Essay on 'The Color Purple': Sofia's Analysis

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Celie remarked, “All my life I had to fight” (Goodreads). Growing up in the rural south during the twentieth century as a young black woman was burdensome. Women faced racial discrimination along with sexual oppression. Instead of black oppression by whites, this novel turns out to be black oppression by blacks. In addition to the oppression by blacks, despite solitude, the characters work together through problems of racism, sexism, and violence to attain their entirety. In The Color Purple, Alice Walker uses characters like Celie to portray the struggles of women in the twentieth century supported by the themes of violence, the power of one’s voice, and gender roles.

Throughout the novel, Walker uses characters like Celie to display the theme of violence through sexual abuse. Most of Celie’s letters are toward God and the rest to her sister Nettie. The first instance is when Celie’s first letter is introduced with the title “You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.” (Walker 1) Ranging from letters one through five, Celie writes about what she has to go through with her stepdad since her mom has become ill and weak. “When that hurt, I cry. He starts to choke me, saying You better shut up and git used to it. But I don’t git used to it.” (Walker 1) As a fourteen-year-old, she was sexually abused by Alphonso when her mom was not around. Because she was so young, Celie had no idea that she was pregnant. She just saw how her stomach was growing and her body was changing. “I asked him to take me instead of Nettie while our new mammy sick...He beat me for dressing trampy but he does it to me anyway.” (Walker 7) Celie’s father portrays behavior that parallels tyranny.

“We have all too many colored men who hold the degrading opinions of ignorant white men, that all colored girls are alike-that is, in being of low worth and easy virtue.” (Williams in Giddings) Furthermore, Celie and Olinka women also display the theme of violence through emotional abuse. Not only was Celie abused by her father, but also by her husband Mister, who abused her physically and mentally by degrading her. “But I can let you have Celie...She ugly. He says.” (Walker 8) Mister is quick to voice his opinion on her before seeing her just by the way Alphonso described her. “He beat me when you not here, I say...What he beat you for? She ast. For being me and not you.” (Walker 75) Mister was in love with Shug Avery, not Celie, which was upsetting to Celie because he always beat her for being herself and not being Shug. Additionally, the submissive relationship of the Olinka women to the men also contributes to the theme of violence. The Olinka men had control of their wives and when the time was ready they made the women go through the scarring ritual. “One of the things we thought we’d helped stop was the scarring or cutting of tribal marks on the faces of young women.” (Walker 239) The scarring ritual, which was a part of the female initiation ceremony, was a way that the Olinka could show their ways.

In addition, Walker uses characters like Celie, Squeak, and Sofia to express the theme of violence through acts of physical abuse. There are three aspects of relations in this novel, one being the relationship among women themselves. At the beginning of the novel, all the women are against each other and an example of this is when Sofia knocks two of Squeak’s front teeth out, out of jealousy. This soon changes when Squeak is the one to help get Sofia out of jail. “What she in jail for? She ast. Sassing the mayor’s wife, I say.” (Walker 84) Sofia is an independent black woman who never listens to anyone but herself. On one occasion, when she was asked to be the mayor’s wife’s maid she refused and stuck up for herself. “They crack her skull, they crack her ribs. They tear her nose loose on one side. They blind her in one eye...” (Walker 86) Sofia was badly beaten and injured because she refused to be a Maid for the Mayor’s wife and it landed her in jail. Another kind of violence illustrated in the novel is lynching. Usually, lynching ascended from whites’ reaction resisting the freedom of blacks. This was used by southerners to reassert control over the minorities. The economic aspect of lynching was used when blacks competed against whites in business. “His store did so well...Then the white merchants began to get together and complain that the store was taking all the business away…” (Walker 174) In the novel, because of Samuel and Nettie, Celie learns that her father was lynched after he built a prosperous business that competed against white establishments and that Alphonso, also known as “Pa,” is not their real father.

Alice Walker displays the theme of the power of one’s voice through characters like Sofia and Shug. Sofia always states what is on her mind and is never afraid of the consequences that may come after. “Sofia in jail, I say.” (Walker 84) During her day out Sofia encounters the Mayor and his wife and when asked “All your children so clean…would you like to work for me, be my maid?” Sofia was quick to reply “Hell no.” Moreover, Sofia does not conform to the Mayor’s wife and instead, she speaks up against oppression. Another occurrence of speaking one’s mind involves Sofia. “He says, I tell her one thing, she does another. Never do what I say. Always backtalk.” (Walker 35) Harpo always complains to Celie about how Sofia never listens to him and how she always does what she wants and not what he tells her. “Wives is like children. You have to let’em know who got the upper hand. Nothing can do that better than a good sound beating.” (Walker 35) Because in the twentieth century, men felt that they must dominate women through brutality, Harpo asked for advice to control Sofia. However, this ended up backfiring and caused even more problems between Harpo, Sofia, and Celie.

