In Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple, the author's

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In Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple, the author's Powered By Docstoc
					        In Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple, the author’s use of extensive imagery

makes the South come alive in the reader’s mind. Set in rural Tennessee, Walker depicts

the lives of a number of black characters years after the Civil War. Through the

description of the land, the dialogue, and the actions of the characters, the reader is able

to piece together the geography of the locale presented.

        From the start of the novel, Walker presents a poor, rural black family living

together and working the land. Not only were the males working in the fields, but the

females were forced to work as well. This was typical of this era in the South after the

war, considering the lack of money the former slaves had after being freed. With

descriptions such as, “Me and him in the field all day. Us sweat, chopping and plowing,”

and “I’m roasted coffee bean color now. He black as the inside of a chimney,” the

reader is able to see the intensity of the labor at hand and the effects it had on the

characters. Walker also describes the homes in the area saying, “Harpo fix up the little

creek house for him and his family. Mr. _____ daddy used it for a shed. But it sound.

Got windows now, a porch, back door.” This example depicts the simplicity of the

houses that many black people were living in during this time. To have a roof over their

head was about all that was needed. Luxury seemed hard to come by in the South for the

blacks, but Walker described New York as a, “beautiful city” saying “And colored people

own a whole section of it, called Harlem. There are colored people in more fancy motor

cars than I ever thought existed, and living houses that are finer than any white person’s

house down home.” From this description of Harlem versus the one of the house in the

South, the reader can imagine the huge monetary difference between some of the blacks
in the North and the South. Thus, from Walker’s descriptive language, it is obvious the

way many black people lived in the South after the war, having little but an old, small

house and farmland to plow. Yet, Walker does include some descriptions of the beauty

of the land saying, “All round the house, all in back of it, nothing but blooming trees.

Then more lilies and jonquils and roses clamming over everything. And all the time the

little birds from all over the rest of the country sit up in these trees just going to town.”

Therefore, Walker is able to fuse the good and bad aspects of the South’s rural landscape

that was settled by blacks in her descriptive nature.

        Walker also makes it evident to readers the level of education many of the blacks

in the novel had received, which is representative of the black community in the South as

a whole in those days. As Walker shows, many females did not finish school, and were

instead married away at early ages. Also, many young males were not able to attend

school long, considering they were needed to help farm the land. Because of this, most

of dialogue in the book is written as if an uneducated person was trying to speak English.

For example, many sentences appear to have not only spelling, but grammatical errors as

well, such as “Where us going? ast the oldest girl.” In one of the main character’s, Celie,

letters to her sister Nettie, she comments on how two women are trying to teach her how

to “talk”. She states, “She say us not so hot. A dead country give-away. You say US

where most people say WE, she say, and peoples think you dumb. Colored peoples think

you a hick and white folks be amuse.” However, in Nettie’s letters to Celie, Walker uses

correct grammar and spelling. This is because Nettie was more educated than most of the

black people in the South, going to school for many years. Therefore, Walker is using

the two sister’s English to show a direct contradiction in the way most blacks in the South
at that time spoke, and the way a few that were schooled well spoke. Thus, the reader is

able to gauge the education level of the characters in the book by their dialogue. This

level is in direct correlation with the level of education of the blacks that really did exist

in the South after the Civil War, due to lack of school funding and time for learning.

        Walker also showed the troublesome life of many black southern women in the

novel. From the beginning, Celie was being raped by her stepfather at the age of

fourteen. She was then given away to a man whom she did not love or care for to be

married. While living with him, she had to take care of his children from another wife

while enduring his beatings. During this time in the South, spousal abuse was common

and even tolerated and thought to be right by some. Walker suggests this when

describing a man, Harpo, trying to discipline his wife, Sofia. Harpo asks his father how

he can get Sofia to listen to him. His father replies, “You ever hit her?” When Harpo

says no, his father says, “Well how you spect to make her mind? Wives is like children.

You have to let ‘em know who got the upper hand. Nothing can do better than a good

sound beating.” Women in the South also knew their place in life. They were to cook

and clean and to mind the men. If the woman was black, she was also forced to mind

white women. After the Civil War, slavery might have been over and done with, but

racism was not. Walker displays many cases of racism such as when Harpo’s wife, Sofia,

gets asked to clean a house by the white mayor’s wife. Sofia replies, “Hell no.” The

mayor then slaps Sofia for her comment, and she punches him. Sofia is arrested and

abused to where:

        “They crack her skull, they crack her ribs. They tear her nose loose on one side.

        They blind her in one eye. She swole from head to foot. Her tongue the size of
       my arm, it stick out tween her teef like a piece of rubber. She can’t talk. And she

       just about the color of a eggplant.”

Therefore, just because a black woman hit a white man, Sofia is put in prison and then

later made to work as a maid for the mayor’s wife for nearly 20 years. This shows the

unfair treatment and sentences blacks received over whites in the South after the Civil

War. Much of this can still be seen today. Thus, the blacks had a general sense of fear

when it came to whites in the South. Walker comically states this when Sofia admits she

does not love a white woman’s child saying, “Some colored people so scared of

whitefolks they claim to love the cotton gin.” Although Walker takes light of the issue of

racism in the South, it was a serious subject (and still can be) for the South considering its


       Walker accurately seems to depict the rural, black south in the novel The Color

Purple. Each of the character’s descriptions of the land and the labor it takes to cultivate

crops shows the intense work ethic that was instilled in black southerners after the war.

Walker also showed the uneducated side of blacks through their dialogue by using

improper grammar and spelling throughout the novel. Finally, Walker shows the struggle

of black women living in the South facing racism and sexism, among many other things

such as raising children and keeping the house clean. Therefore, Walker is able to

present the geography of the locale after the Civil War, allowing the reader to paint an

almost accurate picture of the South in his/her mind; regardless of if he/she has ever even

been to the area.