Monday, March 24, 2014

Letter to No One

The Color Purple is composed entirely of letters addressed to someone who may or may not actually be reading them. Although Celie’s life has improved since the beginning of the book. This has been over a very long time and not without trial. Even now, she still feels the hurt of being unheard and unworthy of the attention of others. She has been given no reason to believe that God is even hearing her. He is, however, sometimes all she has at all. As long as she can talk to God, she will have something. Celie’s relationship with God is, like almost all of her relationships, is quite one-sided. Her letters to Him are not really prayers, rather just information from her. She does not expect anything in return and therefore is not hurt by God. To protect herself, Celie has taught herself not to expect good things from life. Instead, she feels nothing.
There are three notable scenes, however,  when Celie fails at shutting out her feelings and living without expectations. These are all when her life stops being one-sided and she gains attention from others when it was not expected. The first is when Sofia approaches her for telling Harpo to beat her. Beating was what Celie had come to expect from husbands and thus her advice to Harpo seemed logical at the time. With more thought, Celie soon realizes that this was not right and she had done a “sin against Sofia spirit” (Walker 39). She is unable to sleep because her actions had negatively affected another person and she is forced to feel responsible for them. This ultimately results in an unprecedented sharing of herself to someone other than God; someone who can talk back to her.
Another time Celie feels something when she does not expect to is when she encounters Shug’s naked body. Celie has, understandably, emotionally removed herself from all things sexual. She has never derived pleasure from sex, especially because her first sexual experiences were both rape and incest. To her, sex has always been an attack and something to be withstood. When Celie first sees Shug naked and bathes her, she equates it to prayer. She finds something spiritual in Shug’s body that she has never found in any other body, including her own. Her emotional walls actually fall when Shug expresses genuine concern about Celie’s sexual experience. It is the first time in Celie’s life that she has been treated as someone with sexual agency rather than someone to be used for “business.” When Celie cries at night while hearing Albert and Shug in bed, it is not clear whether she is mourning the desertion by her husband or by Shug.
Perhaps the most striking overflow of emotion from Celie comes when she finds out that Nettie has been attempting to contact her for all these years, but Mr.______ has been withholding the letters from her. She not only is overwhelmed by the fact that Mr.______ has betrayed her so completely by denying her access to the one person who ever loved her, but she is also shocked by being loved. Celie has forced herself not to expect love or attention from anyone and finding these letters brings up feelings that she has never experienced before.

For me, Celie’s relationships called to mind King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” He talks about personhood and how easy it is for someone to become convinced that they are not worthy of being considered a person in the eyes of society. Celie has been treated as an object for most of her life and has come to expect and accept this. For her, issues arise when she is valued. Though these are typically moments of distress, they are also the only moments where she is forced to feel and grants herself personhood.

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