Alice Walker is a self-proclaimed activist for numerous causes including women’s rights and women’s issues. In her novel, The Color Purple, she writes shockingly cold yet realistic passages in order to make one question the beliefs and actions of our society.
From the very beginning of the book we are introduced to Celie, a young teenage girl whose is robbed of her innocence when she becomes a victim of sexual abuse and rape. Even more upsetting is the fact that her abuser was her father, a man she should have been able to trust. From the very opening pages in the book Celie is surrounded by people who constantly make her feel worthless and inferior; in fact, it is those who are closest to her that bring her down the most, i.e. her mother and father.
The lack of respect and worth women receive is further displayed when Celie is essentially sold into a marriage. Her father claims he needs her out of the house because “she is too old to be living at home and is a bad influence on his other girls” (8). Walker depicts Celie’s character to be a sort of housekeeper; she cooks, cleans, and takes care of the children, yet, her father overlooks all of this and says she is useless—another mouth to feed and an inconvenience. The scene in which her father bargains with Albert to marry her is extremely unsettling as well as alarming. The book takes place during a time of severe racism and hatred which is why the black-on-black cruelty was surprising.
Racial violence is again depicted when Sophia is jailed and essentially enslaved or “held captive” as her son describes it after hitting the mayor’s wife. This scene was somewhat confusing, the mayor’s wife asked Sophia to be her maid after noticing that all of her children were kept very clean, this could be interpreted two ways; either Sophia was insulted and thought the mayor’s wife was mocking her or the mayor’s wife was trying to pay her a compliment and do her a favor by offering her a job. Regardless, this portion of the story line shows not only racial violence but also female on female violence as well.
Female on female violence is a common theme throughout the book as well as the most shocking and degrading type. Initially, when Shug comes to stay with Celie and Albert she is extremely rude and ungrateful to Celie. Squeak and Sophia get into an all out brawl one night at the jukejoint. These instances are clearly upsetting yet the most disturbing case of female on female violence or hate comes when Nettie asks an African mother why their culture does not allow the girls to be educated to which the mother responds, “A girl is nothing to herself; only to her husband can she become something.” (155). The absolute lack of not only self respect but also lack of respect for their gender as a whole is extremely troubling.
Overall, the novel is somewhat disheartening. The amount of violence and hate among races and genders is appalling as well as upsetting; however, it might be necessary in order for the end goal to be achieved, that is, the scenes that do make the reader cringe are used as a tool in order to make one question their actions as well as those of their society.