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Alice Walker’s novel, ‘The Color Purple,’ has ignited a lot of controversy among legendary critics from the time it was published in 1982. The book tackles various issues that affected the African-Americans in the South as recorded in American history during the early 20th century. These issues are still evident in the contemporary American society. Alice Walker is criticized for her extreme perception that is not censored. All the same, the author got the Pulitzer Prize in 1983 as well as the National Book Award. The main reason that led to these awards was due to the manner in which Walker presented these perceptions to her audience and readers with a positive reaction towards them. She also challenged the literary canon which has always characterized literature and the support that male writers have given patriarchal tradition. Thus, this essay shows how The Color Purple has used language to address matters of gender and race.
Alice captures the faded traditions of the African American women in the start of the 1900s. The book’s initial appearance in UK in 1983 backs up these lost traditions. It labels the target audience of the book. The patriarchal ideologies in the book can be greatly acknowledged by white females and males of different backgrounds although different people will have a different interpretation of the book. Women specifically will have to take a completely different stand after reading the book to men since the females will be in position to appreciate the oppression of the society on Celie based on gender and at the same time have an empowerment through the struggle against the persistent, patriarchal traditions.
Celie writes up a volume of letters that are initially directed towards God. Her use of the epistolary genre in writing has a very useful importance all through the book. The approach reflects on thought segments at an individual level. This is very different from a conventional writing form which includes an impartial, omniscient narrator who can emphasize on the story from various perception points while an epistolary novel, we are able to know Celie’s feelings, thoughts and the things she observes. The erratic form taken by the letters also connects with a running theme in the book about the quilting act. In actual sense, quilting was and is even up to now a social event amongst the women which draws them to a common point, going after a matriarchal convention. There are a lot of references to quilting that can be located in these letters. Celie uses quilting to deal with the rift that exists between her and Sophia and to create a strong relationship with Shug Avery.
In reality, Celie regards her materials as a ‘basket full of scraps on the floor.’ These ‘scraps on the floor’ could be regarded as a metaphor in Celie’s life because it did not have an actual structure or positive move as she has gone through persistent sexual abuse and her life has been affected completely. These quits are woven with experience and emotion put together from several people and can be very personal. This is particularly evident when Celie sews parts of an old dress belonging to Shug. Celie says that she wants it ‘for the little yellow pieces, look like stars.’ This kind of smile shows the much Shug means to her and the importance of quilt to her as well. She sees the discarded rags as a kind of natural wonder and beauty.
Another factor that is evident in the letters is a persistent dedication of writings to God. This is evident all through the first half section up to letter 51. This shows vulnerability in Celie’s character as she has a feeling of no trust to anybody other than God. This is also a reflection of the beliefs during that time as the states in the South were extremely religious. The religious revolution that started in the early 20th century in the South of America is very much evident even more than other regions today. Moreover, Celie uses non-standard English which is indicative of the absence of complete education. The sentences written by Celie are structured in a different way in what can be accepted as the norm and thus form unclear meanings when read from the perspective of a white person. For instance, Celie writes, “evil all over her” when referring to Shug could imply different meanings embedded into a single metaphor. The use of this non-standard English also incorporates uncensored foul language.
Shug is a very vital character, particularly throughout the first section of the book. When the reader meets Shug for the first time, she is a lighthearted woman described as standing ‘elbow crook, hand on her hip’. Most of the males in the community have a negative perception of her except by few. By expressing her views and as she sings blues, they call her a harlot and a slut. The blues singers of the female gender were the only women who were in a position to express feelings of that nature openly. These feelings included sexual attraction and this tough, dominating woman is a complete distinction to the timid character we see in Celie. Shug’s speech is also coupled with a more dominant masculine talking as the application of her crude language. The first time Shug speaks puts forth a ‘cackle’ and says candidly to Celie, ‘you sure are ugly’. This presents Shug as a harsh, cold woman who does not make consideration of any kind for others. Using the word ‘cackle’ even had witch-like meanings to it showing an image of a hideous, cruel, disfigured character with no generosity or kindness. All the same, her attitude changes all through the time as she comes closer to Celie.
The Color Purple shows evidently the social traditions that were implemented onto black Americans in the South of the United States in the early 20th century. These were especially the traditions that targeted the minority women. All the same, this is among the first storybooks to break away from fitting in with the conventional black writing of the women. In the past, writers made the African-American women try and fit the model of the white woman as if to forget everything concerning their color. Alice Walker goes against such an approach particularly with Shug as she is presented as vulgar, ruling and the binary opposite of the conventional African American woman in literature.