Alice Walker’s The Color Purple touches upon very tense and hard aspects of life for a poor black oppressed woman in the early century. Celie uses their life experiences to illustrate her social criticism (Walker). Her dynamic character is best reflected in the act of Celie and Sofia.
Celie was a young African American woman living in the South at the beginning of the twentieth century, Celie is trying to make the best of a very harsh life riddled with abuse sexual abuse, and chauvinism. While Alice Walker is describing Celie’s brutal and harsh life, Celie discovered it is possible to overcome difficult living conditions with spirituality, social support, and the determination to never give up. Walker uses symbolism such as the color purple throughout the novel to show how Celie is using this symbolism to survive and thrive in her horrible ordeals.
In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” Victor Frankel writes about how he was able to survive and even thrive when he was incarcerated in several Nazi concentration camps in Germany. Frankel was able to develop a form of psychotherapy called Logotherapy as a result of his experiences. Frankel states that everything can be taken away from a human being, except one thing: the ability to choose one’s attitude during hardship, in other words, to choose one’s way. Frankel also states that while he was incarcerated in the concentration camps, he discovered the importance of finding meaning in all forms of existence, even in the most horrible events. By doing so he found a reason to continue to live. Similarly, there are many passages in The Color Purple where the main character, Celie, is like Frankel capable of finding the strength to continue to live.
When Celie finally discovers the color purple, in the form of Shug, her life changes for the better. The author Dena Przybyla writes in the blog “Color Psychology” that the color purple represents is associated with luxury, power, wisdom, creativity, and magic. When examining the color purple lo in a psychological manner, it is the color that balances red and blue. Red tends to bring intensity and energy to the color, while blue brings relaxation and stability, together they make the brilliant color of purple which is the perfect balance of the two. In many ways, this must what Celie have felt when she befriended Shug.
Despite the horrible beginning of the novel, when her step-father continually rapes her and pretends to kill the children. It is possible to see that Celie can come out of the numbness that all her pain has caused her because of her ordeals. One of her first awakenings is when she assumes that she sees her children for the first time. Celie was convinced that her step-father killed them after they were born. As she enters a store to buy textiles, she thinks she sees her children.
At this moment, she immediately senses that they are her children because they are so much like her. She gets excited and feels a motherly love towards them She starts to ask the woman who is with the children how long she has had them and how old they are.
Also, at the beginning of the novel, Celie uses her letters to God as self-therapy and guidance in order to survive her horrible conditions. Here again, she is choosing to follow her path; she is making a choice and she is trying to find meaning in life in the form of talking to God. Unfortunately, Celie develops a great deal of mistrust of God, perhaps because God is personified as a man and despite her hope for a better life, nothing changes.
One reason that Celie does not allow herself to feel, or express anger to her abusers, is because of the male-dominant religious teaching that has been used to maintain female obedience. Celie narrates The Color Purple through a series of letters, most of which are addressed to God. She initially imagines God as an old white man. But as a black woman who has been abused by men all her life, Celie eventually begins to rebel against this image of God. She begins to see God as genderless and raceless, a more universal being who wants humans to enjoy all aspects of life, including nature to sex to the color purple. This is possible a different expression of spirituality than what is normally shown. However, this kind of spirituality is enlightening and inspiring. It is possible that many can find comfort in this essence.
Celie initially seeks to honor the biblical teaching to respect her parents. This changes when she meets Shug, a famous, vibrant, and beautiful African American woman. Shug is manipulative. Shug also possesses superficial popularity. She is a free spirit, a woman that can stand up for herself and not be broken down. Shug, Celie, never had much affection in her life, especially when she was growing up. Shug and Albert have three children together. While Shug is not a motherly person, Shug finds her motherly instincts when she begins to love and respond to the warmth that she sees in Celie. Shug guides Celie to have a more spiritual than the fundamental view of God. Shug shows Celie that God is all around her and that God is a compassionate and caring God. Even though Celie has doubts about God. Shug teaches Celie that God symbolizes love. Shug can convey to Celie that she is worthy of love. However, self-love must come from within.
It is possible to see a remarkable change in Celie when discovers her sister Nettie’s lost letters. Celie finds the letters with Shug’s help in Alberts trunk. She learns for the first time what happened to her children. Nettie writes that her children were adopted by the missionary couple that Nettie lives within Africa. Nettie was able to run away and found solitude with the missionary couple. At this time, Celie’s self-esteem has increased to the point that she is able to stand up for herself. When she finds out that Albert has hidden her sister’s letters, she becomes enraged with Albert. She curses him for all the abuse, ordeal, and pain that he has put her through. Albert insults Celie by saying that she is nothing but a poor, ugly, and black woman. However, his insults have no effect on Celie, now when she has found her self-worth. With time, Celie becomes a happy, successful, and grateful woman because of her newfound increased self-esteem and self-love. Celie’s transformation from a pain-ridden abused, and tortured black woman is remarkable.
When Celie sees Shug’s photo for the first time. Celie finds Shug to be the total opposite of how Celie appreciates herself. Although Shug appears to be self-confident, strong, and influential. However, Shug shares many of Celie’s life experiences. Shug was very much in love with Albert, Celie’s husband and they intended to marry in the beginning. However, Albert’s father did not approve of Shug; he thought she was trash and not suitable for Albert and tells Albert to marry another woman. Although, when Celie and Shug meet for the first time, their encounter is far from amicable. Shug treats Celie the same way as Albert and her step-father did. They first meet each other at Albert’s house. Albert has taken Shug to his house to nurse her back to health after Shug has contracted what seems to be infected with what seems to be sexually contracted disease. In the beginning, Shug screams at Celie stating that is nothing worth eating in the house. Although, over time Celie and Shug start to care for each other and find a love neither of them has felt before.
However, finding meaning or having one’s own spiritual light or color purple in the form of Shug is not always enough. One can only imagine the pain Celie must have felt before her life changed for the better and her desire to just give up. Frankel in his book “Man’s Search for Meaning” writes that the despair of many concentration camps that prisoners felt was so bad that they ran towards the fence lines with the intent to commit suicide. The German soldiers killed any prisoner who approached the fences of the concentration camps. Frankel also mentions that it was just easier for people to give up and die. Both Celie and Frankel appear to exuberate tremendous internal strength. It is almost easier to commit suicide and not have to suffer anymore while going through ordeals as Celie and Frankel did.
As the book progresses, Celie finds her color purple, she becomes self-confident, content, more at peace, and emotionally aware. Frankel believed that suffering is a part of life, and that man’s ultimate freedom is his ability to choose how to respond to any set of given circumstances, even the most painful ones. Additionally, people can find meaning in their lives by identifying the unique roles that only they can fulfill. Celie is truly an amazing example of how one can choose to respond to a horrible situation but still thrive