Saturday, November 7, 2009

"Feelings, Nothing More Than Feelings..."

After reading The Color Purple, I honestly don't have any idea what to write about. I was so overwhelmed by different feelings throughout my reading of this novel that I can't pin down one specifically. So I'm going to attempt to relate them the best I can.

Overall, this novel greatly upset me. I generally had an unsettling feeling from the first page until the very last, despite the book's somewhat uplifting ending. At first my unease was partially because I have just read Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye in another class, and I had the feeling of "oh no, another one!" For the first quarter or so of the book, I equated Celie with Pecola Breedlove, (she's 'ugly', dumb, poor etc. etc.) and basically saw them as the same type of character. When Celie finally stood up for herself, I then realized she was no Pecola Breedlove. However, as we often mention in this class, the "happy ending" certainly did not negate all that came before, especially in this case.

I'm still trying to identify the source of my unease. Obviously I was upset by the various horrors that happened to Celie throughout her life, but I was truly bothered by the story Sofia tells about the holiday she spends, or more like the 15 minutes she spends, with her family "courtesy" of Miss Millie. I think it was the forward racism of the Mayor's wife, and how Sofia accepted it (by getting back in the car and driving home with Millie) that made me feel sick to my stomach. The moments in the novel that made me feel worst, I think, were the ones where racism was obviously present, and that prejudice was actually acknowledged and accepted by Sofia and Celie's community. It wasn't the fact that it was present, it was the fact that it was present and not challenged.

The focus of The Color Purple is obviously on Celie and her life. But I think the reason I felt little resolution at the end of the novel was that throughout the novel, Celie and Sofia and even Nettie were subjected mainly to familial problems or problems within their community. At the end of the novel, Celie had defended herself (finally) by walking out on her husband, and Nettie had stood up to Corrine to defend her reputation. Sofia, earlier in the novel, would fight back against her husband Harpo, since physically she could overpower him. However, these women do not fight back against the racism present against their community. Sofia was the one who directly encountered this; though she attempted to fight back by punching a "white superior", she was inevitably helpless and went to jail. Despite her initial protests, she still ended up being the caretaker of the Mayor's children. Also, Nettie leaves Africa in part because she feels the African community there are just as uppity (or something along those lines) as the "white" community is at home in America.

I felt some positive feelings (I might equate it more with 'relief' than with 'happiness') when Sofia confronted Eleanor Jane toward the end of the novel, but it still wasn't enough. I wanted the white people to stop objectifying Sofia and Celie's community, and they never did.

I truly was happy for Celie and her triumph at the end of this novel. However, I think The Color Purple as a whole transcends her story, and in that way it can both be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, Celie was an example of a woman who rose above the opression she was encountering within the community at that time. However, I feel there is definitely a danger that this novel can be read as specific to the black population, which is absolutely false. The dialect and voice Walker uses for Celie, Nettie and others, as well as the events plain and simple, may make some readers think that these problems (such as gender opression, physical and verbal abuse, poverty, racism, rape, incest, etc. etc.) were a result of the era in history (post-civil war-ish), the area of the country it was happening in (the conservative south) and as previously mentioned, the race of the novel's main characters (African American, mixed race (Squeak), and white).

What is most important to remember is that these things may have happened in all these contexts, but it does not make them exclusive to these conditions. Spousal abuse still happens in our culture today. Women still don't get paid as much as men in similar job positions. And racism especially still exists today, sometimes in a completely opposite way than history portrays.

As we discussed in our class last week, Katie S. had to deal with a particularly difficult situation at the elementary school where we both volunteer. The only non-black student in the fourth grade had a nasty note written about her by some of her supposed friends. I will not go into details, but racially specific comments were made. Though Katie talked to the students and the girls responsible claimed that the note was not racially motivated (they got into a fight about something completley different and then wrote the note), I wondered "Where are they learning this stuff??" Seriously, if you're going to make a racist comment about someone, even if you don't know what you're saying, that racist comment has to have an origin somewhere.

What I think I'm trying to say here is that The Color Purple should not be read as a black woman's account of rising up against her oppressors, but as an oppressed person's account of rising up against his or her oppressors. Like I said earlier, this novel has a danger of being read in that way, when in fact it should be able to speak to all peoples in oppressive situations, no matter their race, gender, economic "class", or country of residence. Those scenes with Sofia upset me most because (though there was slight resolution with Eleanor Jane toward the end) the "white superiors" in the novel who oppressed this black community from the start were never brought to justice. If the oppressors, in any case, are brought to justice, then those they oppress would never have to be subject to horrors (such as physical abuse) in the first place.

What bothered me most is the acceptance in this novel. How it made me feel was the most memorable part of this novel for me, not the plot. Though Celie finds peace and happiness, I still can only see it as one tiny frustrating step in the right direction.

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