“ You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy,” Celie is told by her Pa. So that’s what she does in The Color Purple, she writes to God, in letters. She does this, not only because of the command, but also because she is unsure of how to deal with being the subject of rape and abuse.
She doesn’t clearly know how to express herself, and her letters to God is the only thing that would listen to her anyway. As Celie grows older, she gains outside listeners that help her actualize God and herself. And by this self-discovery of existence, she becomes very similar to an existentialist; despite obvious outside differences, where existentialists beforehand usually would be male, white, and European, Celie is female, black, and American, just like Alice Walker, the author of the novel. Each beginning letter is a very private account of Celie’s personal thoughts, at age fourteen we hear her asking God for guidance because she doesn’t understand what’s happening to her, already pregnant with a second child due to being raped by her Pa.
In these letters Celie narrates her life as though she wasn’t really emotionally involved. We get all the facts but it’s hard to put together her character because she doesn’t know how to personally interpret what she feels. She even confuses God’s power to that of her fathers. She seems quite convinced that God killed her baby, and she never makes the distinction that it was her father who got rid of it. Just as she never makes a connection to anyone in her youth, we even feel quite distant from God, whom she relies heavily on as her sole listener. Once Celie is married off she begins her growth of becoming more than just someone to be abused, and to be walked all over.
Celie had the bleakest of circumstances when she was growing up, yet she still had some choices and some freedoms, only she didn’t realize this. This realization came slowly from all the women that she meets. First is when she sees a woman with money, and realizes that she could become something too… if only she had that money.
Next is when Albert’s sisters tell her that she deserves her own dress, her own identity. And when one of the sisters claims that Celie deserved more than a crummy dress, Celie thinks, “ Maybe so. ” This is the first time Celie ever thought she deserved anything. And although she doesn’t get a purple dress like she wanted, she does begin the process of becoming an individual.
Sofia shows her that even as a black, female, wife, she has choices. Sofia is stubborn and doesn’t take beatings, and sticks up for herself even if she is on the lowest rung in society. Celie begins to realize that she is in a similar situation to Sofia, yet she cherishes her existence too much to want to fight, “ What good it do? I don’t fight, I stay where I’m told. But I’m alive. ” It’s not until Celie’s friendship with Shug that she really believes that she’s worth more than how she’s been treated her whole life. Shug breaks away from societal norms, showing that women don’t have to be controlled by men to live.
And she is the first person to make Celie feel like an individual, when she writes her a song. Shug is also responsible for Celie’s awakening to her body, where Shug shows her she’s allowed to enjoy pleasures of the flesh. This allows Celie to exist within her own body, and as her own person, and ultimately she finds her own identity. And even after all this, Shug is also the one who alerts Celie that her sister Nettie is alive, and Albert had been hiding all Nettie’s letters from her. For the first time we see Celie angry. This is where Celie declares to God, “ You must be sleep,” and she decidedly chose to write to Nettie instead of God.
Blaspheming to Shug about her fall from faith, she claims that “ it ain’t easy, trying to do without God. Even if you know he ain’t there… ” Shug tries to convince Celie that God didn’t have to be a white bearded man, whom no black woman could ever feel connected with.
Instead, Celie can create God in everything she sees in nature, as an it, not as a man. Shug tells Celie that not only does her life not have to revolve around God, it doesn’t have to revolve around men either. Celie relates this conversation to Nettie, “ Well, us talk and talk about God, but I’m still adrift. Trying to chase that old white man out of my head..
. ” Celie’s denouncement of God and that he must be sleeping is very existential, where if God isn’t dead, then he must be sleeping, because humans are on their own on Earth. Shug believed that “ God is everything,” from trees, to air, to birds, to other people (in heaven or hell). She identifies the color purple as being one of the most marvelous things God can be seen in, and in a way the color becomes very much like Celie. She once was unnoticed and unappreciated, like purple can be to those who walk right by it without a thought. Yet, now that she is finally becoming a person, she asserts her existence just as she will now begin to notice the color, simply because it exists, and God made it.
Her awareness of the color purple makes her more aware of her own existence as well, which is why she writes, “ I’m pore, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook… But I’m here. ” She finally becomes fully aware that she is a person who deserves to be looked at as such and treated as one.
Therefore, Celie’s final letter is addressed, “ Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God,” to reveal that she no longer sees her God as the white bearded man whom she had no connection with. This new image of God shows her individuality where she’ll create God according to her own terms. This transforms Celie from an object of abuse to an empowered woman, who is finally aware of her own existence.
And in her own unique way she can continue to look at the world, where she can write/speak to anyone she wants. Thus the ending is really the beginning for Celie.