The novel The Color Purple by Alice Walker depicts racial tension during the 1930s and uses the colors purple and red to symbolize Celie and Sofia’s hardships as African American women during this time period. Alice Walker married a civil rights attorney, Melvyn Leventhal, in 1967, making them the first interracially married couple in Jackson, Mississippi. Even though slaves were no longer present in that time period, African Americans were still discriminated against, and Walker shows that segregation was legally enforced, and white males were dominant in society.
Alice Walker uses these harsh times and transforms them into beautiful symbols, such as purple and red to make Celie and Sofia’s suffering more poetic. Walker became an overnight success with The Color Purple (“Color”). Celie, the main character of the novel The Color Purple, and Sofia, a secondary character, both face harsh times throughout their lives due to racism. The two African American women are beaten and brought down within the novel. When Sofia finally gets to work in Celie’s store, after being criticized when at the stores prior due to blacks not being able to work in stores, it becomes a personal accomplishment.
Not only was this personal accomplishment for Sofia, it showed the racial improvements from the beginning to the end of the novel that Alice Walker expressed. The stores were a metaphor representing the social and economic status between blacks and whites, which shows the white dominance (Selzer). The color purple is brought up throughout the book and is related to all the suffering both Celie and Sofia faced. In the beginning of the novel Celie is raped by her step father. Later on Celie describes her private parts as the color of eggplant.
This suggests that the sexual abuse she faced represents the uffering and hard times in her life, linking it to the color purple. Blacks in the novel are said to be a blue-black color. This illustrates their appearance and their prior suffering they faced. Throughout the novel, the color purple has different meaning, Fiske hypothesised that, “The color purple is continually equated with suffering and pain” (Fiske). Just as Celie’s private parts, and the color of blacks in the novel, this is shown due to their experiences (Fiske). The man who previously raped and beat Celie, Alphonso, owned a house which Celie eventually inherited.
This house, for that time period would have been owned by a white person as opposed to a black person. Owning a house like this, strengthened Alphonso’s relationships with black and whites since he seemed to live a lifestyle of both races. Once Celie owns this house, her relationships are also strengthened. Once again the racial improvements from the beginning to the end of the novel are showed (Selzer). Nettie, Celie’s sister, expressed the racial differences she was experiencing through the letters she wrote to her sister.
In one letter, Nettie wrote to Celie, “Oh, Celie, there are colored people in the world who want us to know! –They are not all mean like Pa and Albert, or beaten down like Ma was” (Walker 132). In Africa, Nettie was assured that not all blacks were treated as they were. This gave her a sense of hope that maybe one day things would be different and not everyone would be run down and abused as they were. The Olinkas, the tribe that Nettie stayed with while in Africa, viewed that racism would go on forever; that there would always be interchanging dominance between blacks and whites.
The Olinkas’ view was much more realistic, especially when they realized that when among the opposite race, people will be ridiculed. However, among the Olinkas, black women especially had many achievements that surprised the others since they were often looked down upon by other people and races. In that society in Africa, racial views differed in order to see if the present ways will go on forever, or kinship bonds will eventually eliminate the treatment people were getting (Selzer). Celie and Sofia, being African American women, faced discrimination due to white male dominance.
The only time men would begin to lower their own self status would be when the women came together and rebelled against them. Walker implies the thought that women should unite together and go against the male dominant figure in their life so they can achieve a non-patriarchal society. By the end of the novel, although white men are still the dominant figures, Nettie assures Tashi’s parents, a girl they met in Africa, that the world they have been living in is no longer only for men. This gave the women in this novel a sense of hope that one day the discrimination that is being faced will finally be over (Smith).
Sofia was forced to work for the mayor’s wife in the novel because she talked back to them even though she is black. Due to this, she faced abuse and jail time. The treatment that Sofia faced with the mayor’s wife was very common and would have regularly happened during that time. This shows the discrimination between blacks and whites when Selzer brings up the point that, “… the relationship between Miss Sofia and her white charge, Eleanor Jane, serves an analogous function for the American South” (Selzer).
The two different races being put together, and this outcome shows the relationships and the discrimination the opposite races provide for each other (Selzer). Sofia, after working for the mayor’s wife, and facing jail time, comes back to Celie looking very run down. Celie describes her as, “They crack her skull, they crack her ribs… She swole form head to foot… And she just about the color of an eggplant” (Walker 87). Once again, the color of eggplant is used to describe someone after they have went through hard times. Sofia was abused, then called eggplant.
