In an essay of not more than 1500 words, discuss the presentation of relationships between women in The Color Purple and Girl Relationships between women are the main themes in both The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Girl by Jamaica Kincaid. The Color Purple, published in 1982, is a feminist novel and the story based around Celie, a black woman who successfully struggles to escape the hardships and inequality of her life. In contrast, Girl is a short story first published in 1978. It is a one-sentence, 650-word list of instructions from an older experienced woman to a younger girl giving advice on how to live her life.
Girl is not a traditional story and does not have a plot and therefore there is no chance for character development. However, in this case, this is not really necessary. There is no narrator, just the voice of experience – the mother – passing on real facts of life to a younger, inexperienced girl – the daughter. The title, ‘Girl’ is an indication of the daughter’s age; she is still young with much to learn, a view held by her mother who wants to pass on the lessons she has learned in life. This is an example of how a girl can learn to be a responsible, independent woman from an older woman’s experience and advice.
Kincaid shows that the mother has strong, definite views on how a woman should behave and, leaving no room for discussion, she dictates these to her daughter with a ‘shopping’ list of maternal advice beginning “Wash the white clothes on Monday and put them on the stone heap; wash the colour clothes on Tuesday and put them on the clothes-line to dry”1. Like the girl to whom the mother speaks, the reader is drawn in by the chant of motherly directives that are only interrupted twice by the girl.
As far as the mother is concerned, unless her daughter gives the impression that she is the stereotype, traditional subservient ‘little woman’ she will turn into “the slut you are so bent on becoming”2. The poetic repetition of the reference to ‘slut’ clearly shows that, unless a woman gives the right impression, she will be seen as a slut. Whilst it seems that this list of domestic advice is showing the girl how to become the ‘perfect little woman’ that men want, the mother’s message is actually showing her how to be independent.
This practical guidance is telling her how to appear to ‘toe the line’ but not to be downtrodden. This message is stressed when the daughter asks “but what if the baker won’t let me feel the bread? ” The mother rhetorically answers, “Are you really going to be the kind of woman who the baker won’t let near the bread? “3 In contrast, The Colour Purple explores a variety of strong female relationships including the conventional bond between Celie and her sister Nettie, the lesbian relationship between Celie and Shug and the solidarity between Sofia and Mary Agnes and Olivia and Tashi.
A network of women, in their own individual ways, help Celie, the main character, to become her own person. Walker writes about a very different mother and daughter relationship than Kincaid. There is no communication between Celie and her mother and certainly no instructions on how to behave. Celie’s mother allows her to think that Alfonso is her father when in fact he is her stepfather. Tired and downtrodden, “Can’t you see I’m already half dead, an all of these children”4, her mother chooses to not see that Alfonso has raped her daughter and to ignore the resulting pregnancy.
She offers no advice, causing Celie to write her first letter to God asking him for a “sign letting me know what is happening to me”5. This is the first of some 51 letters from Celie to God that are written over a period of 30 years. Walker uses the epistolary form to tell her story that emphasises the strength and joy women can find in solidarity with each other. The letters signify that writing is perhaps the only way these women can express and share their feelings clearly. The written word is Celie’s lifeline; she writes to communicate and as a way of thinking out loud.