Trudier Harris argues very strongly that The Color Purple is essentially a fairy tale. She is right, it has all the requirements. An abused passive character ends up with a happy ending where everything turns out as it should. Yes, it does have the makings of a fairy tale, but it also has reality. It shows the darker side of the fairy tales where the suffering is in the words. It exemplifies a story of conquering that many people never obtain. The story shows how far a human mind can be pushed, but yet it can still recover. It shows that even the down trodden can achieve the American Dream though so many people, of multiple races, were never able to catch the carrot of success they were chasing.
Celie is much like a princess from a old time Disney movie. She does little to save herself and it is not until some magical ideal (Shug/ Fairy Godmother) comes into her life and allows her to realize her true potential. It works. The reason there are fairy tales is because everyone wants to believe in their own grandness. Everyone wants to believe they can achieve something. This is not limited by race, it is a human desire to be recognized by other human beings. So it is not fair for Harris to critique that aspect solely on race. Even Disney has only started realizing it’s fault in sexism and has begun creating more independent female characters.
Just like fairy tales there is often an unglamorized version. For example in Cinderella one of the step sisters cut off her own toes so the glass slipper fit her. Walker creates a time placed Cinderella, a woman who bleeds and suffers at the hands of those who are supposed to aid her self worth. She takes the glitter off the mass told story and give Celie something to over come internally before she can ever be seen as human by others. She has been beat down and taken advantage of, but it is her inner self esteem that has truly been stifled.
Harris is arguing there is some falsity in what Walker is doing, creating this fairy tale. That she is simply continuing a lie, “The fable structure thereby perpetuates a lie in holding out to black non-existent or minimally existent hope for a piece of that great American pie.” (pg 160). What she is seemingly forgetting is that no one really got the pie. That is why, even still today, the one-percent is only one percent. Not everyone can be the wealthiest and people of all races came to America, or were liberated in America, with hopes that things would change. Hopes that they would no longer be the oppressed and that they would gain more than their previous situations allowed. Most of these people never even saw the pie, they only heard rumors of if in the mills they worked away in.
Walker was not pandering to any race, sexual orientation, or nationalists. She was simply turning her own social situation into a fairy tale. Whether you believe the myth that any part of it is true is the magic. The point of the story is to see a character that is relatable being pushed past her point of suffering but still recovering. Celie conquered her situation, her suffering, her inner struggle to find herself.
There is much arguing over the representation of the black male in The Color Purple. The way the black men are portrayed is very interesting; they are depicted as abusers and rapists, both are truly awful offenses and understandably no one wants to be associated with such acts. Walker was a black artist working in her predominately black world, that is what she wrote about. I think the more important concern should be her representation of men in general. Celie had no real white male interactions, yet she shied away from all men. Her rejection of all men shows a bigger seeded issue than just black men.
Henry Louis Gates wrote down a definition of the role of Afroamerican literature. Ultimately it states, “:to create a morality for Blackfolk in America, to force Black people to look at themselves.” (pg 322). Walker did him one better, she made all of man kind look at themselves. Yes, her literature only dealt with black men, but she was simply writing what she knew. And what she knew was for rape and assault to be common. Walker’s world was a stand in for the society in general.
Celie does not lust after a white man to ride in and come steal her away from all of the black men who are abusing her. She instead shuns the entire sex and idolizes a strong female to aid her. Shug is the one who helps her realize her beauty. Walker very carefully finds all men responsible for the rape culture. It could be argued that it would have been much too far fetched for Celie to be involved with a white man, but the book itself proves that it has happened before with the existence of Squeak. And if Squeak’s mother was raped by a man (assuming her mother was black because her white uncle disowns her), he would have had to been white, therefore disproving that Walker only degrades black men.
Rape culture is something that exists today and has nothing to do with race, it is about sex. It is how women and men are portrayed by society that hides the truth of it. Walker is exploring the same idea that Celie is literally seen as less than a human and that is why it is excusable. It is not because Celie is black, but it is because she is a woman in a society that condones the idea that she is lesser. Walker is making all of man kind look back at is self, not just the men of color. Unfortunately works that concentrate on mirroring society and pointing out what is wrong is still happening. Recently I viewed a youtube clip title “Rape Poem to End all Rape Poems”. Clearly the culture where exerting dominance on someone else is still viewed as acceptable. The problem is not racial or purely male, the problem is how people view themselves. Walker writes a story of how Celie learns that she actually has self worth and control over her own body. It is her job to tell men no, just as much is it for men to appreciate her common humanity. Walker has a dismal view of all men, not just black men, which should be concerning for all men and not have works solely concentrating on the racial aspect.