The Color Purple
How we cite our quotes:
Sofia and the prizefighter don’t’ say nothing. Wait for her to pass. Mayor wait too, stand back and tap his foot, watch her with a little smile. Now Millie, he say. Always going on over colored. Miss Millie finger the children some more, finally look at Sofia and the prizefighter. She look at the prizefighter car. She eye Sofia wristwatch. She say to Sofia, All your children so clean, she say, would you like to work for me, be my maid?
Sofia say, Hell no.
She say, What you say?
Sofia say, Hell no.
Mayor look at Sofia, push his wife out the way. Stick out his chest. Girl, what you say to Miss Millie?
Sofia say, I say, Hell no.
He slap her. (37.13-19)
This passage doesn’t end with Sofia simply being slapped, but being beaten nearly to death and dragged off to jail. As a black woman, white people like the mayor and his wife assume that it’s a great honor to be a white lady’s housemaid. Because Sofia is unwilling to place herself in a degrading position, the white mayor and police beat her in order to reassert their racial dominance.
She seem like a right sweet little thing, I say to Sofia.
Who is? She frown.
The little girl, I say. What they call her, Eleanor Jane?
Yeah, say Sofia, with a real puzzle look on her face, I wonder why she was ever born.
Well, I say, us don’t have to wonder that bout darkies. (43.21-25)
Sofia and Celie joke about the differences between white folks and black folks. Sofia, because she’s been a victim of racism and racial violence, is puzzled that a white child can be nice.
Yes ma’am, I say. I’m slaving away cleaning that big post they got down at the bottom of the stair. They act real funny bout that post. No finger prints is sposed to be on it, ever.
Do you think you could teach me [to drive]? she says.
One of Sofia children break in, the oldest boy. He tall and handsome, all the time serious. And mad a lot.
He say, Don’t say slaving, Mama.
Sofia say, Why not? They got me in a little storeroom up under the house, hardly bigger than Odessa’s porch, and just about as warm in the winter time. I’m at they beck and call all night and all day. They won’t let me see my children. They won’t let me see no mens. Well, after five years they let me see you once a year. I’m a slave, she say. What would you call it?
A captive, he say.
Sofia go on with her story, only look at him like she glad he hers. (44.5-11)
Sofia describes her position at the mayor’s house and her son refuses to let herself see herself as a slave; he’s got too much pride for that.