Character Analysis of Celie, the Color Purple
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Being a black female in the south during the early 1900’s, at a time when white and blacks were socially segregated and women were absolutely inferior to men, was one of the many challenges Celie would be faced with in her lifetime. Born in 1895, Celie was raised on a farm in a small town in Georgia where formal education took a back seat to physical labor and household maintenance, and the Church was the main focal point of socialization among local town members. We are first introduced to Celie in 1909, when she is 14 years old, running and frolicking through the fields with her sister Nettie, then giving birth to her second child by her step-father. Soon after the newborn was taken out of her arms, an emotionless and questioning Celie is found internally talking to God while walking behind her mother’s casket, who was said to have died from a broken heart. Raised in an authoritarian style by her father and permissive style by her submissive mother, she is repeatedly chastised and shamed by her step-father, which is evident during his introduction of Celie to “Mister” when questions arise about marriage.
Shamed and overruled, Celie is given to “Mister,” thus beginning her new journey of marriage at the tender age of 14. Overtime Celie becomes increasingly submissive, reserved, and shy as “Mister” provides a similar reign of terror and tyranny over her that her step-father once held, only this time she doesn’t have the love and trust of her sister Nettie. Though we know very little about Celie prior to the birth of her second child, we can assume she has met the first two stages of her life in accordance to Erikson’s psychosocial stages of development by her love and trust of her sister Nettie, Shug and Sophia which come later in her life. Her “will” is viewed early on when she is learning to read and become educated with Nettie’s help. Though her hope and will are inhibited on countless occasions as Celie travels through life, the general capacity to have them is there. During her early adolescence, Celie has become a mother, a wife, the caretaker of another woman’s children, and essentially the house hold maid, otherwise known as the “mammy.”
Nettie, the one person who she loves, trusts, and in turn who loves her back, has been replaced (not by choice) by Mister, who dictates her roles and responsibilities, as first noticed during a scene when Celie is combing a young girls hair and Mister stands up, slaps her across the face dictating that she will do what he says when he says it . This first act of control over her life and her being leads to a future of emotional, verbal, and physical abuse and degradation. Her individual identity has been stripped from her and any chance of fidelity was lost once she was handed over to Mister. Repudiation develops as role confusion increases. Her perception of herself is ugly, worthless, and not equal to the woman Mister was intended to marry, as he made clear on countless occasions. It wouldn’t be until later in life that fidelity and individual identity would be developed, as a kinship between Shug and Celie develops, and Celie leaves Mister, acquires her childhood home and creates a business. Hope arrives months later in the form of Nettie.
Mister allows Nettie to stay at the farm with them, rekindling life, love and hope within Celie, leading us to believe that Celie’s infancy provided her with enough love and care to allow her to develop hope. Frolicking in the fields, playing games like school children, and learning to read and write with Nettie allowed Celie to develop the beginning stages of Competence. She begins to read words and understand meanings, practicing her skill and intelligence by reading Oliver Twist and developing an elaborate kitchen system for storing pots and pans. Though her school age years developed late, they matured as time passed and as Celie’s will to learn and become educated increased. Hope had been restored with Nettie’s arrival just as quickly as it was abolished. Mister kicked Nettie off of the property, taking away the only person Celie trusted and loved at the time, leading to another spell of withdrawal and submission to Mister. The mailbox becomes a symbol of hope for years to come.
As the jingle of the bells echo in the distance excitement escalates with the hope of a letter from Nettie, indicating that she is alive, as death would be the only thing to keep her from writing to Celie. Shug arrives in the summer 1916 and Celie’s first real love is born. Mister’s name, Albert, is discovered during Shug’s first day at the farm. Celie watches Albert, with child-like amusement and curiosity, as he fumbles through trying to impress Shug by making her breakfast. In an effort to win over Shug, who previously declared Celie as “ugly,” she prepares an award winning breakfast that even Shug couldn’t turn away. Over time, a relationship begins to form between Shug and Celie, leading Shug to write and sing a song dedicated to her at the jook joint, filling Celie with an unknown type approval and love. Celie shows us that her capacity to love and to be loved is blooming during the scene of her first kiss with Shug. Thrown into young adulthood at the early age of 14, at 21 years old Celie now begins the true process of developing intimacy with an unlikely character for the time. A long lasting friendship and mutual love affair between Celie and Shug has begun, and will later prove to be her saving grace as her confidence, identity, purpose, and will increase.
