Color Purple and the New Dress Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1679 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Sports - Women

Woolf and Walker

The relationships between women in "The New Dress" and the Color Purple play two very different roles and are used in different ways by Walker and Woolf. For Woolf, the relationships serve to ignite the main character's own insecurities about herself, her appearance, her nature, and her background. In "The New Dress" the communication between characters, in general, is superficial; almost none of them say what they actually think or feel, but what they do say and do tends to imply their hidden emotions. Mabel seems to believe that she is able to at least somewhat see through this social veneer, and as a result, she finds herself unable to functionally interact with those around her attending the party. Female relationships, in this short story, revolve around the shallow appearance of happiness and interest. Walker, however, uses female relationships almost as a buffer between the male-dominated, white-dominated world and an autonomous sphere where women can understand and explore themselves. Far from being superficial, the women in the Color Purple derive meaning in their existences much more from their relationships with each other than from anything else in their lives.

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The stark difference between these two interpretations of female relationships undoubtedly stems from the settings in which these stories take place. Although both clearly take place in the first half of the twentieth century, it is difficult to imagine a setting more distinct from the rural black society of America's South, than the high Victorian society of Britain's social elite. Fundamentally, both stressed very different values, codes of conduct, and had different social structures. Consequently, it should not be surprising that female relationships are approached very differently in both stories. Although Woolf may agree with Walker, that female-female relationships can allow for more intimacy than male-female relationships, the specific ways in which these interactions may manifest themselves remain utterly restricted in Woolf's setting, with respect to Walker's.

Term Paper on Color Purple and the New Dress Assignment

Black women in the Color Purple are afforded a form of sovereignty from the tumultuous events and people surrounding them: they maintain their identity despite the forms of oppression they are forced to face. By these means, the women in the Color Purple ear their right for happiness; they can only enjoy their outward lives through accepting their inner emotional states. Although these women are prepared to fight if the need arises, and laugh and cry as they feel the need, it is truly through their capacity to love that they achieve anything in the external world. Essentially, female companionship is what gives Walker's characters the strength to continue through their chaotic lives. Pain, sorrow, hopes, and dreams are all shared and made communal in the Color Purple; in this way, they borrow from each other's strengths in times of weakness, and give their strengths to those who need them.

It is significant that Celie eventually finds God, after she begins to lose faith, through Shug's individual interpretation of what God might be. This is her dilemma: "Well, us talk and talk about God, but I'm still adrift. Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?)." (Walker, 165). Shug picks apart this archetypal interpretation of God as an old white man, and advises Celie to envision God as something more close to her -- something she can connect with. It is through their intimate relationship that Celie finds that she can accept the notion of God again; otherwise it is likely that she would have been lost forever in her doubt surrounding what other people believe God to be. Ultimately, Celie begins do understand God as something similar to herself; not infallible or paradoxical, but simply caring and nurturing.

Mabel invests an amount of faith in something as well, but it bears no clear relationship to God, and is perceived as the converse of the trivial relationships she sees at the party. Mabel is profoundly grappling with the form of doubt and inadequacy she has been dealing with her entire life: she somehow feels that she is worse than everyone else, and that she is the object of their scorn. So on some level at the party she is seeking the approval of others. Although she seems to take some solace in the comment Rose makes about her dress -- "But, my dear, it's perfectly charming!" -- she doubts the truth behind her statement, and truly longs for approval from Charles (Woolf 2004). She thinks to herself, "If he had only said, 'Mabel, you're looking charming to-night!' It would have changed her life." (Woolf, 2004). This suggests that the relationships Mabel experiences with women are slightly more comforting than those with men; however, approval from a man would be that much more wonderful, because it might actually hide an inkling of true emotion. Still, the minor comments regarding her dress that she receives from her female friends, she suspects, are merely false shows of courtesy and nothing more.

Yet, Mabel manages to find some reassurance from her appreciation for art. Throughout her brief time at Mrs. Dalloway's party, she conjures a metaphor for the people there from Shakespeare: "We are all like flies trying to crawl over the edge of the saucer, Mabel thought, and repeated the phrase as if she were crossing herself, as if she were trying to find some spell to annul this pain, to make this agony endurable." (Woolf, 2004). This reflects the one thing that Mabel seems to have faith in; the one thing that she seems to think is true and unmasked: art. However, she still has some difficulty reassuring herself that everything at the party is utterly meaningless. She admits that one of the few times she ever feels truly happy is when she is with a good book or during rare instances when she looks upon her husband. This should imply that her metaphor for the party is more true to her than the party itself; but unfortunately, she still finds that she is uncomfortable and cannot shake the feeling that everyone else is better than her.

The contrast between the virtues of women and the vices of men is much stronger in the Color Purple than it is in "The New Dress." Certainly, it would be difficult to argue that Walker's male characters are one-dimensional or unbelievable, but they tend to reflect a general amount of brutality which, Walker seems to suggest, stems from their inner spiritual turmoil. Nearly all of the perpetrators of violence are the victims of violence, racism, or oppression themselves. Harpo, for instance, beats Sofia only after her father suggests that not beating her would reflect his ineptitude as a man; he receives additional encouragement from Celie, but this is done for her own selfish reasons. Mr. ____, also, beating Celie and his family is extremely similar to the way he was raised by his own father. Nevertheless, the male sphere in the Color Purple tends to be one of unpredictability and cruelty. So, although Walker makes the origins of male violence somewhat apparent in the novel -- they are character specific -- the female reaction is uniformly to rely upon each other and gain autonomy from them men in their lives.

The novel ends in Walker's unique version of a utopic society: the community is presided over by her heroine and her female lover, free of erratic and violent men, and mostly inhabited by women. This reflects another one of Walker's theme's regarding female relationships: they usually take many forms. Some female relationships are like those in the family -- motherly or sisterly -- others are simply friendships, others can take the form… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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