Characterization



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AP Literature – Period 3

Erica Davis

8 August 2014

Dialectical Journal – The Color Purple

Beat her. I say” (Walker 36).


CHARACTERIZATION

In this quote, Celie’s insecurity falls to an all-time low. She is jealous of Sofia’s strength and feistiness, and in this moment of envy, she suggests to Harpo that he should beat Sofia. Celie simply wants to see someone more abused than herself so that even if temporarily, she can be on top.


Let’s make quilt pieces out of these messed up curtains, she say” (Walker 42).

SYMBOLISM

The quilt, especially because it is made from the scraps of the torn curtains from Sofia and Harpo’s fight, represents the power of female friendships in persevering and moving on. The quilt, made from scraps of fabric all coming together, is symbolic of Sofia and Celie coming together despite hardships.

Ain’t nothing wrong with Shug Avery. She just sick. Sicker than anybody I ever seen. She sicker than my mama was when she die. But she even more evil than my mama and that keep her alive” (Walker 47).


THEME

This quote shows Celie’s lack of strong female role models and figures. Because her mother was sick and she had no other strong female figures to look up to, she naively believes that to be strong, one must also be evil, but the two are mutually exclusive.

Next time he come I put a little Shug Avery pee in his glass. See how he like that” (Walker 55).

CHARACTERIZATION/TONE

Shug’s influence on Celie is already apparent; just a few weeks prior, Celie was afraid to defend herself to her father after she was wrongly accused of winking at a boy, and now, she’s becoming more assertive and retaliating against others, a step in the right direction to her self-empowerment. Her remark also contributes to a humorous tone because of her feisty retort, and although she probably would never actually carry out the act, it’s funny to see Celie get a little sassy.

“I rather be out in the fields or fooling with the animals. Even chopping wood. But he love cooking and cleaning and doing little things round the house” (Walker 59).


THEME

Harpo and Sofia’s marriage, even though Harpo repeatedly tries to enforce traditional gender roles, is one that actually bends gender roles. Sofia likes doing the “man’s” work while Harpo partakes in the “woman’s” work, but the fact that Harpo still tries to beat Sofia and make her submissive shows the influence of the culture at the time, that even though Sofia and Harpo are content doing the opposite gender’s work, Harpo still feels the need to beat her to retain the ideal that he is the strong, dominant one and she is submissive and weak.

Some womens can’t be beat, I say. Sofia one of them” (Walker 63).


THEME/FIGURATIVE LANGUAGE

In this quote, Celie is breaking her preconceived gender roles. Literally, she is referring to the fact that because Sofia is stronger than Harpo, she cannot be physically beaten, but figuratively, Celie means that some women are so mentally strong that they can’t be defeated. This differs from Celie’s earlier ideas of gender roles where women must be meek and submissive.


Why Miss Celie, she say, you still a virgin” (Walker 77).


THEME

In this quote, Shug renames Celie as a virgin. After having had two children, Celie would definitely not be classified as a virgin in the traditional sense, but because sex was forced upon Celie and she never enjoyed it, Shug declares that this makes her a virgin. In declaring Celie a virgin, Shug gives Celie power over her own body, that no one can take her virginity without her consent.


“A woman need a little fun, once in a while, she say.

A woman need to be at home, he say.



She say, This is my home. Though I do think it go better as a jukejoint” (Walker 82).


TONE

This quote conveys the point that home doesn’t necessarily mean where someone lives and sleeps; home is where someone feels comfortable and safe. For Sofia, home is not back at her house with Harpo because he frequently tries to beat her and she always has to spend her hours watching the kids and fulfilling her “womanly” duties. She feels comfortable at the jukekoint, so for her, it’s home. This quote also creates a humorous tone because it reenacts the ever-popular “women need to be in the kitchen” cliché, except this time, Sofia retorts by saying that the kitchen isn’t her home; the bar is.

Harpo say, I love you, Squeak. He kneel down and try to put his arms round her waist.

She stand up. My name Mary Agnes, she say” (Walker 97).


THEME/SYMBOLISM

In this quote, Squeak is discovering her own strength. The desire to change her name from Squeak, a meek sound that small animals make, to Mary Agnes is symbolic of her desire to be treated as an actual person and an equal in her relationship with Harpo. The fact that Squeak is standing while Harpo is kneeling at her feet is symbolic of her newfound strength and power, that she too can be dominant.


Mayor ______ bought Miz Millie a new car, cause she said if colored could have cars then one for her was past due. So he bought her a car, only he refuse to show her how to drive it. Every day he come home from town he look at her, look out the window at her car, say, How you enjoying ‘er Miz Millie. She fly off the sofa in a huff, slam the door going in the bathroom” (Walker 102).

QUESTION: Just as Celie suggested to Harpo that he should beat Sofia so that Celie could be the dominant one for once, would white women have abused black women for this very reason or would they have defended them? Which loyalty is stronger: race or gender?

Up until now, the novel has focused on the struggles of black women alone, but the story takes a detour to discuss that all women, not simply black women, were faced with sexism and inequality. However, this quote also puts into perspective just how bad the situation for black women is; at the top of the hierarchy lay white men, then white women, then black men, then black women. Yes, white women at the time face sexism and unfairness, but compared to black women, their toil is nothing.

Listen, Celie, New York is a beautiful city. And colored own a whole section of it, called Harlem. There are colored people in more fancy motor cars than I thought existed, and living in houses that are finer than any white person’s house down home” (Walker 135).


