The Struggles Faced in the Color Purple

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Updated: Mar 07, 2023
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The Color Purple opens in rural Georgia, 1909 with the main protagonist, fourteen-year-old Celie giving birth to her second child Olivia. The only person with her during labor is her younger sister Nettie. Their father, Alphonso is outside waiting for Celie to finish up as Nettie desperately tries to comfort Celie, establishing that Nettie and Celie only have each other. Previously, Celie’s father was raping and abusing her, impregnating her with her first child, which she named Adam. Alphonso had taken both children from Celie and presumably sold them to other families.

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When their mother falls ill and dies, Alphonso pressures Celie to tell no one of the abuses except God. So using God as an outlet, she begins writing letters to him and expressing her thoughts, believing that this silence and submissiveness is the only way to persevere. An older man named Albert Johnson, who Celie came to know as Mr, arrives to ask Nettie’s hand in marriage which Alphonso refuses as she is too young and gives away Celie instead. 

Celie’s 20 years of joyless marriage and muddled narrative begin. Nettie comes to live with The Johnsons after she escaped the abuses of her father but when Mr. sexually assaults Nettie, he throws Nettie off the land, splitting the powerful bond of the two sisters. When receiving no mail from Nettie, Celie assumes her dead. Mr.’s son, Harpo marries a large, spunky girl named Sofia who ran a matriarchal household, shocking Celie. Sofia encourages Celie to fight back and not take any more abuse from Mr. but Celie’s lack of transparency keeps her silent for many more years. Sofia and Harpo eventually separate because Sofia can longer take the abuse that carries down from Mr. to Harpo. Months later, Mr. and Harpo bring in Shug Avery, who has fallen ill but Mr. has been in love with for all his life, and they start to take care of her. Celie makes an extreme effort to take care of her and the two create a strong friendship. Shug Avery represents everything that Celie wanted to be, a sexually confident women who sang the blues and spoke her mind. She began to teach Celie that she has the power to create her own story, someone new who can stand up to the abuse and the interpretations forced upon her. It is not until Celie and Shug later discover dozens of Nettie’s letters, hidden by Albert underneath the floor, that Celie finally has enough knowledge of herself to form her own powerful narrative. She curses Albert out and tells him that he can only fix this is if he does right by her. This new power of Celie’s is the movie’s climax as it allows Celie to finally be her own person. Celie’s new and happy life forces Albert to rethink himself as a person and make changes in who he is. He makes peace with himself and reunites Celie with her sister and her children who had been living with Nettie all along. At the end of the film, Celie discovers the profound power to express her own thoughts as it develops a sense of self which gave her the ability to write her own narrative. 

Part B: The Color Purple takes place from 1909-1949 which was a time period of the industrial boom, the era of entertainment and tensions across the world. This film tackles many controversial subjects including but not limited to sexual, emotional and domestic abuse. The main protagonist Celie, is a victim and survivor of these abuses and struggles to find her voice in the world of patriarchal violence. Because this movie was not centered around the difficulties of farm life during this time, it did not need to cover that aspect as much. However, when this topic was depicted, it was true to its history. During The Great Depression, rural America was struggling just as much as it was difficult to keep foods plentiful and spirits alive. Steven Spielberg wanted to portray everything real and not just that white people were racist towards black people because everyone already knew that. But the movie could not leave out the discrimination of the time because that was also a major difficulty which is portrayed beautifully. Sofia, the on-again-off-again wife of Harpo is asked if she wanted to be the maid for the wife of the mayor. She responds, to everyone’s shock, “hell no.” and her sassy response landed her in jail for many years. When she was released, she did, after all, end up working for the mayor’s wife. Sofia was taken away from her family for twelve years just like that for refusing a job offer and the reaction of the words “hell no” said by a bigger, black woman showed audiences just how tense race relations were during that time. 

The film also tackles the controversy of patriarchal gender roles in the black community which is something people do not talk about. The Color Purple “breaks a certain cultural silence about abuse” (Bond). The reputation of the black community had been “preserved” and this movie cracks open the untold truth on abuse in the black community (Bond). Audiences were also shocked when seeing a homosexual relationship depicted during the Jazz era however the atmosphere that the blues brought to people during the roaring twenties awakened new sexual possibilities. Shug Avery was the first person to show Celie how to love someone and that sex is not something for a man to “do his business on” but for both parties to enjoy (The Color Purple- 1985). Even though the relationship was controversial and normally would face social discrimination, it was something that Celie and Shug shared together. The point of the story was not for them to end up together but more for Celie, who was able to recognize that she loved herself because “self-acceptance leads to substantial community standing and sexual satisfaction flow[s] from self-esteem” (Bond). When producing a movie like The Color Purple, historical accuracy can be difficult to portray and more difficult for audiences to accept. The cast and crew of this film did a perfect job portraying the struggles that black women and black people faced during the early twentieth century but in the end, the main characters of The Color Purple, were able to love themselves and find peace in their world. 

Part C: The Color Purple is full of imagery and metaphors depicted by Steven Spielberg in the film, and by Alice Walker in her novel. The actual color purple is shown as a metaphor as well. This being the biggest metaphor in the movie because it represents the wonders that God provides, and how each person must find it in themselves to enjoy God’s creations. Shug Avery is the first one to teach Celie how to enjoy life and she explains this as they walk through the meadow of purple flowers. For Celie, the purple flowers represent her adolescent memories with her sister. One of the rarer good times she has in life and when she walks through the meadow again, her new friend and lover explain how to enjoy small things God gives one, which in turn helps one love life. Purple is also the color of royalty, showing the “endless possibilities available to Celie and other black women if they stand up for their own rights” (The Color Purple: Metaphor Analysis). 

Every scene with the purple flowers was shot at dusk, including the ending scene. The ending scene is the moment where each character becomes equal parts and there is no longer a separation of gender or class. In another research paper evaluating the movie, student Chelsey Boutan states that “people can’t live only to survive, they have to find those few good things in their life, even during terrible times” (Boutan). The purple flowers give audiences a sense of serenity and hope which shows that it is up to the individual to find the good things in life. There is also the metaphor of pants which conveys Nettie’s new life and towards the end, Celie’s tailor business. Both the film and the novel use this symbol to show that “women who live in a patriarchal or sexist society can become liberated through economic independence and nonviolence” (Boutan). The film also shows a scene of Sofia trying on a pair of pants that in Celie’s “one size fits all” store and Sofia is seen feeling more independent than ever. The movie, The Color Purple does a beautiful job of depicting the central themes, characters, setting, plot and symbols using Steven Spielberg’s techniques. There is a common mistake of The Color Purple as a story of “abused women amidst racial bigotry and male dominance,” but it expands on a lot more than that (Litton). The Color Purple dives deep into each of its characters, exposing their inner thoughts, while they each discovered their own respectable power to speak up in the face of adversity. 

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The Struggles Faced In The Color Purple. (2022, Apr 29). Retrieved from