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Not only is the theme of the power of one’s voice shown through women standing up for themselves but also through confidence in one’s self. “He beat me like he beat the children. Cept he hardly beat them. He says, Celie git the belt.” (Walker 22) For most of her life, Celie had to learn to survive all the hardships she went through. Because of those hardships, Celie grows from a domesticated girl into a strong independent woman. Her letters are a reminder of everything she has gone through and in the end even after her business became successful she still talks the same. She progresses from thinking she’s not smart to having confidence in the way she talks. “Look like to me only a fool would want you to talk in a way that feels peculiar to your mind.” (Walker 223) This reflects how Celie’s confidence and independence are what bring her contentedness and happiness.

The theme of gender roles is seen on many occasions through the sexuality of Shug and Celie. “Shug say, Girl, you look like a good time, you do.” (Walker 81) Celie notices that when Shug hugs Sofia she talks differently. She states that Shug sometimes talks and acts like a man. Because all Celie knows and understands is a system of traditional beliefs, she accepts female subjugation and therefore thinks Shug acting like a man is unusual. “She says, I love you, Miss Celie. And then she hauls off and kisses me on the mouth.” (Walker 113) Shug and Celie begin to bond over self-love. Shug teaches Celie about her body and nonconformity and they start to spend a lot of time with each other. Later on, they end up living together in Memphis where Celie starts off her career by making pants. “That’s it, say Shug. Pack your stuff. You coming back to Tennessee with me.” (Walker 177) All Shug ever tries to do is protect Celie because she has a love for her so deep and she feels like a nurturer to her since Celie never really had a mom.

Similarly, Sofia and Harpo also display the theme of gender roles differently. Sofia and Harpo manifest gender roles through female assertion of dominance over men. “She says, Naw, Harpo, you stay here. When you free, I and the baby be waiting.” (Walker 31) This reveals Sofia’s strength and also hints that she is going to be the head of the household. She shows that she does not need Harpo and she can provide for her baby without his help. “Some women can’t be beaten, I say. Sofia is one of them.” (Walker 63) Harpo tries to control Sofia because he thinks that’s what a man is supposed to do. This ends up backfiring and he ends up beaten with cuts and bruises although he lies to Celie about what happened to him she knows already. Not to mention, one evening Celie hears loud crashing sounds coming from their home thinking it is robbers she goes to check up on them. She then sees it’s only Harpo and Sofia fighting again. Since Sofia is strong she feels that she has the upper hand over Harpo and once she realizes he’s not going to stop trying to control her she leaves him.

Lastly, this theme is also shown through stereotypes in Harpo and Sofia. Sofia mentions to Celie that she grew up with a lot of men around her and that she had to learn to protect herself. “All my life I had to fight… A girl child ain’t safe in a family of men.” (Walker 40) Moreover, it comes to Sophia’s attention that Harpo has been eating a lot of food. Harpo is eating out of fear that he is not manly enough and he thinks gaining weight will help him look more manly. Instead, Celie remarks that he looks more feminine and describes him as a pregnant woman. “He begins to look like he big. When it due? Us ast.” (Walker 61) Unlike Harpo, Sofia doesn’t do much housework because she likes more manly jobs. “I rather be out in the fields or fooling with the animals. Even chopping wood.” (Walker 59) Sofia goes on to describe that she and Harpo are different in the fact that he is more of a caretaker. “He loves that art of housekeeping a heap more’en me...But he loves cooking and cleaning and doing little things around the house.” (Walker 59) This reveals that Harpo and Sofia portray a cross-gender couple and tie into the theme of gender roles through stereotypes.

In The Color Purple, Alice Walker uses characters like Celie to portray the struggles of women in the twentieth century supported by the themes of violence, the power of one’s voice, and gender roles. Through her agonizing letters, Celie documents the traumas she and other women faced during this time.


    1. Cutter, Martha J. “Chapter 2.” Women's Issues in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, by Claudia Durst Johnson, Greenhaven Press, 2011.
    2. Henderson, Mae G. “Walker Revises Traditional Gender Roles.” Women's Issues in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, edited by Claudia Durst Johnson, Greenhaven Press, 2011, pp. 65–73.
    3. Magill, Frank N., et al. Masterplots: 1,801 Plot Stories and Critical Evaluations of the World's Finest Literature. Salem Press, 1996.
    4. Moss, Joyce, and George Wilson. Literature and Its Times: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events That Influenced Them. Gale, 1997.
    5. 'The Color Purple.' Gale In Context Online Collection, Gale, 2019. Gale In Context: High School, Accessed 21 Jan. 2020.
    6. 'The Color Purple.' Gale In Context Online Collection, Gale, 2019. Gale In Context: High School, Accessed 21 Jan. 2020.
    7. Walker, Alice. The Color Purple, Alice Walker. Phoenix, 1983.  


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