Critical Essays on Alice Walker

By Ikenna Dieke | Go to book overview

The Color Purple: An Existential Novel

Marc--A Christophe

Alice Walker The Color Purple is a song of joy and of triumph: triumph of one woman's struggle against racism, sexism, and social determinism to ultimately blossom into the wholeness of her being. This epistolary novel evolves around Celie, a battered fourteen-year-old woman/child who, after having been raped by her stepfather, was married to a neighbor farmer who needed a mother/maid for his children from a previous marriage. The story unfolds through the many letters that the lonely and despairing Celie writes to God and later to her sister Nettie, who is a missionary in Africa. Thus, it is through Celie's eyes and consciousness that we learn of her tribulations, of Mr.__________'s oppressive presence and of her friendship with Shug Avery, a blues singer whom Mr.__________ brought into the house. Parallel to the main story, Walker introduces us to the gender conflict between Mr.__________'s violent and sexist son, Harpo, and his wife, Sophia, an indomitable, amazon-like woman who dramatizes the plight of the female in rebellion.

Like a classical tragedy in which the fate of the hero/heroine unravels within a conventional locus which symbolizes the world, Alice Walker's story unfolds on a rural farm, a "microcosmic" domain complete unto itself with little or no interference from the outside world. However, it is the simplicity of this world which, as a creative device, allows Walker to emphasize her characters' traits and behavior in an almost caricature-like fashion. Thus, she is able to distill the oppressive brutality of Mr.__________, to draw in vivid arabesques the complexity of Shug Avery's soul, and to present us in all its sorrow and beautiful epiphany the miracle of Celie's rebirth. It is this process of rebirth and self-realization which I will study through an analysis of Celie's alienation, her quest for the self, and her existential fight for recognition.

In The Color Purple, womanist1 writer Alice Walker views oppression as an essentially masculine activity which springs from the male's aggressive need to dominate. In the novel, man is the primum mobile, the one by whom and through whom evil enters the world. Not unlike the great feminist Simone de Beauvoir, Alice Walker believes that human reality is such that there exists in each individual a consciousness of

a fundamental hostility toward every other consciousness; the subject can be posed only in being opposed--he sets himself up as the essential, as opposed to the other, the inessential,

-101-

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