Essay on Symbolism of 'The Color Purple'

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Women have had to fight to get to where they are today. The right to vote, equal wages, the perception of their status in society... all these victories, whether fully achieved or not, have been, and still are today, a struggle. In a hetero-patriarchal society where men have more advantages than women or at least more social freedoms than women, the struggle is long. These gender inequalities are depicted in the epistolary novel The Color Purple, published in 1982 and written by Alice Walker. The book follows the life of a black woman, Celie, from her childhood, her adulthood, and until her liberation, through the abuse she is subjected to by the different men she lives with, such as her father or later, her husband. Adapted for film by the famous director Steven Spielberg in 1985, the story takes place in the countryside in Georgia and begins in 1909.

Through Celie's life, the characters she meets during her life, and the abuse she suffers, one may wonder to what extent the film The Color Purple is feminist.

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To do so, I will analyze firstly the patriarchal environment that is depicted all along the film and how it worsens gender inequalities through violence, domestic tyranny, and even intersectionality. Furthermore, one may recognize the long journey toward freedom that women have to do by identifying feminism in the movie. Finally, the film suggests freeing women through the role of some characters and the gradual liberation of Celie towards freedom.

At that time and inside this patriarchal environment, gender roles can be simply described as the role of the breadwinner and the housewife. Men are seen as the ones responsible for money, protection, and basically, all the responsibilities. In addition, men have all the power and control over their wives and daughters. On the other hand, women are at home, they have to cook, do the chores, have children and, of course, take care of them. At the very beginning of the film, the viewer quickly understands that Celie is being raped by her father when she tells, in a letter to God, that ''one day, my daddy come and say 'you're gonna do what your mama wouldn't'' (7:22). She gives birth to two children who are soon taken away from her. At this age in her adolescence, Celie's role as a woman is to be married and not to go to school and get an education. They do not need education because they must rely on their husbands to provide for them. Her future husband will therefore be able to control her since her duty as a woman will keep her chained to her house and she will be dependent on him. This problem that Celie encounters with education thus perpetuates the traditional role of the woman that she will have to play. Gender roles, sexism, and patriarchy can therefore remain.

Furthermore, to perpetuate this patriarchal environment, men are portrayed in the film as dictators of women's lives. Albert, Celie's husband, decides to forbid the relationship between the sisters knowing that the only person who loves Celie and makes her happy is her sister Nettie. By taking away everything she has left, Albert locks Celie into his patriarchal realm and he prevents her from asserting herself as a woman. In addition to that, women are even not treated as humans. Indeed, Celie in the film is treated as a damaged good by her father when he introduces her to Albert and says ''she ain't fresh'' (10:28) and ''Celie is ugly but she works hard, she can do everything just like you want'' (10:40). Women's opinions do not count since they exist only to please men. Moreover, men hand down patriarchal attitudes to their sons (which is the case for Albert's father, Albert, and Harpo), through violence. Men are pushed towards masculinity all their lives which is a measurement of pride and power in society. The first time Albert beats Celie, it is because she tries to tell him that his daughter's hair needs to be cut, to which he answers by beating her and saying ''don't talk back to me'' (14:43). As for Harpo, after marrying Sofia, who does not let people get in her way, his father advises him to beat her to ''let them know who got the upper hand'' (49:8). Even Celie advises him to beat her, which shows how scared she is as it works on her. Harpo's character shows that he is willing to beat his wife rather than risk his masculinity. By trying to preserve traditional gender roles, violence ensures that sexism persists.

In all these oppressions, the film also depicts a more specific one with the character of Sofia. Indeed, she is part of the so-called intersectionality. Her gender and her skin color are two factors of oppressionÂ: she is a black woman. Therefore, Sofia considers color as a personal thing because she rebels against white people and refuses to be degraded by them. She has been trying to fight these oppressions for a long time, which the viewer understands when she tells Celie ''All my life I had to fight'' (51:07). However, she is imprisoned for many years for having answered ''hell no'' (1:32:14) and beat a man when Miss Millie, the mayor's wife asks her if she would like to become her maid. This story proves that, at that time, white people would always win against black people, and also that men would always win against women.

All these oppressions that go with this patriarchal environment show that women were the inferior gender, dependent on men, and that the patriarchy was perpetuated from father to son through violence, a means they thought would show their strength and masculinity.

