Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 10th grade May 2001

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The Color Purple, by Alice Walker is a novel about the struggle of black women with both racism and sexism. It is impossible to differentiate between both gender roles and racial identity because Walker has intertwined the two, as they are in reality, into the all around mistreatment of black women. Walker has put together these ideas into a single, specific discrimination, never dealing with the overall oppression of blacks. The novel is a complex analysis of race-sex relations and racial-sexual identity.

The society and situations Celie is placed in serve as a parallel to the situation of black women in Africa. Celie suffers rape within her childhood home and physical abuse once she is given unwillingly into marriage. She is Christian, yet her service and faith in the lord does not ease her suffering. Instead, the church she attends augments sexism in Celie's life through their belief in restrictive notions of feminism.

The women and men at church stare at Celie while she was pregnant, passing judgment. The church condemns Shug Avery; they disapprove of her risqué clothing and singing, smoking, and her sexually free and active lifestyle. Celie is sheltered from and oblivious to her sexuality until Shug reveals it to her. When Celie and Shug become lovers, Celie is able to experience the pleasures of her sexuality for the first time. The liberation of Celie's sexuality a representation of what needs to happen for black women to become free from all oppression.

Nettie's journey to Africa is an important part of the novel because Walker uses the Olinka women to reinforce her statement of black women's oppression. Walker shows that this discrimination is not a problem specific to America. The Olinka tribe is polygamous and repressive. The women have no control over their lives; they are the property of their husbands who choose everything from what the women eat to whether they live or die. They do not believe in educating women for their only use is to produce children. Although this is seen as cruel and primitive, Mr. _____ marries Celie only to raise his children and clean his house.

Tashi is seen as Celie's unconscious alter ego. She is uncertain about her cultural identity because she sees the injustices in her tribe. She is rebellious even as a young child and after meeting Olivia, not a coincidence being Celie's daughter, she realizes the shortcomings of the Olinka lifestyle. She does not participate in tribal rituals, and secretly pursues an education through Olivia.

The Color Purple portrays the complexity of both racial and sexual identities as a universal struggle. It shows the reader that black women in America and Africa suffer the same problems of racial-sexual oppression. Black women face the problem of belonging to two separate oppressed groups. Walker's novel shows that if the collective problems of blacks are to be addressed and the collective problems of women are to be fought for, then so must the collective plight of black women. This novel establishes the need of a separate movement for black women to obtain a collective racial identity in which they are equals with black men. Creating a movement for liberating blacks from racial oppression is hypocritical if black women are not equal to black men within their racial identity.