Female perseverance is extraordinary. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is a novel about hope, pain, civil rights, and the human experience but what I can’t get over is the stinging effect that the female characters’ perseverance gave me. What struck me most in this novel was Celie’s endurance, Nettie’s experience in Africa, and Shug Avery’s strength and ability to hold her own against men. Celie’s ability to withstand what she had gone through is nothing short of amazing, and it got me thinking about issues that face women today: domestic violence, rape, prejudice, sexual abuse, and the list goes on.
This past weekend I watched the Diane Sawyer interview on 20/20 highlighting Rihanna’s recent public fight with her ex-boyfriend Chris Brown. The fact that this interview occurred around the same time that I was reading this novel was just too much of a coincidence. I was awe struck by her ability to recount the events of this horrific incident with such a calmness. It seemed to me that she was a mix of both Shug Avery and Celie, she had been abused (like Celie) but refuses to let it happen to her again. Rihanna had come from an abusive home where her father beat his mother, a theme prevalent in The Color Purple.
Nettie presented an entirely different life than Celie. In the novel Nettie represented an empowered, very modern woman. She embodied all those qualities one would hope to find in a woman. She was intelligent, well traveled, strong, independent, and moral. It is interesting that she is so far removed from Celie, they are polar opposites. Walker presents such a sad situation because Celie, and Nettie for that matter, had no choice for their life. They just obeyed and their obedience led them in two entirely different directions. It seems that Walker is implying that obedience may not always be justified, Nettie’s obedience to the Reverend Mr. and his wife led her to be a missionary in Africa, and Celie’s constant obedience for everyone she encounters leads her deeper into despair.
Shug Avery is perhaps the most interesting character. She is blunt, crude, stands up for herself, but at the same time has a soft side. Once Celie wore her down Shug became very sweet and kind, if only to Celie. Shug reminds me of a lot of girls today. The kind of girls that talk a lot of talk, are very sexual, and almost "evil" as Celie sometimes describes her, but at their core they just desire love and friendship. It is hard for me to wrap my head around Celie and Shug’s relationship. I don’t believe either of them desire a sexual relationship with the other but rather their sexual encounters were a representation of the love and friendship they both desperately needed. These three diametrically opposed women present a question, what type of woman is the right type of woman to be? Is it better to be obedient like Celie? Is it better to be blunt and “evil” like Shug? Or is it best to be distant and content like Nettie?