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Colour-Purple1– Analysis – Belonging

This novel gives us an insight into the lives of middle class blacks in America’s south in the early 20th Century.  While the families are nominally free, socially and economically they are subjugated and rejected by the dominant society resulting in poor self esteem.  This marginalisation from the wider society has a brutalising effect resulting in dysfunctional family structures and a lack of moral self respect.  The most obvious evidence is in the way the men treat women and children.  It reinforces the phenomenon of the circle of abuse.  The abused become abusers.  The men have been subjected to bullying by the whites so they take it out on their inferiors.  In this story we see the effect on young children and women.  The only solution to this self-perpetuating abuse is to break the cycle and develop a climate of mutual respect evident in the Sophia and Harpo marriage.

Celie begins life as a reject and a loser.  She has lost her mother and replaced her mother’s function of s-xual gratification to her supposed father, for whom she has borne two children, taken away at birth.  She is silenced with the warning:

“You’d better not never tell nobody but God, It’d kill your mommy”

 As a young girl she is married off to a widower with three young children as housekeeper and s-xual slave. (She is discredited by her father with: “She tells lies”)

His children do not respect or obey her.  When her younger sister Nettie comes to visit, her husband, (referred to as Mister) after failing to seduce Nettie, sends her away.  Celie loses the one person who loves her and faces a bleak, lonely existence.  Her only comfort is “God” to whom she talks and eventually writes numerous letters. 

In her confusion she writes to God:

“I have always been a good girl.  Maybe you could send me a sign letting me know what is happening to me”.

Ironically it is Shug Avery, Mister’s mistress, who ultimately rouses Celie’s self worth by her approval.  Theirs is a bizarre but mutual relationship; Celie accepts Shug into her home, baths her, feeds her, combs her hair and encourages her to start singing again.  In turn Shug gives Celie her self-respect by singing for her, dressing her, stopping Albert’s beatings, helps her achieve financial independence and teaches her to enjoy her own body.

Despite her initial comment of: “God, you’re ugly”, Shug and Celie develop a mutual rapport after Shug’s realisation of Celie’s inner beauty when she sees Celie’s smile. This develops into a wholesome, esteem building, lesbian s-xual relationship and Celie first becomes aware of s-x as a positive morale boosting force.

“Many women have found great good in self-pleasuring – especially in the discovery of their own possibilities for pleasure – something many had not experienced or even known about in their ordinary sexual relations with husbands or lovers.”  Just Love - Sister Margaret Farley 

When she is finally able to stand up to Mister........ and leave him, his ringing comments;  

“Look at you.  You black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman.  Goddam, you nothing at all”.  P. 176

have some effect on her, as soon later she admits that she is

nothing special  ....for nobody to love”.  P. 220

It is the letters from Nettie and her meeting her sister and grown up children that demonstrate Celie’s emergence from silence, ignorance, misery and self deprecation to a triumph of survival, empowerment, contentment and pride in her accomplishments.  She can now proudly take her rightful place in society and affirm her value in life.

Acceptance and belonging makes for a unified harmonious society without division and resentment.  It is a much sounder basis for the development of a strong country.  We all benefit when we all work together constructively.

 

1Purple- symbolic of royalty, religions, brilliance, beauty, and the colour for the feminist movement. It can also suggest ambivalence.

 

 Cinematic Technique

 

Alice Walker's epic novel is put on the big-screen by director Steven Spielberg and the results are excellent.

 A very strong cast of supporting players make the film memorable as well such as Whoopi  Goldberg  in her debut performance as Celie Johnson winner of the Academy Award for best actress and  Oprah Winfrey as Sofia.  

There is a moment in Steven Spielberg's "The Color Purple" when a woman named Celie smiles and smiles and smiles. That was the moment when this movie was going to be as good as it seemed, was going to keep the promise it made by daring to tell Celie's story.
Sofia (Oprah Winfrey), an indomitable force of nature who is determined to marry Harpo, Mister's son by a first marriage. When we first see Sofia, hurrying down the road with everyone trying to keep up, she looks like someone who could never be stopped. But she is stopped, after she tells the local white mayor to go to hell, and the saddest story in the movie is the way her spirit is forever dampened by the beating and jailing she receives. Sofia is counterpoint to Celie: She is wounded by life, Celie is healed.

The film is incredibly moving as they are lured by the melodramatic situations in the story arc which ultimately culminate in a family reunion that telegraphs 'Cry Here' from fifteen miles away as coloured robes are artfully blown across lush green fields full of purple flowers.

Allen Daviau's cinematography makes North Carolina (standing in for rural Georgia) look like an Eden; the letters that Celie reads in the second half of the film are beautifully handled in images of Africa that blend in and out of the familiar; and Quincy Jones has provided some interesting and authentic sounding music for certain sequences (especially Miss Celie's Blues ).

Realistic  props are used such as: Model Ts, Rural letter carriers, Dirty kitchens,  Red sequin dresses, Bar fights, and Gospel singing. Other outstanding features included the subdued and tasteful lesbianism, and an offensive mayor's wife who breaks Sophia’s spirit.

The weaknesses of the film are the houses out of character with incomes of the occupants and the overly villainous male characters.

 

Belonging in:
 Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
As You Like It by William Shakespeare
The Simple Gift by Steven Herrick 

 

Related Resources:

My Parents kept me from Children who were Rough - Stephen Spender
Ten Things I Hate About You
Colour Purple

 

 


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