By Andrew Robinson
You’re only as good as the company you keep. Unfortunately the main character and protagonist in The Color Purple, Celie, didn’t get to choose the company she kept. Therefore, it was difficult for her to see the good in herself throughout this movie. Celie was both verbally and physically abused from a very young age, but what is even worse is that she accepted this because she didn’t know any better. As a result of being uneducated, Celie felt as though she had no voice and/or rights in a time and place where they both were evidently obtainable. Celie is proof that the statement knowledge is power is true, whereas she only discovers her true self and reaches her full potential through the knowledge she obtains through the relationships she builds with other women throughout the movie.
“I am I have always been a good girl. Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me,” Celie says to God. Celie had just given birth to her daughter, Olivia, who was fathered by the man Celie believed was her biological father. Although the fact that she starts her statement with “I am” and changes it to “I have” seems very minor, the director uses dialogue to suggest that Celie feels as though she is no longer a good girl. Celie is also fourteen at the time, which shows that this lack of self-esteem began at an early age. Celie’s younger sister, Nettie, who is obviously more aesthetically pleasing and intelligent, is the only person Celie can turn to. Nettie tries to pass on all the knowledge she has to Celie and she also helps keep her sane, whereas she is the only person that genuinely loves Celie at the time.
Nettie was a role model to Celie, whereas Celie aspired to be more like her. Therefore I would declare Nettie a flat character in this movie. Throughout the movie she didn’t change much because she was already the person she needed to be which is why she was able to play such an important role in Celie’s life. Thus, this would make Celie the round character in this movie being that this movie primarily focuses on her gradual transformation and her finding herself.
The love between Celie and Nettie is mutual so in return there is no limit to how far Celie will go to protect Nettie. Thus, when Nettie’s hand is requested in marriage Celie offers her hand in place of Nettie’s because she feels Nettie is too young. However, Nettie is Celie’s only source of empowerment so she becomes powerless once she gets married and moves in with her husband, Mr. . Before Celie and Nettie are separated for good, Nettie teaches Celie how to read and promises her that she will write her frequently so they can stay in touch.
For the most part, The Color Purple has a sad mood and/or tone that puts emphasis on the hardships Celie faces throughout the film. Celie is also the primary narrator in The Color Purple, which adds to the sad, depressing mood of the movie. I wouldn’t say Celie embraces her flaws in the movie, but she is definitely aware of them and speaks to us freely about them, which makes it easy for us, the viewers, to like and root for her. Celie accepts her flaws and hardships and instead of sulking about it, she speaks to God about them—or Nettie when she was able to do so.
Unfortunately, Mr. despises Nettie and Celie’s relationship so he threatens to beat Celie if she ever touches the mailbox and makes her believe that nothing ever comes in the mail for her. Eventually Celie accepts the fact that Nettie doesn’t write her and after a number of years go by she’s forced to believe that Nettie has died. There is a much bigger picture to Mr. not allowing Celie to communicate with Nettie. As I said before knowledge is power and at this time the ability to read and write is the only knowledge or power Celie has. So preventing her from using this knowledge she now possesses makes her completely powerless—at least for now.
That leads me to my analysis of the script and the dialogue in the movie. We are introduced to Celie as a poor, uneducated, black woman with low self-esteem. She communicates with God and Celie through short letters that are grammatically incorrect. Celie’s literacy is a symbol of her strength as a person and the more she writes the stronger she gets. Mr. knows this and this is why he despises Celie and Nettie’s relationship. Him keeping them from communicating is symbolic of him keeping Nettie stagnate as far as her progression towards finding herself and becoming a stronger individual.
As time goes by, Mr. ‘s son, Harpo, falls in love and has a child with a woman named Sofia. Sofia is blunt, assertive, and rebellious and will not back down from anyone whether they are a man, woman, black, or white. Up until this point in the movie we’ve only been introduced to the stereotypical, submissive, nineteenth and twentieth-century housewife (Celie) so Sofia immediately grabs the viewers’ attention. Mr. is not very fond of Sofia, but Celie, on the other hand, is inspired and admires her rebellious ways and even becomes jealous of her at one point. Celie’s jealousy soon outweighs the admiration she has for Sophia, which leads her to influence Harpo to beat Sophia how Mr. beats her. Although Harpo’s attempts at beating Sofia to control her are unsuccessful, Celie regrets ever telling him to do it in the first place.
“Let’s make quilt pieces out of these messed up curtains she say. And I run git my pattern book. I sleeps like a baby now,” Celie says in reference to Sofia. Here they use symbolism to show how unity empowers women and how the fight against oppression isn’t as bad when women stick together. When the curtains were “messed up” Celie couldn’t sleep and things were in turmoil. The finished products of the quilt pieces they made were symbols of unity and empowerment; Celie and Sofia made up and now Celie was able to sleep. Unfortunately, as a result of gender roles, the idea of how Harpo thought he and Sofia’s relationship should be because of outside forces, and Sofia’s independence and refusal to submit, Sofia left Harpo.
