‘The Color Purple’ [Alice Walker]: Essay Two {17 out of 25, 2000/2001}

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Chris Larham’s essay on the characterisation techniques employed by Alice Walker in ‘The Color Purple’ [17 out of 25, 2000/2001] can be opened in a print-friendly text document format here
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Analyse the literary and linguistic techniques employed by Alice Walker in her characterisation of Mr._, Harpo, Celie, and Sofia. Explain why Sofia is an important figure in the novel.

{Essay CONTENTS: Mr._’s imperative tone; Mr._’s arrogance and shallowness – use of demeaning rhetorical question; Mr._’s assuming nature, disparaging comments; Harpo’s compliant nature; Celie’s obedient, pandering nature; Sofia’s dominant personality; Sofia’s skin colouring; Sofia’s resilience; Sofia as emblem of female solidarity; Sofia’s softer side; Sofia’s hardworking, belligerent nature; Sofia’s importance to novel.}

In describing Mr._, Alice Walker uses carefully selected lexis to convey the manner in which he attempts to dominate and control his family. “Mr._ say he want to have a look at her [Sofia]” is an example where Mr._ has phrased a declarative statement as an imperative command; “I want to have a look at her”, meaning, “Bring her here for me to have a look at her.”[^]

Walker demonstrates Mr._’s arrogance through his unwillingness to acknowledge Sofia, “It sure is hot, she say. Mr._ don’t say nothing.” Mr._ is presented as somebody who has little depth in character, placing more emphasis on external- rather than internal- beauty, “He just look her up and down…Look like you done got yourself in trouble.” It is clear that Mr._ wants to knock the “bigger…stronger…ruddy looking” Sofia down to earth, and Walker shows this through the declarative, rhetorical question, “Look…trouble”.[^]

Mr._ makes assumptions, “Your daddy… live in the street I guess”; tries to be dominant, “no need to… cause you in the family way”; and continually implies things which could damage others’ self-esteem, “Who the father?”, “Young womens no good… Tom, Dick and Harry.” Walker uses language to portray him as a one-dimensional character, who orders and controls others.[^]

Harpo, on the other hand, is an obedient little boy who complies with his father’s wishes. His meek character is highlighted through, “She in front a little” – a woman is in front of him, controlling him as well as his father. Despite his father’s insulting tone towards Sofia, Harpo only, “look at his daddy”, nothing more. Walker uses passive language in Harpo’s description.[^]

Celie immediately “git out a glass” when Sofia requests a drink of water, highlighting her obedient nature. Celie doesn’t make things happen, things happen to her, “Finally I have supper and go to bed”; Walker uses eagerness to convey her actions, “dip her up some water”. Celie panders to the needs of others.[^]

In contrast with Celie, Sofia is portrayed as a dominant character, who won’t back down from an altercation. “She in front a little”, shows how she will not be dominated by men. She is very expressive and upfront, and makes an effort to get on with Mr._ without trying too hard, “She sit down and start to fan herself… It sure is hot, she say.”[^]

Sofia is “bright” compared to Harpo, which is significant because the lighter you were, the better you would be treated (closer to the white ‘ideal’).[^]

Tough in body, “like her mama brought her up on pork”, as well as spirit, “Naw suh. I ain’t in no trouble… Naw. I ain’t living in the street…”, Sofia will not back down- or be dominated by- anybody. She will fight.[^]

Sofia is one of the most important characters in the novel. She is the epitome of the ‘female solidarity’ idea; together, women will stand up to- and become as strong as- men. Her never-say-die spirit is tested, but never broken, throughout the novel because of her treatment at the hands of men.[^]

There is a softer side to Sofia, demonstrated when she forgives Celie after she had told Harpo to beat Sofia. Sofia’s powerful presence is evident as Celie- for one of the first times- shows emotion; she feels guilty, and cannot sleep at night. The fact that Celie feels that she has betrayed Sofia is another indication of the sisterhood theme: Celie feels like she has committed a sinful act.[^]

Sofia works hard for everything she earns, and I believe that she is a character which Alice Walker developed throughout the novel because of the crucial role she plays in the female solidarity theme. Not only does she advise people “to fight” (like Nettie), she carries out violent acts herself in protest (against the mayor, Harpo…).[^]

In conclusion, Sofia is a central character in Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’.[^]

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34-year-old father of three wonderful children [William, Seth, and Alyssa]. Works as an Assistant Technical Officer in the Sterile Services Department of Treliske Hospital, Cornwall. Enjoys jogging, web design, being a bit of a geek, and supporting Arsenal FC. Obtained a BA degree in English from the University of Bolton in 2008, and has continued to gain qualifications in a diverse range of subjects thereafter.

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