Celie was sexually abused, and her private parts were called eggplant. This common theme suggests that the color purple represents the struggles that Celie and Sofia had faced within the novel (Fiske). In a letter from Nettie, addressed to Celie, Nettie tells Celie about an experience she encountered while on a train. Blacks were looked down upon during that time period (“Color”), and Nettie experienced this when she wrote, “When we said Africa he looked offended and tickled too. Niggers going to Africa, he said to his wife. Now I have seen everything” (Walker 135).
Nettie speaking to a white man, made him come to this conclusion since segregation was legally enforced during that time (“Color”). Once in Africa, Nettie faced a much different environment then she was used to. Blacks were no longer discriminated against, and Nettie wrote this to Celie, giving them both a new sense of hope that one day the boundaries between the races would be negotiated (Selzer). As the novel moves forward a racial harmony developed over time between African Americans and Caucasians. The boundaries between the two races could be negotiated and brought up.
When Sofia was put in jail, her family could bail her out, showing that she most likely had a relationship with someone white, since during that time, kinship was shown through white relatives. The idea that everyone should be treated as one mother’s children was a main point expressed, “… The Color Purple offers a critique of race that explores the possibility of treating all people as ‘one mother’s children’–while remaining unremittingly sensitive to the distance that often separates even the best of human ideals from real historical conditions” (Selzer).
Therefore, the novel shows the racial differences, and the idea of treating everyone equally without going into harsh detail of actual actions during that time period. Even though the idea of equality is achieved by the end of the novel, racial differences are still present in certain relationships, showing the importance of race within relationships and the racism throughout the novel that is emphasized (Selzer). All of the colors in the novel have two meanings that are opposite of one another.
Not only does purple represent struggles and hardships, it also represents the overcoming of the tough times in life. Celie at first looked at the color purple as bad, and it brought back a time of suffering for her. However over time, the color purple made Celie discover who she is, and that she could and did overcome the bad times in her life (Fiske). Once Celie inherits her father’s land, she stays in a room in which she describes as, “Everything in my room purple and red cept the floor, that painted bright yellow.
She go right to the little purple frog perch on my mantlepiece” (Walker 284). After overcoming all of the bad in her life, Celie is willing to make her room the color that at one point represented all of those hard times. This shows the growth that Celie made from the beginning to the end, and the transformation of the color purple from it being derogatory to it become beautiful and majestic (Smith). Later on, Celie began making pants for people, she decided to make pants for Sofia, with one red leg, and one purple leg.
These two colors put together show the hardships of her life, and how she overcame them. All of the colors in this novel put together are what unites all the characters through what they have faced (Fiske). When Celie is abused and she explains it to Shug, and she becomes very graphic, giving a visual of all the blood that went along with it showing the meaning of the color red in the novel. Celie tells Shug she reaction to this when she says, “How it hurt and how much I was surprise. How it stung while I finish trimming his hair.
How the blood drip down my leg and mess up my stocking” (Walker 112). This shows that red represents a color of rape and the sexual abuse that Celie faced. Eventually the color red becomes a joyful color for Celie when she begins to use it in her sewing and her room (Cutter). Therefore showing once again how all the colors in the novel have two meanings (Fiske). Eventually the color red becomes a very regenerative color to represent people being resilient after a hard time. When Shug leaves Celie, Celie describes her heart as blooming blood.
This is saying that, although the person she loves is leaving her and that is sad and painful, she will overcome it. Once again this gives the color red a more positive meaning in the novel since it is helping Celie overcome the problems and the times in her life that she wish she could forget (Cutter). With this the more positive side of the color red is shown as opposed to the negative side when Celie was raped and abused (Fiske). The novel The Color Purple by Alice Walker shows the racial problems that Celie and Sofia had to face since they were black women in 1930s by using the colors purple and red.
African Americans in the south during that time were segregated legally and brought down; women were discriminated against even more, including Celie and Sofia (“Color”). The color purple represents the hardships in life and it eventually becoming positive (Fiske). The color red represents the sexual abuse Celie faced and how she was able to deal with it and grow and learn from it so the color can become a positive symbol for her (Cutter). In all, The Color Purple shows the discrimination that went on during the 1930s, and the symbols of the colors purple and red and how they tied in with Celie and Sofia’s lives.