The various waves of feminism throughout history have proven numerous times the difficulties involved when attempting to gain equal rights. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, demonstrates theses hardships. The feminist lens acts as a tool for thoroughly examining Walker’s portrayal of women. Through the character of Celie, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple portrays the oppression of women’s rights in a patriarchal society, the horrors of physical abuse of women, as well as the continuous struggle to overcome these societal injustices.
The limit of women’s rights is clearly portrayed from the beginning of the film. The time period of the early 1900’s sets a perspective and provides context as to why the rights of women were violated or deemed insignificant. Celie is a prime example of this oppression, and receives treatment that is much beyond terrifying. This is evident when the viewer witnesses Celie giving birth at the age of fourteen to her second child. The fact that her father made the child with her truly demonstrates the inequality and indifference of men towards women.
During the scene, Celie’s father waits by the doorway and says, “Ain’t you done yet?” (“The Color Purple”). The whole content of the scene, from Celie revealing her young age to the viewer, to her father waiting impatiently for his daughter to finish giving birth, demonstrates the injustices faced by women, specifically African-American women, during the 1900’s. The film constructs an image of women as something inhumane, which is unmistakably visible in the negotiation scene between Celie’s father and Mister. The discussion between Mister and Celie’s father as to whom Mister may take as his bride, Celie or Nettie, demonstrates how women at this time were essentially treated like property. The high camera angle makes Celie appear weak in this scene as it dehumanizes her.
The portrayal of physical abuse reinforces the physical and psychological oppression of women. These portrayals exhibit the gender issues at the time and the continuous diminishing of hope for women. With the constant physical abuse, it is expected women will feel hopeless and desperate as they often have no one to turn to. Celie exhibits both hopelessness and desperation in the film until she finally does meet someone she can turn to, Shug Avery. Shug serves as a symbol of hope and freedom for Celie as she is not bound to a man and has gained this independence through her singing career. In one scene, when Celie hears that Shug will be going back to Memphis, she desperately begins packing in hopes of going with her.
The scene itself is immensely powerful and utilizes tracking/dolly shots to emphasize Celie’s desperation. The viewer may interpret this scene as Celie beginning to stand up for herself. In fact, it is quite the contrary. Celie has not yet worked up the courage to follow through with her plan, as she is not even able to tell Shug she wants to leave with her. The continuous physical abuse that Celie has had to endure throughout her life has instilled fear deep within her, which she is unable to overcome. When Shug leaves, Celie’s hope is actually further diminished as she feels that any chance at freedom has gone with her. This chain of events makes Celie appear weak, as she now must decide whether to continue to overcome the struggle or simply continue to exist in her current manner.
Celie’s struggle to overcome the state that she is in is not established until her encounter with Shug Avery. Once Shug sparks the idea that Celie can leave this life, Celie is finally able to attempt to better her situation. Although Celie is left feeling hopeless when her attempt to leave with Shug fails, she finally decides to fight back later in the film. This occurs when she realizes that Mister has been hiding years of letters that were sent from Nettie, the one person in her life who actually loved her.
After this heart wrenching discovery, Celie actually goes as far as attempting to murder Mister. This occurs in the scene when Celie is shaving Mister with a razor-sharp blade for the second time. This scene reveals to the viewer how much power women can actually have. Celie is shown from a low angle, giving the viewer the impression that she is some looming, dominant threat. Although Shug prevents Celie from murdering Mister, Celie is still determined to leave Mister. After an entire life of continuously being beaten down physically and emotionally, Celie realizes she needs to stand up.
Finally, the scene in which Celie is having dinner with her entire family, Celie is able to successfully do so. This occurs as Celie cusses Mister out and tells the entire family how she really feels. She tells him, “The jail you planned for me is the one you’re gonna rot in” (“The Color Purple”). This, in turn, leads to the “resurrection” of Sophia. The sight of another woman finally standing up for herself in such a bold manner allows Sophia to “rise from the dead” and come “back to life”.
At the end, Celie is able to leave with Shug to a better life and finally overcomes her lifelong struggle once and for all. As Shug drives away with Celie she yells at Mister, “I’m poor, black, I might even be ugly, but dear God, I’m here. I’m here” (“The Color Purple”).
Through the portrayal of a male dominant society, physical abuse, and the fight for women’s rights, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple establishes an overall positive view of the capabilities of women. Despite all the troubles and horrors Celie has to endure from Mister, Celie is the one who ends up at the top and Mister is left with a miserable future. Walker portrays the hardships that may be evident in a woman’s life and proves the continuous fight for the end of injustice can be reached.