The Color Purple
Well, us talk and talk about God, but I’m still adrift. Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?). Not the little wildflowers. Nothing.
Nettie confesses to Samuel and Corrine that she is their children’s aunt. By this point, Corrine is very ill and has grown bitter and unfeeling toward the children. Still certain the children are Nettie’s, Corrine refuses to believe Nettie’s story and is stubborn in her belief that Nettie and Samuel are lying to her. Nettie tries to make Corrine recall the time when Celie saw her with her children in the fabric store in Georgia. Corrine fails to remember it until Nettie finds the quilt made from the fabric Corrine bought that day. Corrine finally remembers seeing Celie, but dies of her illness that night. According to Samuel, Corrine forgave Nettie and overcame her fear just before she died.
Celie confesses to both Shug and Nettie that she has stopped writing to God. Shug tries to get Celie to reimagine God, not as the archetypal old bearded white man, but as an “it” who exists in and delights in all creation. In the meantime, after eleven and a half years, the mayor and Miss Millie end Sofia’s period of servitude and release her. Though free, Sofia feels lost, as her older children are married and scattered, and her younger ones do not even remember her. Harpo and Squeak now have a daughter of their own, named Suzie Q.
Back at Mr. ______’s house, with all the old crew seated at dinner, Shug announces that she, Celie, and Grady are moving to Memphis. In front of everyone, Celie finally speaks her mind, cursing Mr. ______ and later telling him that everything he touches will crumble until he makes amends for the years of abuse and mistreatment he has brought her. The others are shocked at Celie’s defiance. Squeak, perhaps hearing a bit of her own story in Celie’s defiance, announces that she will join them and move to Tennessee as well.
Shug’s house in Memphis is spacious, luxurious, and beautifully decorated. Celie passes the time designing and sewing individually tailored pants. Shug urges Celie to start her own business, so Celie launches an enterprise called Folkspants, Unlimited. Celie returns to Georgia for Sofia’s mother’s funeral, and many of her old friends remark on how beautiful she looks. Celie finds that Mr. ______ is a completely transformed man who works hard on his land and cleans his own house. Celie learns that Mr. ______ grew weak and afraid and that Harpo nursed him back to health. Harpo’s devotion moved Sofia to return to her marriage with Harpo. Celie also learns that Alphonso has died, which means that her parents’ land and home are hers. She moves into her own home.
In the meantime, Nettie and Samuel have married. They have become disillusioned with their missionary quest in Africa and plan to return to America. Before they leave, however, Adam falls in love with Tashi, who has recently undergone the painful rituals of female circumcision and facial scarring, a move to uphold the traditions of her ancestors. In solidarity, Adam undergoes a similar facial scarring procedure.
In this section, Walker presents personal religious belief as an important component of a strong sense of self. Celie has always imagined God as a distant figure who likely does not listen to her concerns. She sees God as a white man who behaves like the other men she knows and who does not listen to “poor colored women.” This image of God held by Celie—and, ironically, by Nettie, Corrine, and Samuel in their missionary work—is limiting. In thinking of God as an old, bearded white man who does not listen to her, Celie implicitly accepts white and masculine dominance and makes the assumption that her voice can never be heard.
Shug’s concept of God, on the other hand, is much more personalized and empowering. Unlike Celie, Shug does not ascribe a race or gender to God. Instead, Shug believes that each individual manifests God in his or her own way. Celie’s recognition that she has control over her concept of God and does not have to blindly accept the religious viewpoints that are handed to her is an important step in her quest for autonomy and self-respect.
Celie’s assertion of herself comes forcefully in this section. Her defining moment, the speech she gives to Mr. ______, contrasts sharply with her former silence. Celie’s assault on Mr. ______ releases years of pent-up emotion and hurt that had been silenced. Mr. ______ tries to counter by stripping Celie of her sense of self, as he has throughout the novel. He tells her that as a poor, black, and ugly woman, she is “nothing at all.” But Celie’s sense of self is strong enough that she is no longer a helpless object, so she resists Mr. ______’s proclamation, reinterpreting his words in a defiant context: “I’m pore, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook. . . . But I’m here.” The fact that Celie’s speech inspires Mr. ______ to reassess and rebuild his life shows that Celie’s attainment of self-respect has truly broken a cycle, not only liberating Celie, but others as well.
An equally important component of Celie’s empowerment is her newfound economic independence. Celie’s clothing design is a form of creative self-expression, but it is also a form of entrepreneurship and a means to self-sufficiency. Celie has taken sewing, traditionally a domestic chore, and turned it into an instrument of independence. Walker implies that such economic independence is crucial for women to free themselves from oppressive situations. When she inherits her family’s old property, Celie completes her independence, becoming a fully autonomous woman, with her own money, business, story, and circle of friends.
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