The Color Purple' Compare and Contrast Essay

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Control over sexual independence, social expectations, and even what is deemed as “sane” behavior can be taken away from women in a patriarchal society, leading to a struggle for women to understand their roles and to forge an identity. There are common themes between the two texts The Color Purple (1982) and The Yellow Wallpaper (1890) that explore this territory. The Color Purple is an epistolary novel by Alice Walker. Although set in the 50s, Walker wrote The Color Purple in the early 1980s. These were important years for the American Civil Rights movement, and an example of a significant event that occurred was the Miami Riots, which may have influenced Walker’s writing. The book is influenced by her first-hand experience living in rural Georgia, and Walker was an activist for the American Civil Rights Movement even though the Civil War was over, African Americans still experienced lots of discrimination and humiliation just because of their skin color. The protagonist Celie goes through sexual abuse because of her father and is forced to marry a man she doesn’t love. Similarly, The Yellow Wallpaper is a novella by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. The narrator experiences psychological and verbal abuse from her husband after the loss of a child and is diagnosed with “hysteria.'' Charlotte Perkins Gilman was born in Connecticut in 1860 and was a humanist, novelist, and lecturer for social reform. She suffered from postpartum psychosis which influenced her semi-autobiographical novella, The Yellow Wallpaper. The first wave of feminism began in 1890: women wanted equal pay to men and the right to education. This first wave lasted until 1920. However, in 1890, Wyoming was the first state to grant women the right to vote in all elections.

In both books, there are very prevalent themes that explore suffering either mentally or physically due to male figures or a male-dominated society. However, they both have a way in which they cope with this pain which keeps them alive. Although there are many similarities between these books I will also address the differences between them. In The Color Purple, the protagonist, Celie, is abused by her stepfather and her husband. We initially hear about Alphonso, her father in the first letter to God. He “push his thing inside my pussy. When that hurt, I cry”. This instantly sets the tone of the book, and how her father abuses her while she’s a young girl, without her being able to do anything about it. Improper grammar is used, which emphasizes her age as she is just a child, it is the effectiveness of a child’s voice that makes the impact on the audience so large. It is demolishing her innocence and he abuses her trust. This shows the brutality of human nature and how much pain young girls go through when in this situation. The fact that it is so detailed shocks the reader as they may not have expected to read something like this. Walker wants this to have a large impact on the reader so they can empathize and understand the savage nature of their lives. Marital rape was only made illegal in all US states in 1993, so at the time this horrible act was still legal. There was a time in U.S. history in which rape laws were race specific and did not recognize African American women as victims (West, 2006). The laws have since changed, but the legitimacy of African American women as victims of sexual assault remains questioned and silenced (Danieli, 1998). Celie is not the only character who suffers though. Her sister Nettie almost gets raped by their father as well. This shows how much pain both sisters went through because we know that they have a strong bond, and the novel is about how Nettie and Celie reunite because of their love and the strong bond they share. The fact that Nettie had to run away shows how bad the abuse was; she could not handle it. Other characters such as Harpo, Celie’s stepson, feel the need to control and hit his wife Sofia, just because he sees other males hurting their wives. This shows how pressuring it was during the 1950s in Georgia as not only was there racial prejudice but women were also massively inferior.

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“You ever hit her? Mr._________ ast.

Harpo looks down at his hands. Naw suh, he says low, embarrassed.

Well, how do you try to make up her mind? Wives are like children. You have to let ‘em know who got the upper hand. Nothing can do that better than a good sound beating.”

