Gender Roles and Racism in the Color Purple

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Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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This essay will analyze the themes of gender roles and racism in Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” It will discuss how the novel portrays the struggles of African American women in the early 20th century, examining the intersection of race, gender, and social class in their lives. At PapersOwl too, you can discover numerous free essay illustrations related to Gender.

Category: Culture
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Pages:  2
Words:  673
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“In the early 1900s, times were hard for women, especially for colored women. Women often faced oppression, such as traditional gender roles, while women of color also endured racism and prejudice. The book The Color Purple creates controversy because of its use of violence, explicit sexual sequences, and the two combined: sexual violence. Alice Walker uses Celie, the main character, and other female characters in The Color Purple to illustrate the struggles facing Black women in the early 1900s.

The Color Purple is a coming-of-age novel established by letters written by Celie addressed to God then later Nettie.

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Celie is an adolescent and illiterate black girl who lives in the deep rural south and faces hardships beginning at a young age but has the companionship of women, such as Nettie, Shug, and Sofia, to help educate her and guide her. Throughout the book, Celie changes from an insecure, young woman oppressed by the significant men around her, like her stepfather or Mister, then flourishes into a strong, independent businesswoman (Napierkowski 55).

The Color Purple, along with other classics such as Gone with the Wind, Porgy and Bess, and others, stirred up a lot of controversy after the release of the novel. Initially, people, mainly black men, argued against the negative depiction of black men and black families. The majority of people arguing were people amongst the black community. Black men would argue that the work was degrading and made all black men look abusive, whereas, according to Shipp (1986), women argued that the film accurately depicted their own experiences or experiences of women they know. In the beginning of the novel, Celie is consistently the object men choose to abuse. Within the first few pages, the reader learns Celie was raped and impregnated by her own father, which we later learn is her stepfather, who takes the children. Celie is left to only assume the kids were taken into the woods and killed. Celie’s stepfather then sells Celie’s hand in marriage to Mister, who originally wanted Nettie, Celie’s sister. Mister uses Celie to please his sexual needs and to fulfill the traditional housewife role in the house by cleaning everything, cooking, keeping the children and animals in check, etc… Mister not only forced the old-fashioned gender roles, but also emotionally and physically abused Celie: “He laughed. Who you think you is? he say. You can’t curse nobody. Look at you. You black, you pore, you ugly, you a woman. Goddam, he say, you nothing at all.” (Walker 206). But Celie never knew better; all Celie knew was the abuse of men and to obey them. Walker creates several relationships in The Color Purple that defy the standard gender roles, such as Harpo and Sofia. Harpo is the son of Mister, and falls in love with Sofia, an independent black woman who rejects the submission to any male. Harpo asks Celie how to get Sofia to submit to him, and Celie simply replies: beat her. Celie has become so accustomed to oppression that she, herself, advises Harpo to beat Sofia (Averbach 61).

Although Celie was completely immersed in the oppression, with the help of her female peers and family members, she overcame. Celie did suggest Harpo beat Sofia to gain her submission, but Sofia wouldn’t budge. Sofia and Celie had a deep heart to heart talk where Sofia confessed all she’s ever had to do was fight the men in her life: her daddy, her brothers, her cousins, and her uncles (Walker 40). Sofia told Celie she loved Harpo, but she would never let a man beat her in her own home. Celie then realized she was jealous that Sofia could fight back and be independent. Sofia is a character that Celie aspires to be, as is Shug Avery. Shug Avery was Celie’s husband’s mistress and everything Celie yearned to be. Shug’s relationship with Celie Women like Sofia, Shug, and Nettie showered Celie with love and compassion and showed her the way to being independent and sticking up for herself.”

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Gender Roles and Racism in The Color Purple. (2021, May 24). Retrieved from