Color Purple, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the eponymous novel by Alice Walker, recounts the tale of Celie Harris and the obstacles she had to overcome in order to achieve the freedom she longed for and deserved. The Color Purple deals with many social issues including racism, sexism, and poverty, but a major underlying theme within the film is belonging. There are many ways in which the theme of belonging is expressed in The Color Purple. With the film, belonging can refer to the concept of being part of a family, social class, or community. Another way to look at belonging within the film is the concept of belonging to someone else, whether it is physically or spiritually.
The Color Purple tells the story of Celie Harris, later Celie Johnson, and the tumultuous life that she leads. At the beginning of the film, the audience is introduced to a fourteen-year-old Celie who is about to give birth to her second child. It is soon revealed that Celie has been impregnated by the man whom she believes is her father; it is later revealed that he was not her biological father, but rather her stepfather. She is subsequently married off to a local widower Albert Johnson to whom she refers to as Mister. Her relationship with Mister is proven to be a difficult one as she moves from the abusive relationship at home to an abusive relationship with her husband. While she is married to Mister, Celie meets and develops relationships with several women that help her to become a stronger person and eventually break free from the abusive cycle she has become stuck in (The Color Purple, 2011). It is through these women that Celie finally learns what it is to belong to something bigger than herself.
The Color Purple is focused around Celie Harris and the relationships that she develops with various women in her life. These women, including her sister Nettie, her stepdaughter-in-law Sofia, and her husband's mistress Shug Avery, help Celie develop her sense of self and enable her to break free from a life of torment and abuse. It is through these relationships that Celie is able to turn her longing into belonging. Though Celie appears to be part of the same social class as these women, that is to say, she is considered to be part of a different social class than white people, she is unlike these women. While Nettie, Sofia, and Shug are independent women who refuse to let others take advantage of them, whether other's are attempting to force themselves upon them as in Nettie's case, or refusing to submit to gender roles and be submissive towards men as in Sofia's case; Shug also refuses to allow herself to be pigeon-holed into social submission and lives her life freely, though her behavior may be considered unbecoming of a decent lady (The Color Purple, 1985). Celie, on the other hand, is very submissive and the polar opposite of these women. Celie lets herself be taken advantage of by others, including being raped by the man she believes to be her father, is extremely submissive to her husband and is essentially reduced to being a slave to Mister (her husband), living in fear, and raising his children. When Celie finally stands up to her abusive husband, she finds the strength and independence, a characteristic that is found among the most influential women in her life and finds herself belonging to that group having left her past behind.
Belonging to a family is also a major theme within The Color Purple. At the beginning of the film, Celie is shown to have a very close relationship with her sister, Nettie, and the two girls are nearly inseparable. Also evident at the beginning of the film, is Celie's pregnancy. It is soon revealed that she has been raped by her father and has been pregnant by him once before. Celie is not allowed to keep her children as they are taken away from her by her father as soon as they have been born. Celie loves her children regardless of the circumstances under which they were conceived and though her father has allegedly taken her children away and killed them in the forest, she knows that he has actually given them away to a loving, religious family. Though her children are being raised by another family, Celie, and Nettie, know that they belong together as a family. Nettie ensures that the family is reunited after years of being apart, including a time when the children and their family, and Nettie lived in Africa doing missionary work. Another instance of familial belonging occurs when Celie marries Mister. When Celie marries Mister, Celie not only belongs to Mister's family, but when her sister asks to stay with her and her new husband, Mister allows Nettie to stay at the house because she is now family. Mister's warped sense of family effects Nettie as he attempts to treat her, and take advantage of her, much like he does Celie. Granted that Mister initially wanted to marry Nettie, is it inappropriate that he tries to take advantage of her. When Nettie rejects Mister's advance, she is summarily thrown from his house and is no longer welcome or considered part of his family. Furthermore, he does not allow Celie to remain in contact with her sister, though Nettie has promised to write to her. Unbeknownst to Celie, Mister keeps any and all correspondence that Nettie sends hidden away and leads Celie to believe that her sister has forgotten about her. Moreover, Mister does not respect Celie in her role as his wife. He is not faithful to her and treats her as though she was there to help raise his children and maintain his property. He does not truly respect their relationship as he openly flaunts his love for another woman, Shug. Not only does Mister cheat on Celie with Shug, but he also moves her into their home in order to be closer to her. The affection that Mister shows towards Shug is vastly different than the affection he has towards Celie. This is most evident the morning after Shug is brought to Mister's home. Mister attends to Shug like he has never attended to Celie. He is excited that she has moved into his house and eagerly attempts to prepare breakfast for Shug; the extremes to which Mister is willing to go for Shug, even in the preparation of breakfast, are at times hilarious and dangerous, but are indicative of what he is willing to sacrifice for her.
Social status is also an important issue within The Color Purple. Though the film does not depict much interaction between members of the black community and those in the white community, the interaction that is depicted shows a strained relationship between the two communities. In the film, black people are shown to not belong to the same social class as white people and are, for the most part, considered to be inferior to them. The tension between the black community and the white community is best seen through Sofia and her reaction to being offered a job when Miss Millie, a wealthy white woman offers her a position within her household as a maid. When Sofia rudely rejects Miss Millie's offer, Miss Millie's husband becomes confrontational and true to her character, Sofia fights back. Unfortunately, because Sofia is not considered to be an equal member of society, she is unjustly and unfairly persecuted and prosecuted. Sofia is subsequently forced to spend several years in jail for attempting to defend herself from people that ensured she was made to feel as though she was not welcome and did not live up to their standards.
Physically belonging to another person is also a major theme within the film. Though slavery has been abolished for approximately 50 years within the film, this does not prevent Mister from treating Celie as such. Mister harbors resentment towards Celie because he was not intent on marrying her, but rather had his eye on her sister Nettie. Mister settled for Celie because he desperately needed someone to help raise his children and keep his house. When Celie first arrives at Mister's home, she is antagonized by Mister's children and immediately made to feel like an outsider. She is immediately put to work and forced to clean up after the family. Mister essentially treats Celie like a slave, frequently beating her and abusing her. Whereas Celie has been beaten into submission, Sofia, Celie's daughter-in-law, is the opposite of her. She refuses to be pushed around and does not wait to be accepted by Mister into his family. Rather, she commands respect and does not fear, nor is she hesitant, to fight back. While Mister encourages his son Harpo, Sofia's husband, to beat her into submission, she fights back and in return forces Harpo to submit to her. Sofia does not wait for an invitation to…