The patriarchy continues to persecute characters other than the protagonists. Harpo asks his father for advice on his relationship with Sofia. When asked if he ever hit her, he was embarrassed because he never hit his wife. This was the norm in their community at the time, which emphasizes the theme of suffering as most women would get beaten by their husbands, or fathers at some point throughout their lives. All states in the USA had made wife-beating illegal by 1920. Even though it became illegal before the time that the book was set, it would still be a common occurrence in all states. It is still an occurrence as these crimes are still reported today as domestic abuse. More than 1 in 3 women (35.6%) and more than 1 in 4 men (28.5%) in the U.S. report having experienced rape, physical violence, and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime. The use of ebonics is consistent and it reflects their identity. Ebonics emerged from their time as slaves and it has emerged and become part of who they are. It is a mix of all the different languages that were spoken along with English. It is a sign of low status but it also shows pride in how difficult their roots are. Nowadays ebonics are studied in universities but it is very controversial. Some people consider it as a scar and aren’t as willing to talk as freely about it. Others see it as a badge of honor and they are confident in the dialect that they grew up with, showing that they had gone through this rough time but have come out stronger.  In The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator experiences a miscarriage and is ‘diagnosed’ with hysteria by her husband. This is ironic as the stigma against her mental health and not getting a proper diagnosis precipitated the deterioration of her condition. He orders her to stay at home every day and she tries to deal with her pain by writing, but she isn’t allowed to do this either. She was prescribed the “rest cure”. Perhaps shocking today, this treatment includes no physical or mental stimulation and hobbies, which is the opposite of what is good for her. The hysteria and the rest cure were all codified language of oppression. The “rest cure”, for the most part, is just a euphemism for solitary confinement, as she isn’t allowed to do anything. Her husband, John threatens to send her to “Weir Mitchell”: the physician that Charlotte Perkins Gilman saw when she was going through depression. Historian David Schuster had studied letters between Mitchell and Gilman herself. Schuster found that Mitchell prescribed a strict rest cure for her which was based on her description of her state of mind. He believed that this was necessary because he thought that depression was brought on by too much mental activity and not enough attention to domestic roles. This rest cure made Gilman have a nervous breakdown. In 1913, when “Why I Wrote The Yellow Wallpaper” was published, she said that she “cast the noted specialist’s advice to the winds and went to work again.” This helped her to recover “some measure of power”, and her condition improved greatly. Gilman used her book, The Yellow Wallpaper to criticize the rest cure and the way women were treated by male physicians. Gilman believed that the patriarchal culture surrounding her degraded women, and her literature was also directed at criticizing this.

In the 1890s, women were starting to gain independence, and one way they did this was by remaining unmarried. This was looked down upon as the ideal woman would be a wife who stayed home and took care of the home and children. Married women were very restricted, they had to care for their house, husband, and children but also work if they needed to. When they become pregnant they would no longer work as working while pregnant was looked down upon at the time. Women were expected to fulfill everything that their husbands asked of them. Marital rape was not illegal at this time, so wives would regularly have to take part in such acts even if they did not want to.

The Color Purple discusses the oppression of women but with a focus on the role of race as well. Although the main characters in The Color Purple are all colored, racism still exists between them.

“They are the blackest people I have ever seen, Celie. They are black like the people we are talking about when we say, 'So and so is black than black, he’s black.'

Although they are all black, the shade of their color determines the beauty in their eyes. Celie for example, is darker than her sister and is seen as uglier because of this. As well as this, the term “blue-black” has connotations of a bruise which shows how damaged they are due to what they are going through like domestic abuse, rape, inequality, and oppression. The repetition of “black” shows the importance of skin color to them; even though they are all black. They should feel like they belong, like they’re part of a community as they can help each other get through rough times of being prejudiced by the white people as they were superior in the 1950s. They don’t do this though, they judge each other which makes them feel even worse. The repetition of “black” and “dark” throughout the book is dark imagery as it makes the reader think about things that are associated with upsetting situations. Both protagonists deal with their abuse in different ways. They express themselves. In The Color Purple, Celie meets a woman called Shug Avery. Shug Avery helps Celie to feel happiness for the first time in her life; she makes her feel like she has a purpose and isn’t just there to please men or to tend to household duties. Shug helps Celie to explore things that she enjoys, such as singing and her sexuality. “You never enjoy it at all? she said, puzzled. Not even with your children Daddy? Never, I say. Why Miss Celie, she say, you still a virgin.” Shug helps Celie to explore herself in a way that she had never even considered before. She is so used to being raped and used that she never realized that such intimacy could be pleasurable. Having this connection with someone for the first time helps Celie feel loved and wanted by someone, someone who wasn’t even her husband. Celie associates sex with dissatisfaction and pain; something she has to tolerate because it’s what her husband wants. Having Shug around helped her open her mind up to new experiences in life. Shug also helped Celie stand up for herself. Celie was never able to stand up for herself because she got so used to being abused from such a young age. Later on in the book, her husband goes to slap her but she stabs him. “Mr. _____ reaches over to slap me. I jab my case knife in his hand.”. Celie ends up breaking the stereotype after being helped and influenced by Shug Avery. She wouldn’t let any male hurt her anymore once she experienced what life was like.

