After reading “The Color Purple”, a wave of emotions ran through me. This was inevitable considering the topics that are explored in immense detail. While the general story is of Celie finding herself through her encounters with others as well as her experiences, the path on which she gets there is full of sorrow and grief.
Walker makes a point to touch on several topics, which are prevalent within our society, but at the time the novel was written and still somewhat today are not widely talked about. The necessity of becoming comfortable with these topics is unparalleled. It is a harsh reality but still one society as a whole must face that women, and men, are raped, beat, victims of incest and overall treated inhumanely. Walker makes a point to describe these events in grotesque detail in order to force the reader to make a connection with the characters as well as their situation.
In Ann duCille’s article she notes that many scholars believe that “one can be black or a woman, but claiming both identities places one on shaky familial ground, outside the black family romance”. These critics noted that Walker was indeed a violator of these standards for her main character is black and female and the black men she depicts are rapists and violent. If anything, one would think it would be even more empowering to have a black female take the spotlight within literature.
In the case of Walker’s novel, Celie indeed is a victim to horrible circumstances, she is raped by her family members, sold into a marriage, beat, and essentially treated as a slave; she has no identity, only determines her worth by what others say. Walker may have created a character that lacks self-respect and the courage to stand up for herself, however, by the end of the book she is empowered and finds herself.
Further, Walker is not guilty of “slandering black men”. Obviously, some of the men in her story are described as being awful characters but the reality of it is that figures like them truly existed. While Walker is not necessarily fabricating the depiction of men in her novel, she also doesn’t make them all out to be sheer monsters. Albert transforms as much as Celie does and Harpo is also able to right his wrongs. Not all male characters are “just ok” or transform into a descent figure, the Reverend is a good man as is Samuel and several other male figures in the book. While it is true that the male figures are seen from the perspective of woman, it is from a woman’s point of view the entire story is told, and as previously stated, not all men are shown as chauvinistic nor are they shown as cruel.
duCille and the other critics she speaks on behalf of seem to be ignoring the importance of having male figures who are cruel; by placing these types of males in the story it allows them to be paralleled by truly good characters. As far as feminism and race goes, in my opinion neither must be sacrificed in order to maintain the other. The female characters who are strong from the beginning are Nettie, Shug, and Sophia, neither of which are the main character and all of which are necessary for Celie to be able to transform into a more independent woman. Like real life, it is imperative that we have examples to live by in order to become the people we choose to be; Walker depicts this in her choice of characters and their roles.
Overall, the notion that one must choose race or gender or else risk losing one is nonsense. If anything Walker should not fall into this category she should be used as an example of making this very “breach of black family romance” work.