Study Guide

The Color Purple Violence

By Alice Walker

Violence

Letter One
Celie

He [Pa] never had a kine word to say to me. Just say You gonna do what your mammy wouldn’t. First he put his thing up gainst my hip and sort of wiggle it around. Then he grab hold my titties. Then he push his thing inside my pussy. When that hurt, I cry. He start to choke me, saying You better shut up and git used to it.

But I don’t never get used to it. And now I feels sick every time I be the one to cook. (1.4-5)

Pa commits several forms of violence against Celie. Clearly, he’s physically violent to her by raping her. He also causes emotional damage by never showing any respect for her as a human being; he orders her around without ever saying anything kind to her. Finally, he also emotionally separates her from others by forcing her to keep quiet about the way he’s treating her.

Letter Two

She [Mama] got sicker an sicker.

Finally she ast Where it is?

I say God took it.

He took it. He took it while I was sleeping. Kilt it out there in the woods. Kill this one too, if he can. (2.4-7)

Pa commits violence against Celie by separating her from the people she loves—in this case, from her children.

Letter Five
Celie

He beat me today cause he say I winked at a boy in church. I may have got somethin in my eye but I didn’t wink. I don’t even look at mens. (5.1)

Pa’s violence emerges suddenly and arbitrarily, for actions that most people would consider normal.

Letter Thirteen
Harpo

Harpo ast his daddy why he beat me. Mr._______ say, Cause he my wife. Plus, she stubborn. All women good for—he don’t finish. He just tuck his chin over the paper like he do. Remind me of Pa. (13.1)

Violence is an integral part of Celie and Mr.__’s marriage. Essentially, Mr.__ beats Celie because he has no respect for her or women in general.

Letter Nineteen
Harpo

Harpo want to know what to do to make Sofia mind. He sit out on the porch with Mr._________. He say, I tell her one thing, she do another. Never do what I say. Always backtalk.

To tell the truth, he sound a little proud of this to me.

[…]

You ever hit her? Mr._________ ast.

Harpo look down at his hands. Naw suh, he say low, embarrass.

Well how you spect to make her mind? Wives is like children. You have to let ‘em know who got the upper hand. Nothing can do that better than a good sound beating.

He puff on his pipe.

Sofia think too much of herself anyway, he say. She need to be taken down a peg. I like Sofia, but she don’t act like me at all. If she talking when Harpo and Mr._________ come in the room, she keep right on. If they ast her where something at, she say she don’t know. Keep talking.

I think bout this when Harpo ast me what he ought to do to her to make her mind. I don’t mention how happy he is now. How three years pass and he still whistle and sing. I think bout how every time I jump when Mr.________ call me, she look surprise. And like she pity me. Beat her. I say. (19.1-2; 5-12)

Even though there is nothing wrong with Harpo and Sofia’s marriage, Harpo wants to control his wife. Mr.__ advises Harpo to dominate Sofia the way most men do, by using violence. Celie realizes that bringing violence into a marriage damages it, but she’s jealous that Sofia isn’t beaten and that Harpo can be married three years and "still whistle and sing."

Letter Twenty

[Harpo and Sofia] fighting like two mens. Every piece of furniture they got is turned over. Every plate look like it broke. The looking glass hang crooked, the curtains torn. The bed look like the stuffing pulled out. They don’t’ notice. They fight. He try to slap her. What he do that for? She reach down and grab a piece of stove wood and whack him cross the eyes. He punch her in the stomach, she double over groaning but come up with both hands lock right under his privates. He roll on the floor. He grab her dress tail and pull. She stand there in her slip. She never blink a eye. He jump up to put a hammer lock under her chin, she throw him over her back. He fall bam up gainst the stove. (20.2)

Unlike Celie, Sofia doesn’t become passive when men use violence against her—Sofia hits back. Once Harpo brought violence into his marriage, things just got worse.

Letter Twenty-One
Sofia

You told Harpo to beat me, she said.

No I didn’t, I said.

Don’t lie, she said.

I didn’t mean it, I said.

Then what you say it for? she ast.

She standing there looking me straight in the eye. She look tired and her jaws full of air.

I say it cause I’m a fool, I say. I say it cause I’m jealous of you. I say it cause you do what I can’t.

What that? she say.

Fight. I say.

She stand there a long time, like what I said took the wind out her jaws. She made before, sad now.

She say, 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 child ain’t safe in a family of men. But I never thought I’d have to fight in my own house. (21.13-23)

Celie didn’t physically beat Sofia up but she did violence against her soul by encouraging Harpo to do it.

Celie

I ain’t never struck a living thing, I say. Oh, when I was at home I tap the little ones on the behind to make 'em behave, but not hard enough to hurt.

What you do when you git mad? she ast.

I think. I can’t even remember the last time I felt mad, I say. I used to git mad at my mammy cause she put a lot of work on me. Then I see how sick she is. Couldn’t stay mad at her. Couldn’t be mad at my daddy cause he my daddy. Bible say, Honor father and mother no matter what. Then after while every time I got mad, or start to feel mad, I got sick. Felt like throwing up. Terrible feeling. Then I start to feel nothing at all. (21.39-41)

Celie has been beaten so much, she has become numb to life.

Letter Thirty-Seven

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.



No need to say no more, Mr.________ say. You know what happen if somebody slap Sofia.

Squeak go white as a sheet. Naw, she say.

Naw nothing, I say. Sofia knock the man down.

The polices come, start slinging the children off the mayor, bang they heads together. Sofia really start to fight. They drag her to the ground. (37.13-25)

Just like the black male characters use violence to assert dominance over their wives, white society uses violence in an attempt to make black people submissive.