How does the sexual identity of the female characters contribute to their overall development in ‘The colour purple? ’ The sexual Identity of female characters contributes to their overall development, particularly in the protagonist, Celie’s life in which the discovery of her sexual identity is crucial in her overcoming oppression. The novel is of young black woman set in rural Georgia, early twentieth century stuck in a harsh patriarchal and segregated society. Alice walker represents these developments through sexual language in epistolary form.
Celie is a mere naive 14 year old girl but by the end of the novel does an independent middle aged woman, both own a home and a business. The novel charts her progress through a series of letters written by her to god or her sister Nettie whom she was separated from in her childhood. Celie’s first introduction to sex was when she was raped by her father. ‘Then he push his thing inside my pussy. When that hurt, I cry. He start to choke’ Such a violent experience is what initially starts her fear of men and pushes her sexuality in the safety of women, who have always been kind to her.
The protagonist sees sex as a form of violence or just as an uninspiring obligation to her husband until she meets Shug who describes virginity as an emotional state rather than sex. If you haven’t had pleasurable sex, she believes you’re still a virgin. Her blissful experiences with Shug empower her giving her confidence and letting her develop as a character, eventually to the point where it cannot be contained and overflows at the dinner table before she leaves with Shug and shares a speech filled with anger and hatred directed towards Mr-.
This is where Celie becomes fully independent and first shows her feminist beliefs. Without Shug, Celie’s development as a character would not have happened. Shug’s character is one that doesn’t develop much during the novel, but has a hand in the development of other characters. She helps bring independence in both Squeak and Celie. She exudes confidence and is described as ‘sassy’. This can be due to her already independent lifestyle, she does as she pleases travelling, is promiscuous and works, earning heavily. Never committing to one person, she prefers to move on, just to be admired.
Although having lesbian relationship is a first for her as well it doesn’t contribute to her character as much as she believes ‘God made it. Listen, God love everything you love’ She believes that God made sex and wants you to enjoy it to its fullest. Sofia relationship with Harpo is one of reversed roles, she likes hard manual labour whereas Harpo prefers to clean around the house and cook. Sofia always expressed her independence and strong demeanour and eventually this got in the way of their relationship Harpo tries to dominate her as his father had used and abused Celie.
Their issues eventually worms its way into their sex life ‘Once he get on top of me I think bout how that’s where he always want to be’ Sofia has lost interested in Harpo, like with every other female character in the novel, she wants sex that comes with love and affection, while on the other hand all the male characters in the novel use it to gratify themselves or as a means to dominate women. Eventually this desire for love and affection drives her to move out and leave, she develops as she eventually realises she deserves more and better.
Once she leaves she finds a prize fighter to satisfy her need for love and attention. Harpo finds a mistress; Squeak, the complete opposite of Sofia, quiet, obedient and Harpo exerts his dominance over her as much as he likes and she doesn’t complain. Although sexually their relationship isn’t revealed Mary Agnes does eventually leave Harpo to sing. Her first defiance against Harpo is after she gets raped by her white ‘Uncle’ at jail when she tries to get Sofia out, her journey to become an independent is symbolised by her name change. She stand up. My name is Mary Agnes’ she begins to insist that people call her by her real name rather than her dismissive nickname, Squeak. She steadily gains power after being raped by the white warden and begins to stand up to all the people in her life that fail to recognise her person, primarily Harpo. She ultimately leaves him to sing and travel. Nettie although absent from the novel in person after the first couple of letters is constantly remembered by Celie.
The only time Nettie comes into remotely any sexual contact is when it Mr- tries to rape her while dropping her off to school one day. After this she becomes a free woman as she runs away. This secures the knowledge that although being promiscuous can lead to be independent it is not required, Nettie travels the world, is educated and self sufficient. She doesn’t try to find personal worth in marriage or sex but rather marries when she becomes a fully happy human being in herself and as a result as a happy and stable marriage with Samuel.
Alice Walker’s novel ‘The colour purple’ based on feminist belief has many themes, one of which. sexuality, is key. It effects all the female characters in the book in some way or another, helping them develop as people whether it’s the lack of it or too much of it. Independence is what it all leads too. This independence is what we all search for and somehow by the end of the novel every female character has found that in their own way.