Sunday, November 8, 2009

Violence Against Women and the Power of Voice

In The Color Purple, one can’t help but sympathize with Celie who has experienced abuse from a very young age without any means of escape as the man she knows as her father repeatedly rapes and beats her while her mother is sick. Meanwhile Celie’s focus is always on protecting her sister from the abuse while holding higher hopes for her younger sister than she holds for herself.

And despite all of this, Celie remains strong in her faith in God, and despite her meager education, she still holds an insightful voice when writing to God about her struggles, her life, and her beliefs. Thus in a life where she is powerless, she finds a great power in her writing where she is able to get angry at the men who abuse her and she can honestly reconcile her life without fear and without any filter.

In one of her letters she writes, “Harpo ast his daddy why he beat me. Mr. say, Cause she my wife. Plus, she stubborn. All women good for—he don’t finish. He just tuck his chin over the paper like he do. Remind me of Pa. Harpo ast me, How come you stubborn? He don’t ast How come you his wife? Nobody ast that.” (Walker, 22). These observations reveal the psyche of Mr. who finds his brutality justifiable only because it is a wife’s place to be subordinate and because of this lower stature he can beat her.

Not only does this reveal the twisted logic of the abuser, this quote also shows how men develop that attitude with Harpo asking why at first. This shows that abuse is cyclical and is often passed from generation to generation as Harpo tries to beat his own wife not long after this conversation. In the face of this sad reality, Celie shows her defiance again in her letter to God. She knows that she did not choose this marriage and that she never would have. Unfortunately “choice” was an intangible ideal for Celie at this point in her life.

Before Mr. reforms himself, Celie leaves with Shug for Tennessee and she finally speaks her outrage rather than just writing it down when she says, “You a lowdown dog is what’s wrong, I say. It’s time to leave you and enter into the Creation. And your dead body just the welcome mat I need” (Walker, 199). Celie who in life remained silent and only had spoken the truth in writing now has gained the agency to tell her husband that she will not stay anymore with the support of Shug who gave her the strength to not only say “no more”, but put those words into action. This is Celie’s great catharsis as she finally lets go of the burdens that weighed on her soul for so many years.

It’s sad to say that there are so many examples of domestic abuse in the real world. One much publicized example of violence against women is that of international pop star Rihanna who was a victim of abuse at the hands of her equally famous former boyfriend, Chris Brown. Rihanna is a strong, independent woman who has sold millions of CDs and is one of the most successful female singers of recent memory. Last February, the night before the Grammys, she and Chris Brown got into a verbal argument that escalated into his violent attack on her.

This past week, Rihanna bravely talked about her experience with Diane Sawyer. She was calm, collected, and she discussed the incident with dignity and wisdom. She initially went back with Chris after he beat her but she soon realized that she was only lying to herself and she was afraid of what might happen to a fan if they followed her example. She said, “When I realized that my selfish decision for love could result in some young girl getting killed, I could not be easy with that part. I couldn't be responsible for that. Even if Chris never hit me again, who's to say their boyfriend won't? Who's to say they won't kill these girls? I didn't realize how much of an impact I had on these girls' lives until that happened."

I think that both Rihanna and Celie are incredibly strong women who were put into a terrible situation where anyone could feel powerless. My one great concern for Celie is that she ultimately went back with Mr. . Even though he reformed himself, I would refer to the quote from Rihanna in that, even if Mr. never hit Celie again, who’s to say that if Celie’s daughter would get into an abusive relationship, that her partner would stop? That piece of the ending did not sit well with me.

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