Womens Identities in the Color Purple and Behind A Essay

This essay has a total of 1599 words and 8 pages.

Womens Identities in the Color Purple and Behind A Mask

In an essay of not more than 1500 words, explore the theme of the creation of women's
identities in The Color Purple and one other prose text from Literature and Gender, with a
detailed examination of how the form of each fiction contributes to the impact of the
narratives.


Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple has a rich array of female characters to examine
when answering the above question. I feel that Louisa May Alcott's short story, "Behind A
Mask" offers an equally rich array of female characters to consider. Through the course of
this essay I will show how Walker and Alcott used different narrative techniques and made
different use of language and dialogue to create their characters; and how they each
respectively created very powerful pieces of work, identifying with their characters and
the problems and obstacles faced by them in their everyday lives.


The Color Purple is written in the epistolary style where the main character writes
letters to God. These letters are like a diary where Celie tells her story. This diary
technique contains Celie's innermost thoughts and allows the reader to know the true Celie
because she is able to completely open up in her writing. Walker writers the whole story
thought Celie's (female) perspective, which is particularly useful when we are given
Celie's impression main female characters in the novel, Sophia and Shug. We get a
different view of Nettie because she writes her own letters to Celie.


Certain key events in Celie's life made her the character she is, for example: her
continual rape by her stepfather; the subsequent pregnancies and the loss of her children;
the death of her mother; and the loss of her sister, Nettie. However, through the course
of the novel, Celie finds that she has managed to form close relations with the female
characters of the novel, she finds love and friendship and is finally reunited with her
sister and children who were taken from her.


The Color Purple opens, with Celie writing to God, describing herself as "a good girl"
(the fact that she addresses her letters to God emphasises this) and how her stepfather's
advances to her mother were rejected, resulting in Celie's rape. Before chapter one even
begins we here a pre-echo of Celie's stepfather, "You better not never tell nobody but
God. It'd kill your mammy." So Celie learns to keep quiet to survive and this is a habit
that is hard for her to break.


Celie is a passive character. She is hardworking and domesticated and this is what allows
her to be married off so young. Celie's father and husband describe her as ugly and stupid
but she is able to work and look after children. Celie is made to feel worthless by the
men in her life.


She misses out on the education that Nettie receives and this is apparent when comparing
their styles of writing. Celie writes in the vernacular. This adds some authenticity to
her character, makes it easier to sympathise with her.


Nettie is one of the few stimuli that turn Celie passive to active. When she finds out
that Albert has been intercepting Nettie's letters, she wants to kill him. Shug has to
hold her back.


Celie is in awe of Shug and Sophia. Both women show spirit and strength of character. Shug
is infamous in the area, particularly due to her long-standing relationship with the
married Albert, Until the arrival of Shug, Celie lived in fear of Albert (understandably
considering the basis of their marriage) and she is amazed to see the effect Shug has on
Albert, reducing him almost into a little boy. When Celie and Shug become friends, Celie's
life improves dramatically. Not only does she now have a close female friend but Shug is
able to use her influence and discourage Albert from beating Celie. Towards the end of the
novel, the relationship that Albert and Celie both have with Shug draws them together and
although Albert asks Celie to marry him again, she declines. Sexually she has no interest
in men but is happy to remain friends. At the end of The Color Purple Celie and Albert
manage to form a friendship that they didn't have when they were married. Celie stood up
to Albert and had the courage to leave him. After this he made effort to be clean and to
try to change himself. This is a major turning point for Celie. Instead of feeling that
she cannot control things and that she can only allow things to happen to her, she
realises that her actions can have consequences and the reactions can be good.


In Shug, Celie finds someone to love. This area of her life has been empty. Everyone that
Celie had the potential to love was taken from her. Although her love for Shug is sexual,
there is also a deep bond of friendship between the two women.


Compare Celie with the main character of Louisa May Alcott's Behind a Mask. Jean Muir's
character could not be much further removed from Celie's in The Color Purple. As much as
Celie is a passive character, Jean Muir is active, controlling and manipulative. Until the
end of the story she plans and controls the events in the Coventry household.


There are, however, some similarities between Jean Muir and Celie. Both disguise
themselves, Celie behind her mask of tolerance and passivity and Jean Muir hides behind a
mask of domesticity and compliance. But Alcott does not only use "mask" metaphorically, at
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