In Alice Walker's The Color Purple, the format of Celie's narratives show great similarities with the slave narratives that were collected in the 1930's. Celie shows in the way the slaves talked about their situation. They were very timid about raising their voices. Celie, as many slaves were, did not express their true emotions because of the fear that they would be punished severely. Celie is a poor, Southern black girl. Celie is one of the most oppressed, silenced members of society.
Her stepfather told her that she 'better not never tell anybody but God. It'd kill your mammy' (Walker 1). This quote takes on a new significance. This statement made by her father affects Celie's outlook.
With him saying this, she decides to tell no one about what her father did. She thinks that if her mother knew, she would be very disappointed in her. He abuses Celie and demands her silence. He rapes her many times and she even gives birth to two of his children. She does not tell anyone that the children she has given birth to are his; she says that their father disappeared.
She is ashamed of what has happened and worries if the people finding out, she is fearful this will be by society. Celie's narrative is a testimony to the struggles of black women, a disadvantaged segment of a disadvantaged race. She is too afraid to share her story with other people, yet her need to share her experiences is evident. She writes letters in order to have something to talk to. She does not keep a diary addressed implicitly to some anonymous, non-existent reader. She explicitly addresses God.
She does so because of what her stepfather told her, to only speak about what he did to her to God. Celie's letters to God are eerily reminiscent of the slave narratives collected in the late 1930 s. Many of the slave narratives were far from direct in their meaning and intent. The questions the journalists asked ex-slaves touched on sensitive issues, especially the slave's relationship to the master. In one interview that I found, a former slave named Charity Anderson recalled how some of the white people treated slaves.
She said, "But honey chile, all white folks warn 't good to dere slaves, cause I'se seen pore niggers almost' tore up by dogs, and whipped unmercifully, when dey did " nt do lack de white folks say" (Fort 14). She later on tells us that the slaves didn't say anything about these cruel acts of punishment. The ideology of white supremacy was institutionalized in the south. Slaves often learned to disguise their reactions and their feelings in their speech and their stories. The slave narratives often reflect these measures of self-defense. Although the slave narratives represented the opportunity for an oppressed class of people to speak where they had otherwise been silenced, they also reflect the fact that many American blacks did not have an opportunity to speak openly.
Celie's letters reflect the same kind of reticence. She reports her experiences, but she does not directly express judgment through rage, anger, or criticism. She does not interpret her life. Her sense of self is so beaten and battered that she cannot take a position of the judge of those who abuse her. Instead, she describes her experiences in letters to God, the ultimate judge of all moral behavior. Eventually toward the end of the novel, with the help of Shut Avery, she learns to speak for herself and be her own person.
Work Cited Fort, Bruce. American Slave Narratives. Charlottesville, Va: University of Virginia, 1996. Walker, Alice. The Color Purple. New York: Pocket Book, 1982..