“Sofia right about her sisters. They all big strong healthy girls, look like amazons. They come early one morning in two wagons to pick Sofia up.” In Celie’s case, Sofia leaving Harpo was both a gift and a curse. It was a curse because she was losing a friend—the only friend she had at the time. Also, by Sofia leaving, Celie was more vulnerable to oppression seeing that women were much stronger both figuratively and literally when they were together. Despite the negative aspects of Sofia leaving Harpo it was also a gift as I said before. It was a gift because Sofia gained knowledge in the limited time she spent with Sofia and more knowledge meant more power.
“Sofia gone six months, Harpo act like a different man. Used to be a homebody, now all the time in the road,” Celie said. Celie now knew that a woman had the power to change a man and if you didn’t force him to do better then he probably never would. Sofia’s independence and strong will brought out the best in Harpo and Celie realized that. Celie also knew now that she actually had a voice and a choice—whether she used it or not was her decision.
Celie wouldn’t make the decision to use her voice and make a choice until she met a woman named Shug Avery—another flat character in this movie. Celie loved Shug Avery from the first time she laid eyes on a photograph of her. Shug reminded Celie of her mother so Celie made numerous comparisons of the two throughout the movie. “You sure is ugly,” was the first thing Shug ever said to Celie. However, as I said before, Shug reminded Celie of her mother so Celie’s unconditional love for Shug made it easy to look pass this and everything else Shug ever did to Celie.
“Shug Avery sit up in bed a little today. I wash and comb out her hair. She got the nottiest, shortest, kinkiest hair I ever saw, and I loves every strand of it,” Celie says. Here they use imagery, paradox, and hyperbole to explain Celie’s love for Shug Avery. The filmmaker focuses in on Shug Avery’s hair, which is the opposite of the stereotypical hair of a woman who is described as aesthetically pleasing. He uses objective point of view momentarily to make the viewers feel as though we are looking through Celie’s eyes or right there with her and Shug Avery. Nonetheless, Celie loves everything about Shug Avery’s hair, which is contradictory of the description she gave of it. Celie loved everything about Shug Avery despite all of her flaws, but more importantly Shug Avery loved everything about herself despite all of her flaws. This is a lesson within itself; Shug Avery shows Celie that it is not about how everyone else views you, but instead it is how you view yourself that matters most and this affects how others view you.
Shug Avery also taught Celie what love was and what it felt like. Celie knew she didn’t love Mr. and she didn’t think she was a lesbian, but it bothered her whenever Shug Avery and Mr. slept together. “This Grady, she say. This my husband. The minute she say it I know I don’t like Grady,” Celie said. It was now clear that it was her love for Shug Avery and the idea of anyone else getting close to Shug Avery that she didn’t like. Celie wasn’t a lesbian, but Shug Avery played a number of roles in her life, some being romantic. In the process, Shug Avery learned things about Celie and her body that Celie didn’t even know about herself. Thus, Shug Avery determined that Celie was still a virgin at heart and mind because she had never had an orgasm or even enjoyed sex in any form or fashion, yet.
“Me and Shug cook, talk, clean the house, talk, fix up the tree, talk, wake up in the morning, talk,” Celie says. Celie and Shug Avery talked more than anything else and this is how Shug helps Celie find out all these things out about herself. Shug just allowing Celie to “talk “ was most significant because it let Celie know that what she thought, felt, and/or had to say mattered. This was the last bit of knowledge and power Celie needed to move forward with her life being that she felt stuck before as I said. This further supports my claim of Celie being a round character in the movie.
Celie then decides to leave Shug Avery’s house in Memphis, Tennessee and move back to Georgia. However, this time Celie lives on her own in a home that she inherited from her mother. Living in Memphis liberates Celie and although she felt trapped mentally, physically, and spiritually growing up in Georgia, she took what she had learned in Memphis back to Georgia.
Each female that Celie came into contact with in this movie played a significant role in her development. Nettie taught her how to read and write, which gave her a voice. Sofia let Celie know that she had a right to use that voice when she felt the need to. Finally, Shug Avery gave her the power to use that voice and most importantly let her actions speak for her. Shug Avery also showed Celie that life was beautiful and that God wanted us to enjoy it. With the help of these women and the knowledge she gained from them, Celie was able to do so. The purple flowers that the filmmaker purposely focuses in on at the end of the movie symbolizes Celie’s transformation and it also shows that she is now beginning to see the beauty of life and all of God’s creations despite her struggles.