Nevertheless, the movie maps the forms of liberation onto the forms of oppression. It shows, throughout the two hours and a half of the film, Celie's long journey towards freedom that patriarchal attitudes and sexism can be overcome with the help of the other female characters. Celie's sexuality with her husband is filmed as passive, without pleasure. She describes Albert as a selfish husband thinking only about his pleasure. Her sexual life is even described to the point of being non-consensual and, she knows nothing about what pleasure looks like. But when Shug Avery, a confident and liberated woman, comes into her life, she falls in love with her and her life gradually improves in some ways and she begins to understand herself and to feel things she has never felt before. Celie greatly admires Shug's way of life, which has a positive influence on her. It is with her that she discovers that she can enjoy sex and sees the first steps of her sexual awakening when the two characters kiss after Shug's show. It is even when she meets Shug that Celie's little rebellions against patriarchy begin. For example, when Albert's father visits them and he and Albert discuss Shug, who is seen as too independent by the father and that she sleeps with anyone, Celie decides, while serving Albert's father a glass of water to spit in his drink. In addition to that, Celie is very often filmed with hidden smiles and stifled laughs which show the beginning of her transformation and her rebellion. Shug Avery's character plays a very important part in Celie's freedom, as she decides to take her to Memphis with her at the end of the film so that she can leave Albert.

However, her real liberation comes only during the family meal scene at the end of the film, when Celie finally decides to confront Albert, whom she has always called ''Mister''. She takes her courage in both hands and calls him a ''lowdown dirty dog'' (2:07:37) for all those years of oppression and abuse. It is also at this moment that she curses him: ''I curse you. Until you do right by me everything you think about is gonna crumble'' and ''Everything you did to me, already done to you'' (2:12:52 to 2:13:49). She also says to Albert ''I'm poor, black, I may even be ugly but dear God, I'm here !'' (2:14:12). This scene is incredibly powerful as Albert no longer has any control over Celie. Moreover, the curse works since the last scenes show Albert alone, alcoholic, in a dirty house and it is only when Albert helps Nettie, Celie's sister, to return to the United States, that the viewer feels Albert freed from the weight of the curse. In this regard, Alice Walker does not agree with this scene because, by showing Albert in the field in front of Celie's house, looking at Celie's happiness, the viewer has the impression that Albert ''he's more responsible and in control of the happiness he's observing than he is'' (p 19 2011 Boutan). However, I think it is through the example of Albert that the film shows that patriarchal attitudes can be overcome.

The long journey towards women's liberation in the film is shown through mapping the forms of liberation onto the forms of oppression. The film is feminist in the way it shows a woman who has been abused all her life being helped by other women to free and assert herself. It proves that patriarchal attitudes can be overcome and that men can change.

Finally, the film is feminist in the way it depicts women, in a world where men are in control, wearing the pants because they decide to assert themselves and stand for their liberty. For example, Shug Avery is an independent woman, who wears flashy colors, such as red dresses, seen as a sexy color. She is comfortable with her sexuality, which is against traditional gender roles, then she breaks away from values. She uses her sex appeal to her advantage and proves that sexism can be fought. As for Sofia, she is not afraid to say what she thinks and even less in front of men. For example, she tells Albert ''I don't need you nor nobody else to tell me how to take care of myself'' (45:59). She even decides to leave Harpo because she is not happy with him. She also fights against sexism because she overpowers her husband. The character of Nettie is a brilliant and independent woman, even outperforming the boys at school when she was young. And finally, Celie ends up being a completely independent woman. The last scene shows that she now runs a shop which is called ''Miss Celie's Folkspants'' and that she designs pants for women. It is feminist and against sexism because, at that time, women did not wear pants.

Finally, the color purple is symbolized in the film through moments of happiness, such as when the two sisters play in a field of purple flowers at the beginning of the movie or when they meet again at the end. The color purple symbolizes happiness and hope. Shug Avery tells Celie that she thinks ''It pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field and you don't notice it'' (2:24:35), meaning that people need to recognize moments of joy and happiness when they live one. I guess it means that the overcoming of oppression, sexism, and patriarchy smells like a purple flower.

To put it in a nutshell, The Color Purple is feminist in the way it depicts the horrors of patriarchy while suggesting ways to overcome them. Throughout the film, the viewer sees a woman who is growing up and asserting herself as a woman, until she becomes free and independent. The different characters challenge traditional gender roles and show that they can be overcome and that sexism and patriarchy can be pushed back.

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Essay on Symbolism of ‘The Color Purple’. (2024, April 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 15, 2024, from
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