Shug plans to leave in September of 1916, months after her arrival, and Celie is determined to leave with her, to break free from “Mr. Jail.” Hope is lost as she watches Shug’s car drive away without her in it. Overcome with emotion, Celie collapses, completely disassociating herself from the world and the situation. By the winter of 1930, some 14 years later, Celie begins showing signs of Adulthood in her general care for Sophia and her children. At the general store Celie provides hope and faith to Sophia when retrieving all of the items on the grocery list for Miss Millie and gesturing to keep her head up as she is driving away. She has cared for Sophia’s children during her 8 year jail sentence, as seen during the return of Sophia on Christmas day. During this period of time we see a change in Celie’s perception of herself through her clothing, body language, and her role within her extended family. The spring of 1936 marks another dramatic turning point in Celie’s life. A newly married Shug returns to the farm, a letter is received from Nettie at the hand of Shug, and Celie finds out that Nettie is alive and that her two children are alive and have been raised by Nettie in Africa.
Dozens of letters from Nettie were found in Albert’s (Mister) secret box, once again restoring hope, love and purpose within Celie. Reading the letters she imagines the African coast and the life Nettie and her children have lived. Their every experience becomes a concrete experience and thought within Celie. Her confidence has reached a climatic point and her voice and thoughts are finally heard after Easter dinner when Shug declares they will be leaving and Celie would be going with them, and protests break out. Though Celie remains calm and poised at first when explaining to Albert why she is leaving, it later turns into a battle of wills with Celie holding a knife to Albert’s neck and cursing him. Driving away in the back of the car provides her with freedom from shame, ridicule, and inferiority thus allowing her to now live her life. Light is shed on Celie’s past during the winter of 1937, after her “pa’s” death.
She learns that her real father was lynched sometime after Nettie was born, her mother married her “pa” two years later, and her children were not her brother and sister as previously thought. She acquired a house, land, and a store front with the passing of her stepfather and began her role into adulthood, committing to the care and longevity of her friends, managing her house-hold, and reflecting on the past. She created her own business, “Miss Celie’s Folkpants,” which began her financial independence as a woman and solidified her competence as an individual. By late summer Celie’s sister arrives from Africa with her two children and the four of them are reunited in a heartfelt moment, reigniting the love for one another they always had and solidifying the hope they held their faith in. Overcome with joy, Celie and Nettie embrace as their closest family and friends watch in the distance. At 42 years old, Celie is now successfully traveling thorough adulthood, preparing her for late adulthood.
Based on Ruth Bennedict’s Cultural Determinism, Celie did not go through her life stages in a continuous fashion. Her life stages became compartmentalized around or about after her Play Age of 3-5yrs old, when her mother remarried the man whom would father her children and physically and mentally abuse her for years to come. Though she did eventually go through the stages, they were out of order, starting with the birth of her children at 12/13 and her marriage at 14.
[ 1 ]. Erikson’s life stage of Adolescence, 12-18yrs old, Ego Quality developed is role confusion as her identity was defined by her stepfather, who sexually abused her and convinced her that she was ugly and had the ugliest smile this side of creation, and Albert, who beat her and lead her to believe she was worthless and not the woman he was intended to marry. The prime adaptive ego of Fidelity was not developed until later in life with Shug, though it was evident she felt love and loyalty to her sister Nettie. The Core pathology of repudiation was developed and was evident in her lack of self confidence and her hesitancy to express herself, as in the scene with Shug and standing in front of the mirror hiding her smile. Her developmental tasks for this time period are skipped and learned later in her life. [ 2 ]. Erikson’s life stage of Infancy is evident in her hope. The psychosocial crisis for this stage is trust vs. mistrust. It is evident that this stage was met in that she maintains the capacity to trust, though overtime her trust gives way to mistrust as her caretakers (Father and Mister) are cold, indifferent and rejecting towards her. Her coping mechanisms become suppression, disassociation, and reaction formation.