THEME/IMAGERY

Celie was born with two strikes already against her: she is both black and a woman. However, Nettie’s description of New York where blacks are successful and drive fancy cars and live in big houses opens up the idea that blacks can be successful; they don’t have to live in poverty and be second-class citizens to whites.


We know a roofleaf is not Jesus Christ, but in its own humble way, is it not God?” (Walker 154).

THEME/IRONY

It’s ironic that Nettie, a missionary, would have an interpretation of God that strays from the traditional white man with a beard, but as her traditional faith begins to fade during her time with the Olinkas, it contributes to the theme that God is not a “he” but an “it”, something that manifests itself differently for each person. For the Olinkas, God is the roofleaf, which provides shelter and peace of mind for them.

I don’t write to God no more. I write to you.

What happen to God? ast Shug.

Who that? I say” (Walker 192).

THEME

Celie addressed her previous letters to God because she had no one else there to listen to her. Celie already had a difficult relationship with God, and so selecting him as the recipient of her letters means that she had no one else to turn to in her desperate times. However, after discovering that Nettie was alive, Celie knew that she finally had someone who would hear her struggles. Now that Celie has someone to turn to, she takes her anger out on God because to her, He never heard her pleas when she was suffering.

Well us talk and talk about God, but I’m still adrift. Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?). Not the little wildflowers. Nothing” (Walker 197).

THEME/QUESTION: Is traditional religion detrimental to self-actualization? Has tradition undermined the importance of creating a personal relationship with God/Allah/any other divine being?

Celie has always had a difficult relationship with God because her vision of Him was a representation of everything that she feared: a dominant white man. This is why she often used God as a scapegoat and resented Him for not protecting her. However, Shug’s definition of God, as an “it” rather than a “he”, is softer, lighter, and can manifest itself in gentle ways, not like the domineering God that Celie had always believed in. This new version of God revives Celie’s faith and contributes to her self-empowerment.

“Well, say Grady, trying to bring light. A woman can’t get a man if peoples talk.

Shug look at me and us giggle. Then us laugh sure nuff. Then Squeak start to laugh. Then Sofia. All us laugh and laugh” (Walker 201).




THEME

This quote truly encompasses the theme of the power of strong female relationships; Grady naively tries to put females back in their “place”, but Shug, Sofia, Squeak, and Celie all laugh at him, mocking his assumption that the prime goal of all women is to snatch a man. Especially in the context of their difficult struggles, Shug being labeled a tramp, Celie raped and abused, Sofia thrown in jail, and Squeak emotionally abused and raped, the idea of living to get a man seems silly.

“I’m pore, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook, a voice say to everything listening. But I’m here” (Walker 207).


THEME

Part of truly loving and accepting yourself means accepting your flaws, and in this quote, Celie is proclaiming that she openly accepts these flaws, and that despite them, she’s not going anywhere. In this climactic scene, Celie finally has the strength and confidence to place the traits that once plagued her on the back burner to make room for her newly-empowered self.

I sit in the dining room making pants after pants. I got pants now in every color and size under the sun. Since us started making pants down home, I ain’t been able to stop. I change the cloth, I change the print, I change the waist, I change the pocket. I change the hem, I change the fullness of the leg. I make so many pants Shug tease me” (Walker 211).

SYMBOLISM

In this novel, sewing/quilting is symbolic of bringing people and things together. In this case, Celie is bringing her life together. She is fully realizing that as an empowered woman, just as she can change anything she wants about the pants, she can be the stimulus for change in her own life. By starting up her own pants company, she is taking advantage of all the changes that she can make and recreating herself as a strong, independent, money-making, happy woman – the woman she only ever dreamed of being.

Then too I feels different. Look different. Got on some dark blue pants and a white silk shirt that look righteous. Little red flat-heel slippers, and a flower in my hair. I pass Mr._____ house and him sitting up on the porch and he didn’t even know who I was” (Walker 217).

THEME

At this point in the novel, Celie is already a self-confident woman. However, when she returns back to Georgia, she is absolutely glowing. Her internal changes are reflected in her outer appearance, completing the transformation into an empowered woman.

I know you won’t believe this, Miss Celie, say Sofia, but Mr. _____ act like he trying to get religion.

Big a devil as he is, I say, trying is bout all he can do.

He don’t go to church or nothing, but he not so quick to judge. He work real hard too” (Walker 222).

THEME

One of the major themes of this novel is that traditional religion may not fit everyone; sometimes, a personalized approach to spirituality can change people more than traditional church. Mr. ______ has become a changed person, realizing his sins and hostile nature after Celie abandoned him. Because of his guilt, he became a new person and found inner peace – all without never stepping foot in a church.

We still man and wife, you know, he say.

Naw, I say, we never was” (Walker 253).

THEME/QUESTION: Can marriage even still be considered a measure of love between two people? Or has its validity been destroyed by divorces, lust versus love, abuse, and its binding nature?

On the surface, this quote may seem like it is diminishing the sanctity of marriage, but deeper down, because Celie is saying that a marriage needs to entail some degree of happiness and respect between husband and wife, this quote is increasing the sanctity of marriage; marriage doesn’t simply mean the union of a man and wife through church or state, but a union in which both people are happy and truly love each other, and any “marriage” that doesn’t abide was never a true marriage.





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