Celie’s own mother, on her deathbed cursed her for taking her husband away. Celie never questioned why her own mother allowed the abuse to happen or why she didn’t do anything to stop it. The cycle of abuse numbed her emotions for life.
Celie’s closest friend was her younger sister Nettie, whose beauty was her curse. A neighbor man, Albert, wanted to marry Nettie to take care of his own children, but the girls' father had other ideas for Nettie: he gave up Celie instead because she wasn’t a virgin.
In Celie’s marriage, a cycle of violence continues with physical and emotional abuse, and imposed isolation to maintain total control. She was a slave to her husband in her own home.
When Albert goes after Nettie again she is rescued and sent to live with missionaries in Africa leaving Celie to fend for herself.
The Psychology of Family Secrets
The Color Purple (Academy Award Winner written by Alice Walker) is the story Celie, a young black girl who struggles to survive the horrors of domestic violence.
Male privilege drove the cycle of violence in many homes at this time in history. Today history repeats itself behind closed doors inside many families
The unspoken understanding was to turn a blind eye and never speak of family secrets. But the silence did not fall on deaf ears.
Celie suffered a life of quiet desperation as her father subjected her to beatings and rapes, impregnating her twice and giving her children away at birth. Any emotion a new mother has for their newborn was denied her. What remained was feelings of shame and guilt for allowing the sexual abuse to continue.
Abandonment gives rise to Albert’s sense of guilt, motivating him to arrange to have Celie’s sister travel from Africa to America, bringing Celie's long lost children with her. The reunion created an emotional healing. Celie is relieved of a lifetime of guilt, shame and perceived punishment for giving them up at birth. Celie’s emotions allow her the gift of self-forgiviness, the miracle she had prayed for.
"The psychology of the brutality was worse than the beatings.”
- John Blair, Legal Scholar
Celie feels even more alone and isolated with no escape. With nobody to talk to she carries on a conversation with God asking him to justify her victimization and lack of self-esteem under the circumstances that befall her.
She misses her sister terribly and writes letters that are unanswered validating her emotions of guilt.
Albert’s mistress comes to stay with him and Celie, illustrating the denial and minimizing of his treatment of his wife.
Together the women discover the missing letters illustrating the imposed isolation she suffered.
In a moment of emotional clarity Celie stands up to her abuser and escapes the cycle of violence. Albert then enters into a "honeymoon phase" of the cycle and tries woo her back.
Celie rejects the half-hearted offers, leaving the abuser with a choice: to seek help and change, or accept the consequences.
With the support of an unlikely friend Celie learned to get in touch with her emotions. Personal validation gave rise to her renewed self-esteem and personal power.