Contrastingly, in The Yellow Wallpaper, the narrator has a diary in that she writes all her feelings to deal with the neglect. She is forbidden to do any writing as her husband thinks it is bad for the “hysteria” but it is the only way she can cope with the abuse that her husband put her through. She writes about how she feels towards everything around her, like her husband, his sister, and the room she is in. She specifically talks about the wallpaper of the room and how she doesn’t like it. She says she had “never seen a worse paper in my life.” But she knows that if she is caught writing she will be in trouble. “There comes John, and I must put this away,—he hates to have me write a word.”. Writing is her way of coping, but the ending of this story is not as positive as The Color Purple. Although this is the way she deals with her suffering, it doesn’t work. She tries to stay sane but ends up getting so worked up on the wallpaper that she becomes insane. She’s convinced that there are creeping women in the wallpaper that have come out and that she is a trapped woman from the wallpaper herself. She creeps around the room on all fours until her husband comes back. The wallpaper is a symbol of her family, of medicine; everything that is hindering her recovery. She constantly feels trapped as her husband doesn’t acknowledge her mental illness, and neither do the physicians she has seen. The yellow wallpaper that she despises is a physical representation of how she feels going through this disregarding.

There are many similarities but also many differences between the books. One of the main ones is the race and racism theme that occurs throughout The Color Purple which is not prevalent in The Yellow Wallpaper.

The abuse that is suffered by the narrator in The Yellow Wallpaper isn’t as noticeable as the abuse in The Color Purple; it is subtle and nuanced. Her husband insists that he knows everything about his wife’s “hysteria” as he is a physician himself, but refuses to listen to anything she has to say as he believes he is superior and knows what he is talking about. It gets to a point where the narrator refuses to even talk to her husband because she knows that “John would think it’s absurd.” His disregard for her mental health has a severe impact on her and their relationship as she doesn’t feel that she can talk to him anymore. She says “John doesn’t know how much (she) suffers (s)”. A spouse is someone you are supposed to be able to confide in and get support from to improve, but her condition is neglected by John, resulting in her not confiding in him anymore. Gaslighting is a common occurrence within this text. The narrator says that she gets “unreasonably angry with John sometimes.”. He has manipulated her to second guess everything she says, making her believe that he is always in the right as she feels that when she gets angry, it’s unreasonable. He constantly patronizes and belittles her. He calls her names such as “little girl” and “darling” and refers to her as “weak”. These nouns and adjectives have a large impact on her as her husband calls her these condescending names. This mental abuse is part of the reason why the narrator’s condition deteriorates so much towards the end of the book. She calls herself the woman that had come out of the wallpaper. She had completely dissociated from herself due to the oppression.

On the other hand, the abuse in The Color Purple is mainly physical, though there still is a lot of mental abuse. The different types of abuse that occur in the books mirror the cultures and their beliefs. In The Yellow Wallpaper, they are more of a high-class family and would not physically abuse their wives, unlike the people in rural Georgia in The Color Purple. The narrator refers to herself and her husband as “mere ordinary people”. This isn’t the case as they have servants and housekeepers and even a summer home. This reflects a majority of high-class people as they can be seen as selfish and ungrateful for what they have. However, it may be a part of her mental illness; she would focus on all the negatives in life rather than the positives so she wouldn’t be able to be properly grateful for what she has. There is a complete contrast in The Color Purple as they do not have half of the things that the characters in The Yellow Wallpaper do. Celie doesn’t have some of the simplest things in life, such as education, or even choosing her clothing. She never wears trousers as they are “men’s clothes” and wears skirts or dresses. This oppression from society may have been influenced by Walker’s time in Georgia growing up. Women in the 1950s were expected to conform to their gender roles such as cleaning and cooking, but behavior in women was starting to change which then led to the sexual revolution in the 1960s. Exploring this with Shug Avery helped her realize the abuse that she was going through; the rape that she had experienced with her both her father and her husband. Celie was made more aware of these situations and how she shouldn’t let them happen.

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