The Theme Of God, Religion And Spirituality In The Color Purple By Alice Walker
Alice Walker has described The Color Purple as a novel which examines the journey from conventional Christian belief to a more unique and personalized interpretation of the nature of God and Spirituality. This research paper will focus on the recurring theme of God, Religion and Spirituality throughout the novel. Alice Walker was an Agnostic herself and in this novel she shows us the multi-faced and multifaceted views on what it’s like to be a Christian in the American South but more importantly, she highlights what religion can be for each individual person. Celie, a devout Christian woman shows her faith in an obvious and inherent way in the start of the novel by addressing her letters to God. In her first letter we have a limited view of what exactly she means by God because God in itself is a very objective and abstract concept. In these letters written by Celie we see an evolving idea of who God is and what God can be. The spirituality of a person is something that is very personal to them. For Celie who was exposed to the cruelness of the world at a young age, her mental age is far older than her actual age. The first time she was raped by her stepfather, he told her not to tell anyone about it except god. When she got pregnant for the first time and her mother asked who the father of the baby was, her answer was god. And then after she gave birth and her mother asked where the baby was, she said God took it away. Celie’s faith in god is evident but underdeveloped. The one who actually took away the baby was her stepfather, it seems that she often blurs the difference between God’s will and that of Alphonse.
God is the only one she can confide in and seems to be the only one who listens to her voice. Celie viewed God as an imposing rigid figure composed of a strict set of moral codes and rules due to the patriarchal and conservative religious teachings forced on her to instil female obedience within society. She wanted to honor the bibles teachings about respecting one’s parents and spouses but she was never exposed to the verses in the bible where men are supposed to be loving and not harsh to the women in their lives. This selective teaching of the bible was a way to keep the society male dominated. Ironically, this method of Selective Teaching was used by Slave owners to justify slavery. Celie finds the act of self-expression really difficult and she grows numb to the pain she constantly endures. She does not really express herself verbally but these written confessions to god seem to be silent pleas for help. She has faith but it seems very fruitless since she is still abused and tossed around like a rag doll. The futility of her existence in her husband’s household and the fact that the only person she can talk to is god shows that he was one of her few last threads of hope against the cruel world she lived in. When she tells Sofia she is jealous of her because she can’t fight back or even be harsh with anyone and even when she does feel frustrated, she talks to god, Sofia replies by telling her she needs to fight back and think about heaven later. This is yet another interesting perspective brought up by Walker. There is always a theme of right vs. wrong when it comes to the bible and violence is always labelled as wrong. But every once in a while you have to fight back, not just to hurt the other person but to protect yourself. Religion has always had a powerful hold over society and the American South was not an exception from this rule.
As a frequent sufferer of sexual and emotional abuse, Celie views God in the start as a morally righteous and strong willed God who demands perfection and the results of imperfection are pain. This leads to the development of the inferiority complex and self-doubt that Celie feels throughout the novel. The physical embodiment of God in her mind is a white man who dictates what happens in the world and what happens to her. Celie is not the only one who goes through a journey of spiritual discovery, Nettie who was once a devout follower developed her own sense and definition of God and Spiritualty before Celie when she was a missionary in Africa. When Celie learns the truth about her family’s history and how her father was actually her stepfather, she feels betrayed by god and loses faith. She ends her last letter to god by saying that he must be asleep. She starts addressing her letters to Nettie after that. As Celie grows up and her view of the world around begins to change, she realizes that praying and writing letters to someone who does not help her, offers no kind of relief from the difficulties of her life with an abusive husband. Nettie’s letters help Celie understand that the image of God that white people have created is misleading and that black people have been conditioned to believe God is white. Celie’s view of God again evolves after she meets Shug Avery, she convinces Celie that God is more than what white people say. Shug sees God as this spiritual entity present everywhere and in everything with no race or gender, not someone who exists far above and away from the human scope of perception but as “everything”. She was rejected by the church and named a “harlot”, so she in turn rejected the church and its teachings. She took control of her own beliefs. Walker shows strict inherence to the idea that God manifests himself in nature and emphasizes on the unnecessariness of an organized religious structure. Shug talks about the color purple and how it is so rare in nature. She associates God with purple and that purple is a royal color since it so rare and unique so she thinks it must be a manifestation of god. She appreciates god by appreciating all the aspects of life, from nature to sex to the color purple.
Shug acts as an antidote to all the trauma and suffering Celie has faced throughout her life and opens her eyes to a whole new field of possibilities. Celie’s understanding that no one really has any control over the abstractness of God and the fact that she does not really have to follow institutionalized religion and has the right to form her own beliefs and faith is an important stepping stone into her discovery of self-expression and independence. Nettie’s return to her also re-instils her faith in the world around her, that even if the world is cruel, you can still find beauty within. This shows her transition from the belief of God as a single old white man to a God that exists all around her. This evolution of Celie and her beliefs is an important part of her development. She is finally liberated when she reaches this point of self-actualization. Celie’s address in her final letter shows that she has finally formed her opinion of God.
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