The main theme this essay will be focusing on is the distinction between the “real” outcome of economic achievement as described in The Color Purple by the lynching of Celie’s father, and its “alternative” economic view presented at the end of the novel depicting Celie’s happiness and entrepreneurial success. We will attempt the task at hand by relating the novel to two Models (Historical and Empirical Data, Manners and Customs) of representation in the “real” and “alternative” worlds of The Color Purple.
By focusing on the letters describing the lynching of Celie’s father, and the letter describing Celie’s economic stability and happiness (found in last letter), we will have established a clear distinction between the real and alternative worlds in relation to the economic situations presented throughout the novel. Manners and customs in the “real” generally work to maintain order, decorum, and stability. Within the novel the reality was that blacks had to work for whites on whatever terms were available.
When using manners and customs to depict the real world of the novel, it is evident we are examining an external world based in a society where the white oppressor governs the oppressed black populace. The economic realities of white land ownership, near-monopoly of technical and business skills and control of financial institutions was in fact the accepted norm (Sowell 48). When presenting the term fact – we must account for the introduction of a second model, “historical and empirical data” in representing the real world of The Color Purple.
As illustrated in the pages of American history books, it is evident that American Negro slavery had a peculiar combination of features. The key features of American slavery were that it followed racial or color lines and that it was slavery in a democratic country (Sowell 4). The fact that it existed in a democratic country meant that it required some extraordinary rationale to reconcile it with the prevailing values of the nation. Racism was an obvious response, whose effects were still felt more than a century after its abolition (Sowell 3).
The Models (Manners and Customs, Historical and Empirical Data) of representation in the real world of The Color Purple was made clear when we discover that Celie’s biological father was lynched for being a prosperous storekeeper. “And as he (the father) did so well farming and everything he turned his hand to prospered, he decided to open a store, and try his luck selling dry goods as well. Well, his store did so well that he talked his two brothers into helping him run it. . . . Then the white merchants began to get together and complain that his store was taking all the black business away from them. . . . This would not do”(Walker 180).
The store the black men owned took the business away from the white men, who then interfered with the free market (really the white market) by lynching their black competitors. Class relations, in this instance, are shown to motivate lynching. Lynching was the act of violence white men performed to invoke the context of black inferiority and sub-humanity to the victim, exposing the reality of the economic bases of racial oppression (Berlant 217). The black individual served as a figure of racial “justice” for whites; the black individual was an economic appendage reduced to the embodiment of his or her alienation (Berlant 224).
Color” in the southern U. S. during the early 1900s was synonymous with inferiority. When discussing the economic alternative world illustrated in The Color Purple Celie situates herself firmly in the family’s entrepreneurial tradition; she runs her business successfully. Where her father and uncles were lynched for presuming the rights of full American citizens, Celie is ironically rewarded for following in her family’s entrepreneurial interests. Celie’s shift from underclass victim to capitalist entrepreneur has only positive signification.
Her progression from exploited black woman, as woman, as sexual victim, is aided by her entrance into the economy as property owner, manager of a small business, storekeeper – in short capitalist entrepreneur. The Models (Manners and Customs, Historical and Empirical Data) of representation in the alternative world presented at the end of the novel, leave us with the notion of a happy ending for our heroine Celie. Here Historical and Empirical Data has completely been suspended or erased form existence. There is no reminiscing on evidence of any social mistreatment or racial abuse.
Also the Manners and Customs have been reversed, emphasizing that it is completely natural/normal for a black woman to be running a successful business in the deep American South (which in the real is unheard of, dictated by an extremely racist and sexist society). Celie’s closing sentence: “Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt” (Walker 295) is deliberately replacing her very first utterance, “I am fourteen years old,” (Walker 1) with an assertion of victorious control over the context in which she speaks.
Celie commits herself to the production of a new age but ascribes no value to the influence of her past history or on the culture (Berlant 232). Such a model for the reformulation of black culture threatens to lose certain historical events in the rush to create the perfect relations of a perfect moment. That the text might use the repression of certain kinds of memory as a strategy for representing its new utopian mode of production, signaled in the narrative repression of the class element in the lynching of Celie’s father.
The profit motive killed her father and, indirectly, her mother; it made Celie vulnerable to her stepfather’s sexual imperialism and almost resulted in her disenfranchisement from her property. The Color Purple’s strategy of presenting an alternative (Celie’s economic success) to the real, (lynching of Celie’s father) had indeed aimed to critique the unjust practices of racism and oppression that was present through out the novel. In the novel’s own terms, American capitalism thus has contradictory effects.
On one hand, capitalism veils its operations by employing racism, using the idea of race to reduce the economic competitor to a sub-human object. On the other hand, the model of personal and national identity with which the novel leaves us uses fairytale explanations of social relations to represent an alternative world. This fairy tale embraces America for providing the black nation with the right and the opportunity to own land, to participate in the free market, and to profit from it.
Indeed The Color Purple is a fairytale; a world in which sexual exploitation can easily be overcome; and a world of unlimited access to material well being (Hooks 223). By emphasizing on the letter dealing with the lynching of Celie’s father and the last letter of the novel establishing Celie’s economic independence we have illustrated the real and alternative worlds in relation to the economic prosperity of the black individual. Thus creating an illusionary fantasy world by combining or mediating between the novel’s social realism and its alternative.