They tear her nose loose on one side. They blind her in one eye. She swole from head to foot. Her tongue the size of my arm, it stick out tween her teef like a piece of rubber. She can't talk. And she just about the color of an eggplant" (Walker, Part 2, pg. 87).
In this case, the color purple is used as a symbol of the oppression of the black woman. Because a black women hit a white man, Sofia was put in prison. After she got out, she was made to work as a maid for the mayor's wife for another 20 years. Black women were not allowed to defend themselves in any manner and had to take their beatings. Fear was the major tool used for the oppression of black women in the Old South. Their purple bruises were the outward symbol of their oppression.
Dreams Never Mentioned
The black women in the south had to chose between their need for freedom and self-determination and safety. Celie puts it best, "I don't say nothing. I think bout Nettie, dead. She fight, she run away. What good it do? I don't fight, I stay where I'm told. But I'm alive" (Walker, Part 1, pg. 29). The black woman may feel the need for freedom, but they understand the risk that these notions entail. They may feel it, but fear may keep them from realizing their dreams. They learn to censor their dreams and ambitions to meet society's mold for them. A black woman's place in life was predestined before her birth.
Violence takes its place as an acceptable part of culture and a tradition that is passed on from father to son on Celie's wedding day. On the day that Celie married Mr. ____, she is beaten. Mr. ____ teaches the tradition of violence to his children. One child throws a stone at Celie's head, something learned by imitating Mr. ____. Wife beating was considered manly and proper in this rural culture (Salzer, p. 8). Harpo is embarrassed that he does not beat Sophia, and when his father chastises him, he goes home to make amends. However, Harpo ends up being the one with the bruises. Sophia will not relinquish control and refuses to take the subservient role. This is an embarrassment and source of public ridicule and scorn for Harpo for his apparent inability to control his wife in the proper manner. This makes him less of a man in the eyes of the surrounding culture.
Throughout the novel, Celie remains the perfect, subservient role model for the Black women. This is juxtaposed against Sofia, who exemplifies what they all may feel inside, but do not show. In the end, when Celie find Nettie's letters written to her and hidden by Mr. ____, she too thinks of violence, demonstrating the inner turmoil that these oppressed women must harbor. Celie begins to see her own beauty, which begins a transformation within her (Byerman, p. 321). Celie is the heroine of the story because she must overcome the mental anguish of the beatings, yet remain the perfect wife and woman according to the rules of the dominant culture (Bloom, p. 181).
In conclusion, evidence from the book supports the thesis that violence from a man to a woman was not only tolerated, but was expected and that women were regarded as nothing more than livestock. This issue remains a central theme in the book and paints a picture of a south that was highly stratified culturally. The Color Purple is used throughout the book to signify the oppression of black women in the culture of the Old South. Walker uses Celie as a picture of the perfect woman who knows her place. She uses Sophia to show the degree with which black women had to suppress their feelings, even if they were right.
Bloom, H. Alice Walker's the Color Purple. Philadelphia, PA: Chelsea House. Place of Publication: Philadelphia. 2000. pp. 181.
Byerman, K. Desire and Alice Walker: The Quest for a Womanist Narrative. Johns Hopkins University Press. 1989. p. 321.
Cutter, M. Philomela Speaks: Alice Walker's Revisioning of Rape Archetypes in the Color Purple. MELUS. 2000. pp. 161.
Magill, F., Kohler, D., and Mazzeno, L. Masterplots: 1,801 Plot Stories and Critical Evaluations of the World's Finest Literature. African-American Literature Series. # 47. Salem Press. 1996.