The Beauty of Strong Female Relationships in Alice Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’

Celie narrates her life through letters to God, where she lays out her journey from her traumas to when she finds a sense of empowerment. As a young girl she is abused and raped by her father, and after giving birth twice her father takes away both babies and lets her believe they’ve been killed. She also loses her mother and when the widower, Albert, comes over to their house wanting to marry her younger sister Nettie, her father refuses and offers the “ugly” and uneducated Celie instead.

It is an abusive and unhappy marriage, where she spends all her time looking after Albert and his litter of children. Nettie stays with them for a little while but Albert’s interest in her causes her to flee, for so long that at some point Celie believes she’s dead.

Celie forms a bond with the woman her husband is in love with – Shug. There is also her step-son’s wife Sofia. As the story progresses, we see how the passive Celie learns how to assert herself and change the tone of her personal story. The friendship she has with these women become a good place of refuge, she finds ears that listen, voices that encourage and their presence and the bonds they share play a role in her growth and confidence.

The Color Purple is a significant and vital book which explores themes which have been and are still necessary to be heard. There is the strength of self-expression, language and how one can assert themselves, eventually freeing themselves through finding and using their voice. Race and oppression are also big themes of the story, as well as abuse and the distorted beliefs about relationships between men and women.

The form of letters to tell the story, along with the rural English Celie uses, help create a genuine narrator, one we can feel for and journey with. It’s an impressive book, keeps you turning its pages and has such a strong and powerful message to share.

The book was adapted into a film in 1985, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Oprah, Danny Glover, Desreta Jackson, Margaret Avery, and other incredible actors.

Motherhood, in ‘Mom & Me & Mom’ by Maya Angelou

“My mother’s gifts of courage to me were both large and small. The latter are woven so subtly into the fabric of my psyche that I can hardly distinguish where she stops and I begin.”
― Maya Angelou

I’ve read I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings and A Song Flung Up To Heaven, two of the seven books of Maya Angelou’s autobiography series. This one, Mom & Me & Mom still tells her story but with her mother as the backdrop.

After a failed marriage, Vivian Baxter and Bailey Johnson sent three-year-old Maya and her five-year-old brother Bailey Junior to live with their grandmother in Stamps, Arkansas. At thirteen she moved back to California to live with her mother.

Mom & Me & Mom takes from Maya’s journey to appreciating her mother, and how their relationship grows. Vivian Baxter may have been a terrible mother to toddlers but she was an exceptional mother to this young woman, Maya. When her brother wants to know why she left them, her honesty teaches us something about parenthood and its struggles:

“I would have been a terrible mother. I had no patience. Maya, when you were about two years old, you asked me for something. I was busy talking, so you hit my hand, and I slapped you off the porch without thinking. It didn’t mean I didn’t love you; it just meant I wasn’t ready to be a mother.”

This is one of my favourite parts of the story, this honest explanation. There’s this general belief that once one becomes a mother, she automatically connects with her child, and being the best mother will come naturally. That’s far from the truth. Eggs may be ripe, the machine may work right, the womb might be warm and cosy enough but motherhood is not for everyone – some shouldn’t be mothers, some learn along the way, some struggle to even connect with their children for a while.

One also has to appreciate how she re-enters her children’s lives. She doesn’t use her title as a mother to reclaim some ruling spot in their lives, by forcing the relationship or forcing to close the gap between their time in Arkansas and when they return to California. She just begins to mother them, as best as she can.

The story is so moving in how her mother becomes her rock through everything. At the different stages in her life, from when she went to live with her, Ms. Baxter was there and when she wasn’t physically there Maya could always pick up the phone and her mother could straighten things.

However, things don’t turn out as wonderful for her brother Bailey Junior, as they do for Maya. The maternal neglect doesn’t go away for him no matter what efforts their mother puts in. He goes through a troubled journey, drugs, and for him, the wound doesn’t seem to heal.

Things turn out differently for Maya. You can tell from their journey together that her mother played a pivotal role in shaping the Maya Angelou that the world got to know. If you think Dr. Angelou was a phenomenal woman, then read this book and meet Vivian Baxter, a mother a lot of us need.

“I will look after you and I will look after anybody you say needs to be looked after, any way you say. I am here. I brought my whole self to you. I am your mother.” – Vivian Baxter to Maya.

The autobiography:

  • I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings
  • Gather Together in My Name
  • Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry Like Christmas
  • The Heart of a Woman
  • All God’s Children Need Travelling Shoes
  • A Song Flung Up to Heaven
  • Mom & Me & Mom