The developmental tasks for this stage are met as she has a social attachment with her sister, shows emotion prior to marriage, and understands the nature of objects. She does go through periods of withdrawal and experiences paranoia when searching for letters and at her store when she peers out the window, thinking she see’s Mister. [ 3 ]. Erikson’s life stage of School Age, 6-12yrs old. The psychosocial crisis developed for this stage is inferiority, as she has been continuously overruled by her step-father and now Mister. The core pathology developed is Inertia-an example is from the scene when Shug is first introduced in person. Celie regresses to a child-like mentality, though she is in her 20’s, when watching Mister (Albert) prepare breakfast for Shug. Education is the resolution for the psychosocial crisis, which occurs during the scene with Nettie and learning how to read. The developmental tasks for this stage are skipped, but are learned later. [ 4 ]. Erikson’s life stage of toddlerhood. Psychosocial crisis is autonomy vs. shame and doubt. though initially this stage is met developmentally, shame and doubt do become the crisis and disassociation becomes her coping mechanism.
As mentioned before, she has the capacity for Will, but it is suppressed by shame and inferiority at times. [ 5 ]. Kohlbergs stage of conventional morality, stage four, good child orientation=gain acceptance, avoid disapproval. Celie prepares breakfast for Shug to win approval of her. [ 6 ]. Kohlbergs stage of Conventional Morality, stage 5, law and order orientation=follow the rules and avoid penalties. One example of this is when a fight breaks out at the jook joint and Celie stays in her seat, watching the action, avoiding the consequences. Another example is when shaving Mister when she was 14. She was told not to cut him or he would kill her. She did all she could to avoid cutting him. [ 7 ]. Erikson’s life stage of Young Adulthood. This stage she was thrown into early in life when she first became a parent and a wife at the age of 14. Though she is meeting some of the developmental tasks, others she will not develop until later, when she has choices over lifestyles, work and mutuality among her peers. The psychosocial crisis is Intimacy vs. Isolation.
She begins to develop intimacy with Shug, as seen during the summer months of 1916, when she is in her 20’s. Love is developed more in depth later in life through mutuality among friends and peers, when she is able to care about others and share her experience. The first experience is shared with Shug, when she tells her that Albert beats her when she is not aroud. [ 8 ]. Erikson’s life stage of Adulthood. Celie is meeting this stage as she has entered her 40’s, is managing her career and household, and is able to nurture her relationships with Shug and Sophia. The psychosocial crisis of generativity is met through her person-environment fit and creativity, as seen in her new home and during the scene with Sophia & Harpo at her Folkpants shop in town. Prime adaptive ego met is Care. [ 9 ]. Erikson’s life stage of play age of 3-5yrs old.
We do not know Celie during this time, however, later on in life we are able to see that she has developed the prime adaptive ego of purpose as first told when she is with Nettie on her parents farm-her purpose was to protect and care for Nettie. The core pathology of inhibition took over her purpose as intense criticism and the inability to take initiative, brought on by her stepfather and Mister, emotionally crippled Celie during her teens and throughout young adulthood. We see that Celie once again has purpose when she discovers Nettie and her children are alive. During her marriage she had no purpose, as evident a the statement to Sophia saying “this life would be over soon enough and heaven lasts forever.” [ 10 ]. Piaget’s Concrete operational stage. Celie expresses her ability to place concrete objects in her head when she is reading the letters from Nettie, visualizing life as Nettie and her children lived it.
She is able to plan and problem solve as seen when Mister is cooking breakfast for Shug and Celie had developed an elaborate system to hold pots and pans off the floor. Organizing all of the items she commonly uses. This is also an example of Piagets Preoperational stage, where Celie is able to represent objects mentally that are not physically present. Lions, elephants, bulldozers, and people are not physically present in the letters she reads. They are visions created in her mind. 11Westerhoffs stages of faith-affiliative faith is first viewed when Celie and her sister are attending the marriage of her “pa.” They are experiencing the faith of marriage. In addition, socialization takes place in the church, and is the main focal point of faith for the town. 12Westerhoff’s stages of faith-searching faith is viewed when Celie is traveling behind her mother’s coffin talking to god, explaining that she is a good girl and does what she can to do what she is told. She is wondering what she has done to deserve the life she is living.