoned violence, incarceration, and servitude.

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