Nature Imagery in The Color Purple

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Throughout the course of the text, each character undergoes their own transformation, and all the transformations are somehow all intertwined with each other. Celie goes through a major change in The Color Purple. One way this change is expressed is by Celies’ own use of nature imagery. Celie uses trees, wood, and roses as natural elements throughout different points of her transformation and compares each element either to herself, parts of herself, or other people in her life, and in the end, she finally turns a positive view towards herself and nature as a whole.

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In the beginning, Celie is living in a house with her sister Nettie, her mother, and who she believes to be her biological father, Alphonso. Celie is then married off to Mr. Alphonso who physically, sexually, and emotionally abuses her. While she is getting beaten by Mr. she compares herself to a tree. Celie says “I make myself wood. I say to myself Celie, you a tree. That’s how come I know trees fear man” (22). She compares herself to wood, to represent herself as hard and firm, and to a tree to represent herself as strong and resilient. She Is shielding herself from the physical and emotional pain of the beating. Nevertheless, trees are constantly threatened by man, as men are the ones that tear them down, so the tree also represents her weakness and suffering. Therefore, Celie is strong like a tree, but she is also a constant target of being torn down like a tree. She is only 14 when this is happening to her, and as she was also abused by pa before, she does not really know what is happening to her, why, and if it’s normal. Celie’s comparison of herself to a tree is her way of dealing, and in a way trying to understand and explain to herself the abuse. She views trees as shelter, as strong a strong guard.

Furthermore, Celie continues with her comparison to trees, this time to Mr.’s children. Celie says “I will be good to them. But I don’t feel anything for them. Patting Harpo back…like patting another piece of wood. Not a living tree, but a table, a chifforobe” (29). This time Celie is still a tree. But her psychological defense mechanism has made her unable to feel for Mr.’s children. Celie compares Harpo, to a dead tree because she feels nothing for him, the same way she feels nothing for a dead piece of wood. She compares herself to a living tree, but Harpo to a dead one, this shows that she views Harpo similar to how she views Mr., without any feelings and in constant numbness towards him. Even though it may seem as Celie is weak as she does not externally say anything or do anything to stand up for herself, Celie is tough, especially in the beginning, even if she doesn’t externally fight back, she is fighting. She is staying alive, and in the life, she is currently living, that is a fight in itself.

A major step in Celie’s transformation is when she meets Shug. Shug not only opens up Celie’s exploration of her sexuality and the pleasure of sex but also a completely different view of nature. Nothing about nature was beautiful to Celie, as she compared herself to a tree and she was constantly being told she was ugly. Shug completely changes Celie’s view on nature. When Celie first explores her body under the instructions of Shug she describes the inside to look like a “wet rose”(78). Unlike a tree, a rose represents beauty. She then later describes Shug as a rose as well. She has begun to shift from her guarded self and is starting to see the beauty in nature, not only in the form of sexual pleasure but in the form of another human being. Roses are representative of beauty and growth. She is starting to see nature’s charm. To further change her view in nature Shug also describes to Celie her view on god and religion. Shug believes that God wants humans to happen and experience pleasure and that God also wants to be happy. Shug tells Celie that God created everything in nature to be enjoyed, that she “think[s] it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” The color purple represents all the good things that god creates for humans to enjoy. This alters Celie’s view about nature, as she now views all forms of nature, human nature in the form of sexual pleasure, and physical nature such as plants and trees as creations by god made to be enjoyed.

In the end, Celie has finally evolved and developed into an unguarded happy person. She finally reunites with Nettie, her children, Shug even though they aren’t together, Mr. even after everything he did, and everyone else that played a role in her transformation. In her last letter, she writes “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear everything. Dear God”(285). This shows her acceptance and love for all of nature. Every creation of god from trees to people, she has learned to love them all. She writes about her garden and her family reunions outdoors in nature. She celebrates trees, flowers, and nature. Celie’s use of nature imagery throughout her metamorphosis is crucial for herself in her coping and understanding of what is happening to her, it also serves as a clear representation of her view towards herself and nature and how it changes.   

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