Women in The Color Purple are forced into two categories: the submissive housewife and the unrelenting warrior. Celie and Sofia could not be more opposite in their approach to men. Celie is physically small, meek and completely trampled by the men that rule over her. She has no interest in men other than abiding by their rules to avoid further abuse. And then we are shown Sofia, a large, assertive woman with a heavy fist. She’s outspoken and emotional. Sofia has been attacked by the men in her life, but she bites back.
“All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my brothers. I had to fight my cousins and my uncles. A
girl ain’t safe in a family of men. But I never thought I’d have to fight in my own house. She let out a breath. I loves
Harpo, she say. God knows I do. But I’ll kill him dead before I let him beat me. Now if you want a dead son-in-law you
just keep on advising him like you doing.” (46)
Sofia is Celie’s first role model, she is a fighter. Celie reveals, “I say it cause I’m jealous of you. I say it cause you do what I can’t. What’s that? she say. Fight” (46). Perhaps Celie thought that being hit every once in awhile is just part of the marital vows, but she also seems to think that Sofia can handle herself and for that reason she is jealous. She is envious that Sofia is strong enough to fight. Although men have mistreated Sofia, she still has the capacity to love herself and others. She tells us she loves Harpo, but can't bear to sacrifice her self-worth to appease his desire to be seen as a dominant, masculine figure. Clearly, Sofia values herself as a woman, and a person who has just as much worth as anyone else. She has no problem hitting her husband, talking back to a white woman or slugging a white man. Although she gets herself into a lot of trouble, she does not sacrifice her self-worth for anything. Not even the husband she loves is safe. Sofia loves herself first.
Celie has lost the capacity to love. Everyone she has ever loved has either died or vanished without much explanation. She cares for Albert's numerous children, but she tells us she does not love them. And without the love of others, Celie loses her self-worth. She is constantly being beat, raped, verbally, and emotionally abused. And what does Celie do? She just sits there and takes it. She is empty inside. “I make myself wood. I say to myself, Celie, you a tree. That’s how come I know trees fear man” (30). Sofia ends up in prison because of her temper, but at least she’s doing something rather than wallowing in self-pity. This reminds me of Martin Luther King’s Letter from Birmingham Jail when he declares that it is better to be radical and enraged by something, then to be moderate or lukewarm.