The Color Purple
Shug act more manly than most men. . . . Sofia and Shug not like men, he say, but they not like women either.
Celie learns that Shug wants the freedom to have a fling with Germaine, a young man who is a third her age. Though Celie is less dependent than she used to be upon Shug, Shug’s revelation is painful for Celie nevertheless. Mr. ______ is the only person who understands Celie’s pain, as he has also felt the sting of Shug’s sometimes short-lived infidelity. Celie realizes that she no longer hates Mr. ______, even after all the wrongs he has committed. Mr. ______ loves Shug, and Shug loved him, so Celie cannot hate him. Celie and Mr. ______ begin to enjoy each other’s conversation, talking about old times, their friends and family, and their new discoveries about life.
Nettie writes that her and Samuel’s years in Africa have changed their idea of God. They no longer conceptualize God as looking like someone or something. Olivia and Adam have grown independent and outspoken like Africans, and Nettie worries they will get into trouble when they return to America.
The mayor’s daughter, Eleanor Jane, brings her baby son to Sofia’s house. Eleanor Jane fishes for compliments about her son, trying to get Sofia to say that she loves him. Finally, Sofia tells Eleanor Jane that she feels nothing for the boy, and Eleanor Jane begins to cry. Sofia says that she does feel some kindness for Eleanor Jane because Eleanor Jane had showed her kindness, but otherwise, the pain and racism that Sofia endured prevents Sofia from loving anyone else in the mayor’s family. Though Eleanor Jane vows to raise her son right, Sofia tells her that white society will probably make him into a racist nonetheless.
Celie overcomes her heartbreak over Shug, remembering the good times she and Shug had in the past. Celie hires Sofia to work in her clothing store. Eleanor Jane finally learns the full story of why Sofia had come to work for her parents and begins to appreciate Sofia’s distance from her. Trying to undo the wrongs of her family history, Eleanor Jane helps to look after Henrietta, Sofia’s daughter, and cooks for her. Shug’s love affair with Germaine fizzles, and she returns home to Georgia. Shug becomes jealous when she learns about Celie’s newly cordial relationship with Mr. ______, but Celie assures Shug that she and Mr. ______ just talk about how much they both love Shug.
Nettie finally returns to America, and she, Samuel, Olivia, Adam, and Tashi arrive unannounced at Celie’s house. The homecoming is incredibly emotional for both sisters, who are speechless and weak with amazement. The family gathers on the Fourth of July, and many people remark on Tashi’s beauty and how well matched she and Adam are. Though Celie feels old because her children are fully grown, at the same time she thinks, “[T]his the youngest us ever felt.”
Celie’s final letter shows the extent to which her character has developed through the course of the novel. Celie’s first letters simply related events without really attempting to understand or interpret them. Gradually, Celie began to make astute observations of others and to articulate and analyze her own feelings. In her final letters, Celie not only analyzes her own feelings, but she has the confidence and insight to articulate the feelings and motives of others. The novel ends with one such articulation, Celie’s comment that though her generation is growing older, the family reunion has made them feel younger than ever before. In this way, at the end of the novel, Celie acts as a voice not only for herself, but also for all the characters her age.
By making the act of writing a key element in the process of Celie’s redemption, Walker underlines the importance of literacy and makes an implicit reference to African-American slaves, who, forbidden to learn to read or write, were oppressed by being kept illiterate. Celie and Nettie likewise use literacy to combat oppression, maintaining a remarkable commitment to writing over the course of many years because they know their letters are the only link they have to each other. Even though Celie is clearly less intellectual than her sister, she gains just as much, if not more, out of her writing. In this way, Walker asserts that writing is crucial and redeeming for everyone and should not be viewed as a barrier dividing the educated from the uneducated.
Celie’s final letter also shows that, like Shug, Celie has formed an interpretation of God that encompasses the entire everyday world. She writes, “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God,” revealing that she no longer sees God as a distant figure with which she feels she has little or no connection. Celie’s acceptance of Shug’s trivial fling with Germaine also emphasizes Celie’s growth. Celie still loves Shug deeply, but her confidence in herself is now strong enough to survive a lapse in Shug’s attentions. Moreover, Celie no longer sees love as a game of possession and control. Celie loves Shug but does not feel the need to tie her down, as she is confident that Shug will come back as she promised. Moreover, we get the sense that Celie is now strong enough that, even if Shug had not come back, Celie would not be lost.
Though Walker celebrates diversity and difference in the novel, the novel ends with the recognition that not all differences can be overcome. Along with the novel’s notable reconciliations, such as the one between Celie and Mr. ______, there are several unresolved differences at the novel’s end. Conflicts remain between the Olinka villagers and the whites and between Nettie and the indigenous Africans. Likewise, Sofia holds out little hope that she and Eleanor Jane can ever be truly reconciled. Even Eleanor Jane’s eventual understanding of Sofia’s resentment is unlikely to change the hard facts of the oppression Sofia has endured.
Walker’s implication is that some differences are truly unbridgeable. Her novel shows mutual teaching and transformation as more successful than attempts to appreciate and understand difference. Throughout the novel, reconciliation occurs when characters transform and meld each other into sameness. There are no notable examples of reconciliation that come about due to characters who truly bridge differences with one another. Celie, for instance, reconciles with Mr. ______ not because she grows to understand his different ways, but because her influence transforms Mr. ______ into someone who shares her interests and values. Neither Celie nor Mr. ______ truly bridge any difference, as Mr. ______ has transformed himself so drastically that there is no longer any difference between them left to bridge. Though Walker’s view may seem somewhat pessimistic, it is important to remember that, above all, The Color Purple is a story of successful transformation. Though some differences and conflicts remain unresolved at the novel’s conclusion, we have seen the remarkable transformation of an impoverished, abused woman of color into a successful, propertied entrepreneur who delights in her own sexuality and is enmeshed in a supportive, -loving community.
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