Critical Essays on Alice Walker

By Ikenna Dieke | Go to book overview

departs for Memphis with Shug:

I curse you, I say. What that mean? he say. I say, Until you do right by me, everything you touch will crumble. He laugh. Who you think you is? he say. You black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman. Goddam, he say, you nothing at all. Until you do right by me, I say, everything you dream of will fail. I give it to him straight, just like it come to me. And it seem to come from the trees. Whoever heard of such a thing, say Mr.__________ I probably didn't whup your ass enough. Every lick you hit me you will suffer twice, I say. Then I say, You better stop talk-ing because I'm telling you ain't coming just from me. Look like when I open my mouth the air rush in and shape words. (175-176)

Celie can stand up to Albert at last partly because she has learned to value herself not only as an individual but also as a manifestation of the God that dwells in all things. In abusing her, Albert has assaulted God's creation, and thus the very trees and air seem to speak his condemnation. But God dwells in Albert, too. Celie's curse does not damn him irrevocably; instead, his punishment grows out of his own actions and can be controlled by his own will. If he does right by Celie, he appeases the God in her and permits the God in him to bless him. After considerable suffering, Albert does do right; he learns to "live on Earth as a natural man."

In documenting the process of redemption for Albert, Celie, and other characters, Walker encompasses and transcends the essential concerns of the domestic tradition. Like their domestic counterparts, Walker's characters undergo a process of redemption which enables them to live in harmony with others; but this process helps realize their individuality rather than effacing it. That process sometimes recalls the struggles of the protagonists of wilderness novels; but, while the wilderness characters fight clear of social constrictions only to find themselves alone, orphaned on the waves, or lighting out for the territory, Walker's characters create a community which allows for individual expression as well as mutual support and protection. In creating her novel, Walker adapts the past and revises literary traditions to envision such a community for the reader. Perhaps no American ideals carry more force than those of individual liberty and unity from diversity. The Color Purple weaves both into the pattern of an All-American quilt.


NOTES
1.
In In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens ( New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984), for example, she criticizes feminist groups that exclude lesbians or straight women and black groups that exclude dark or light-skinned blacks. See "Breaking Chains and Encouraging Life" (278) and "If the Present Looks Like the Past, What Does the Future Look Like?" (290). In two of her recent poems in Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful ( New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. 1984), she includes whites among "people of color." See "Song" (68) and "These Days" (71). In an interview with Claudia Tate she explained: "I know this sounds very strange, but I had been working very hard, not

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