“I’m a strong, independent black woman who don’t need no man!” That’s the phrase that has taken the world by storm in regards to black women in American societies. These women haven’t always been this way, and it is difficult to say that, as “the land of the free”, we haven’t always allowed women to be as independent as they potentially could have been. Women of color have especially been the victim of this, and the pre-Civil Rights Era was certainly no exception. From a psychoanalytic standpoint, Alice Walker’s The Color Purple is the story of a young African-American woman’s journey as she searches for independence from her abusive husband and his family, as well as the blossoming of a child into a woman through her experiences outside of the home.
Right from the get-go, we see that Celie is having troubles in her household from a very young age. The novel starts with Celie being raped by her father, or, more specifically, the line her father instructs as he is committing the act of sexual violence: “You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy” (11). The novel slowly progresses through Celie’s childhood through her letters to God, showing how her younger sister, Nettie, is independent, even as a child. Celie tells her to “keep at her books” and that “… [it’s] more than a notion taking care of children that ain’t even [hers]” (14). Mentally, despite all that’s happened to her, Celie is quite mature for her age. This shows that Celie is somewhat independent, although she still depends on her mother and her father to take care of her, even if they do not seem to care what happens to her (or, at least, her father, as her mother seems to only have mention in the beginning of the novel before she dies). Celie’s journey to adulthood just begins here, and her transition from dependence to independence becomes all the more clear. The first and most prime example of this is how Celie is educated through her younger sister, Nettie. Celie and Nettie spend a majority of the novel’s beginning together, in which Nettie teaches Celie how to spell many things, one of the most prevalent being “God”. We see how far she has come in her education when she begins one of her letters with “G-o-d” (27), as opposed to the usual phrase “Dear God” (25). As the novel progresses, her spelling of certain words improves, and her words indicate her dialect lesser and lesser so. While this introduction to her independence may be simple, it indicates that Celie is growing in several mannerisms, both of her time period and not.
As Celie gets older, we see her first gain financial independence as well. As small as it may seem, the mention of pants is overall evidence of Celie gaining some form of independence.
Pants are perceived as masculine and, in Celie’s time period, expensive. Most of us today take no mind in putting on a pair of pants, but for a woman of Celie’s status and background, it was a major statement of both women in general and leadership. According to Celie, “Mr. __ not going to let his wife wear pants” (146). This statement brings Celie’s upcoming independence from him into much more clarity than before. Here, she is not only going against her abusive and inattentive husband’s desires, but she is also making a statement to society as a woman, as well as a statement from the African-American community, which was less than respected in rural Georgia.
One of the other most prominent examples of Celie’s maturity and movement to independence is shown through her relationship with Shug. It is no secret that in The Color Purple, the men see women as objects who exist nothing more than for their sexual desires, or to continue the family line in some way or another. However, when Shug comes into the picture,
Celie experiences all sorts of new feelings that she hadn’t felt with a woman before. The two women have a sexual encounter that is partially for Shug to help Celie realize that God loves her no matter what she decides to do or who supposedly is controlling her, and partially for Celie to realize just how much of a degenerate Mr. __, as well as most men of that time period, actually were. Celie states that “[her] eyes [are] opening” and that she “feels like a fool” (179). Shug tells her that “Man corrupt everything… He try to make you think he everywhere… But he ain’t” (179). Celie then tells Nettie in her letter that “[Mr. __ ] been there so long, he don’t want to budge” (179), showing that not only does she now want to be away from Mr. __ and be independent, but she is now also willing to fight against him if he tries to hurt her in some new way, shape, or form. Celie realizing exactly how Mr. __ had been treating her as well as the other female members of society around him is an awakening for her, and her mindset completely changes from one of depending on her abusive, controlling husband to one of focusing on getting out of the situation in its entirety. At this point, Celie has matured greatly and become independent in her own mind.
At the novel’s beginning, Celie was a young girl of fourteen who had just been raped by her father and who was struggling to have some form of independence. Through the story of a flourishing young African-American woman through times of discrimination and adversities, she becomes wiser, accepts herself as she is through herself and God’s eyes, and becomes independent of those who were abusing her and her family members. In her final letter, she thanks “God, [the] stars, [the] trees, [the] sky, [and the] peoples” (249) for helping her realize everything that was going on in her life, as well as for keeping her younger sister safe in Africa before returning home. She thanks everything for keeping everyone safe and happy with one another, and thanks God a second time just to solidify how thankful she is that she is able to live the life she was finally able to. The Color Purple, while a long, confusing, and endearing story, is an enriching and beautifully imagined tale of loyalty and compassion between sisters and their experiences through time, and it is an excellent read for anyone who loves one’s movement into independence and new lifestyle.