Let me begin by saying that this novel actually moved me to tears. It has been a long time since I have not been able to put a book down for hours, but Alice Walker's brilliant and moving work completely captivated me. I wanted to start by discussing racism and sexism, as they play major roles in the novel. Obviously, Celie, Nettie, Shug, and all of the other characters are treated poorly because they are black and living in the American South. Additionally, they have the disadvantage of being born women, and are treated horribly by the men in their respective lives. Sofia's story in particular broke my heart because she chose to fight back when Harpo took it upon himself to start beating her into submission. She never took any slack from any man or woman throughout the novel, including Squeak and the Mayor's wife, Miss Millie. It made me so incredibly sad when the police beat Sofia so brutally after she insulted the Mayor's wife that I had to put the book down for a moment before I could continue. Sofia, and also Shug, act as Celie's foils; they say what they want, fight back when talked down to, and "behave like men." Celie is always obedient, and though she is miserable, we see that she has a fire in her when she eventually befriends Shug and Sofia and starts to admire Shug for her independence and unwillingness to accept things as they are. I heard a quote once that reminded me of Shug, and I cannot recall where it came from but is basically said that just because things are, doesn't mean they should be. I believe that this quote epitomizes Shug in every way. She fights physically and never allows a man to control her. Celie fights, too, but in a different way. Celie fights by being kind and remaining faithful to her friends, even if it means sometimes defying Albert. Celie puts all of her faith in God, and this helps her survive. Her letters and outpouring of feelings to someone she believes is listening help her survive her brutal situation.
On the topic of religion, is it interesting to note that both Celie and Nettie begin to lose faith towards the end of the novel. It almost angered me that Celie constantly turned to God for advice because, as a non-religious person, I wanted her to stand up for herself and fight. I wanted her to fight Alphonso, Albert, and every man or woman who pushed her around or made her feel weak and stupid. I also found it fascinating that, despite being a faithful missionary sent to Africa, Nettie encounters almost the exact same kind of sexism she thought she left behind in America. Even in the village, the women are treated poorly: "The Olinka do not believe girls should be educated. When I asked a mother why she thought this, she said: A girl is nothing to herself; only to her husband can she become something" (155). This passage absolutely blew me away because it was like no matter where these women went, they would always be treated as second-class subjects, and more for the fact that they are women as opposed to the fact that they are black.