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Throughout the novel, Celie’s relationship with God changes and develops. Explore how Walker presents Celie’s relationship with God.
‘The Color Purple’ written by Alice Walker is an epistolary novel set in the rural southern state of Georgie in the USA. Throughout the novel the theme of God and Spirituality plays a significant part in the protagonist Celie’s life from her beginning as a young girl to when she reaches the age of womanhood. As Celie develops mentally she begins to question her religion and what God actually is.
The first time Celie mentions God is in letter 1, “You better not never tell nobody but God”. This was said to Celie after Alphonso raped and physical abused her. The double negation of “not never” is a common feature used in African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Walker uses AAVE to portray Alphonso as an uneducated African American. Celie confines in no one but God in her letters as she writes her letters to “Dear God” demonstrating that she is isolated from the rest of the world. I think Celie may feel that God is her only escape from the brutal reality she is living in. Furthermore, Celie may see him as a figure to look up to and assumes that he will always be there for her. Celie’s letters are her streams of consciousness and I think Walker is possibly showing that by writing letters Celie is trying to keep her sanity, overcoming past cruel experiences. Other readers might assume that Walker starts with “Dear God” to permit Celie to be in a relationship with God from the very beginning showing that he is there for her. I as a reader also think that Celie writes her letters in a prayer format. Prayers are a tradition that most Christians would recite and then the word ‘Amen’ would follow. The absence of ‘amen’ from Celie’s letters Walker could illustrate Celie’s inability to accept God from whom her Pa told her to confide in. This therefore could be evident that Celie was not very religious early on in her life.
Later on in the novel Celie confesses to Shug that she does not write her letters to God anymore, but instead writes them to her sister Nettie. She says that God to her is “Big and old and tall and greybearded and white”. By this Walker is showing the reader that Celie now sees God as a patriarchal white man who dominates her just like all the other men in her life. She blames God for all her misfortunes. Writing to her sister Nettie demonstrates that Celie has lost the spiritual bond and trusting relationship with God, as he has failed to help her. Celie now puts her faith in Nettie as they both share a close sisterly bond.
With the close relationship Celie and Shug have, Shug shares her vision of God. She tells Celie that to her “God is inside you and inside everybody else. Shug believes that God is everything which includes nature and even inside herself. So Celie focuses more on the creation of everything instead of the person. Celie finally disassociates God as a male and instead calls God ‘it’. Celie finally feels like she matters even if she does not meet standards of a woman. This new view also gives Celie an acceptance to be in a loving relationship with Shug. Celie accept this new faith and becomes an independent woman.
Juliana Ionescu 12YB
The transition from Celie believing that there is only one God (monotheism) to the belief that God and the material world are one and the same thing and that God is present in everything (pantheism) suggest that Celie has moved from being isolated and inferior to having a new bond with the woman she loves and learning to appreciate herself. Celie adopted Shug’s view of God and was able to find peace and closure.
Walker demonstrates in the novel that the need for religion is to be personal and not something that becomes similar to a group i.e. “have you ever found God in church? I never did.” Walker demonstrates that you do not need to go to church to be a true Christian. I think the reason why Celie adopted Shug beliefs about pantheism was because she truly admires and love Shug, she wanted to be like her.
Alice Walker presents the book in a letter form using dialect to help further portray her message of the story. The southern language of the novel helps to portray the description of characters more clearly. “For example, instead of using the word "ask," Celie consistently uses "ast". The effect of this dialogue is to put us right in the middle of Celie’s world – a black, rural, largely uneducated world. The use of syntax is a major part of how this novel is portrayed. It pulls the reader into the mind of an uneducated, abused, black girl. By getting into this mind set, the reader is better able to understand why Celie simply accepts her husband’s control over her. Syntax also helps establish the setting as being sometime in the first half of the twentieth century in the rural South despite the fact the book does not provide any historical facts to determine an actual time line. This links to Celie’s relationship with God as she grew up in a rural southern state which meant that she went to church regularly as a young child. As an older woman, there is no mention in the novel that Celie continues to go to church.
Another major literary feature that Walker uses in the novel is symbolism especially of the colour purple. The colour purple is mentioned by Shug "I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in the field somewhere and don't notice it" The significance of this quote is that it shows the title's meaning and it uncovers an in-depth spiritualism that reflects back on the characters' and the readers ‘perception. It describes how the colour purple represents the beauty and royalty. Throughout the novel, she'd always disregarded everything about herself and never accepted her life. As the colour purple has connotations with royalty, it could signify how Walker views God as majestic and magnificent. This links to pantheism and Celie’s transition from only knowing to worship God by attending church to learning to appreciate all things and that God is present in various shapes or forms as well as all around us in nature.
In conclusion, from the beginning towards the end of the novel Celie matures and develops mentally and spiritually. She changes her view of God and becomes at peace with her life and the world around her. This is made evident as the last letter of the novel is “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear everything. Dear God.” This illustrates that Celie has come to accept God in his many forms. Celie’s final letter brings the spiritual structure of the novel. Not only can Celie express her happiness to God, she shares it with the nature around her in the form of a hopeful prayer.
Juliana Ionescu 12YB