As Martin Luther King Jr. sat in jail he penned “The Letter from Birmingham Jail.” He was not advocating or stylizing the his protests, but arguing that they were necessary. Clearly, sitting in a jail, there is nothing romantic about standing up for yourself, but it is a necessity. King was calling for a need to understand his sense of being, for others to acknowledge his story is just as important as any other man out there. In fact in “The Peaceable Classroom” a pacifist is criticized for being a coward and banters back “My God, what we do is so dangerous.” (O’Reilly 109). Alice Walker also makes it very clear that there is nothing glamourous in fighting for justice, but she certainly shows the impact that it can have. Sofia and Squeak are two very different characters, but in their resistance they both suffered yet prevailed in their endeavor. Sofia, being the strong outspoken type always speaks her mind with no fear of reprisal. Celie often admires her strength to be able to stand up for herself. And due to her strong demeanor and family support she has never truly suffered the consequences of her independence. When she finally goes too far is when she responds to an offer of being the maid for the mayors wife, her response being a some what clearly put denial of the job, “Sofia say, Hell no.” (Walker pg 85). Sofia sees the repercussions of her insolence. She is sentenced to jail where they try to break her spirit.
When Celie visits her in prison Sofia’s appearance has greatly suffered. She is no longer the figure of unwavering strength. Her main goal is survival. “Her face yellow and sickly, her fingers look like fatty sausage” (Walker pg 88). She acts like Celie, trying to be submissive but even in jail they cannot beat it out of her. And because of that Mr._____ recognizes she will not survive. Even in the face of physical abuse Sofia’s sense of self is too strong to quell. That is the spirit that King was trying to induce into his protesters, that even in the face of inevitable rejection of society to a person’s sense of self, it can survive and endure.
Squeak is seemingly a shy character who is submissive to Harpo, Sofia’s ex- husban. She sees the poor condition of Sofia, and even though they did not get along at first is willing to risk much to correct the injustice. Squeak does not have to help a rival for Harpo’s attentions, but yet she still does, this goes against her nick name which implies a timid nature. Unfortunately the plan they had worked out to get Sofia out backfires, “Poor little Squeak come home with a limp. Her dress rip” (Walker pg 95). Squeak is violently attacked and it may be thought that she would sink into her submissive behavior even more.
But instead she thrives in the adversity. By her humanity being abused at the hands of a man she is able to find an inner confidence. She realized that she can resist, that she will not be a victim again. When she resisted she was able to find herself and renamed herself as someone. “She stand up. My name Mary Agnes, she say.” (Walker pg 97). By demanding she be addressed as more that a mousey character bending to others will, she finds her voice. She is able to flower and she finds her ability to sing her own songs.
Personally the significance of a name is very interesting. In The Color Purple what people are called greatly affects their personality. Celie is renamed a virgin and is able to find her own autonimity by reclaiming her body. Squeak renames herself to Harpo and rejects the name ‘Squeak’ and gives herself a voice, literally, by allowing herself to sing her own songs. What name someone allows themselves to be called is very important, a name is how someone identifies you, but also how you identify yourself to others.
To my sisters I am ‘sis’ because when my little sister was born she couldn’t say Kirsten and cut sissy to just sis. The name stuck and to me identifies me as one of three girls in my family. To my mom I am Mija, which is spanish slang for mi hija. To us it is a mother daughter relationship that involves our heritage and what my grandmother called my mother and aunt. To my family I’m Kir. Cut it down, short and simple signifying the closeness we all share. Family is not defined by only those people I am related to. I have a few friends that would have no problem walking into my house uninvited and start munching on whatever food is in the fridge, that comfort is how I define family.
To the rest of the world I’m Kirsten. When I first meet people I often get called Kursten or Kristen. At first I will correct them but eventually I begin to feel bad for constantly correcting them. Usually with acquaintances or teachers after a month or two I will just go by with whatever they settle on calling me.
I allow myself to be identified by the wrong name not because I don’t care, but because to me the people I am close with barely use that name at all. Celie was beaten into accepting her position and was named for such as ruined by her father. By reclaiming her virginity she reclaimed what her own father took from her, a man who was supposed to be a safe haven to her. Squeak was named by her boyfriend Harpo who was looking for someone he could dominate, she accepted the name at first by her lover. But when she reclaims her own name, and how she sees herself she changes herself in his eyes.
My name may be Kirsten and it may get butchered on a regular basis but in reality I much rather prefer the names that mean something to me. The ones that remind me I am a sister, a daughter, and part of a diverse family.