Through the characterization of Celie, Alice Walker demonstrates the societal limitations placed on those who are uneducated. Unfortunately, during Celie’s time, the education of women, especially colored women, was not a necessity. Instead of receiving an adequate education, Celie is left uneducated, with an undeveloped sense of individuality and self confidence. Today, the American education of all children is no longer an option but a requirement. Modern education, although seemingly limited by its somewhat formal structure, is what allows children to develop their own sense of self worth as well as develop their own individual interests and life views.
Serving at Govans Elementary School has allowed me to view the successes of this modernized system of education, or the profound influences the school has on the young children of different social classes, races, and sexes. Beginning with their appearances, the required school uniforms might seem to limit the creative expression of each student- although this is not necessarily true, because most students, even the kindergarteners, find their own ways to personalize their uniform-, but actually contribute to the idea of equality and the emphasis on the real person rather than one’s outward appearance. Already, Govans’ uniform policy offers the possibility of a fair education, an education that is not based on the style of one’s dress or price of one’s appearance and therefore offers the students a neutral atmosphere that does not conflict with the learning process. The uniforms remove some societal stresses (fear of judgment or alienation) and allow to shine through the individual student.
The teachers, although human and therefore prone to impatience with some of the younger children, all generally promote individual ideas and class participation. On the days that I serve in the classroom at Govans, I witness a brief lesson on numbers, the alphabet, or common manners (they are only kindergarteners) but then get to partake in the group “centering” period. This pretty lengthy period of time, when the students can choose to play with whatever toys they prefer, is when their true personalities really come out. This is also the time when I am allowed to “center”, or to freely interact and play with the students. The teacher presents the children with a variety of toys, ranging from Legos to dolls to puzzles to toy trucks to Mr. Potato Heads, and allows the students to act and play upon their own interests rather than the interests of the teacher herself or the other students. I love when I see a boy feeding and clothing a baby doll, or when I see a girl racing her toy truck around a group of boys, or when I see a group of both boys and girls working on a large alphabet puzzle together, all of which prove that these students do not feel limited by their sex or by societal norms. I do not know if it is their young age or naivety that promotes such a sense of individuality mixed with equality, but I do find it interesting to watch the students interact without a sense of self inadequacy. I hope that this young sense of self worth is a representation of an overall change in society and education, especially from the time of The Color Purple; I hope that the students do not lose this individualism with age.
Because a majority of the Govans students are of a colored background, it is great to see that the opportunities and future possibilities of these students are no longer hindered by race and class. Their education from Govans proves that these children and students are capable, regardless of the historical backgrounds of their races, of pursuing their own destinies and becoming their own individuals. The kindergarteners may struggle to mentally acquire the range of new materials presented before them, but their presence in the classroom is most important.
The Color Purple presents the differences between the uneducated and the educated in showing the major differences between the lives and letters of the main character Celie and her sister Nettie. From the beginning, Celie’s lack of education leads to her lack of self-confidence and self-understanding; she is regarded, mostly by males, as another hand to clean, cook, work, and be tossed around. Celie does not see the beauty of her individual self because others see her as an object and do not consider her a person of feelings and perspective: “She ain’t smart either, and I’ll just be fair, you have to watch her or she’ll give away everything you own. But she can work like a man” (8). Celie’s own Pa takes advantage of her, takes away her education, and asks another man to take her off of his hands, prohibiting Celie from making her own decisions and therefore silencing her voice. Because Celie does not have the advantage of an education, she cannot readily stand up for herself and her individualism; her opportunities appear limited if not non-existent.
Nettie, the educated sister of the two, develops a confidence in her own abilities and in the abilities of her older sister Celie. She is the one who recognizes early on Celie’s intellectual and emotional capabilities and tries to aid Celie in her education. Nettie is also the sister that embarks upon a missionary journey to teach and promote individualism in an economically clueless African village, where she continues to stress the importance of teaching children, both female and male. Nettie, like the teachers and founders of Govans Elementary school (among many other schools) does not want the children to grow up with a feeling of inferiority or without their own personal beliefs; she readily understands the importance of education. And Nettie’s influence has a wonderful effect on the children of Samuel and Corrine, or rather the children of Celie, in that both of these children embrace the power of their individual perspectives, experiences, and educations. Without the help of Nettie, Adam, and Olivia, Tashi never would have agreed to marrying Adam and establishing her own identity separate from the dying village’s identity. Tashi, Adam, and Olivia are models of the endless possibilities of the educated youth.
Celie’s eventual self-appreciation and realization stems from the education gained through her life experiences. So although The Color Purple emphasizes the importance of childhood education, it also offers the idea that not all is lost for those who do not have access to such forms of schooling. Celie learns through the different people she meets and the love that she feels from people like Shug and Nettie, the women that trust in her abilities. She struggles through her upbringing with Pa and her marriage to Alfred but eventually moves on from this past to establish herself as an independent pants maker; she works with the simple, hands on knowledge that she is accustomed to. However, if it were not for the influence of the educated women in her life, she probably would not have thought that she could stand up to those who doubt her or even succeed in her own doings. Celie’s secondhand education enhances the large significance of her sister’s firsthand education as well as Shug’s influential individuality, stressing the idea that her life could have fared much more easily if she much earlier had access to a source of education and self-confidence.