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Today we bring you the second post in our Women in Authority theme week. Our next guest post is from Jenny one of the bloggers from popular site Reading the End (she's known as Gin Jenny over there).


I cheated a little bit on this assignment. (Don't tell the ladies of Lady Business; I want them to invite me back.) When they proposed this week of guest posts about lady bosses, I promptly volunteered to write about one of my favorite books of all time, The Color Purple, even though they were thinking of Heads of Corporate Conglomerates, and I wanted to write about a small business owner. (It is not like I need much excuse to write about The Color Purple. If I could write about The Color Purple once a week without boring y'all stiff, I'd do it.)

Celie, our heroine, spends the early parts of this book having things done to her. She's raped by her father, when her mother gets sick. When her father tries to give her younger sister Nettie to a friend of his, Celie offers herself instead; she marries Mr. _____, works his property, and raises his children, all the time waiting to hear from Nettie, who has left town (in hopes of a better life, but Celie thinks she's probably dead by now). It's only when Shug Avery comes to town that Celie begins to see the possibility of another life, a life in which she’s in control of her own fate.

All through the first half of The Color Purple, Celie is trapped by what she perceives as the constraints of being a black woman. “Mr. ____ not going to let his wife wear pants,” she says to Shug, when Shug first proposes the idea. For over a decade, Celie has fulfilled the only role she can imagine for herself, a wife and (step)mother, obedient to her husband, accepting that her marriage—abusive, miserable, and confining—is the only world open to her.

She starts making pants shortly after she discovers that Nettie is alive, and that Mr. _____ has been hiding her letters from Celie for years.

Well, [Shug] say, looking me up and down, let's make you some pants. . . .

What us gon make 'em out of, I say.

We have to git our hands on somebody's army uniform, say Shug. For practice. That good strong material, and free. . . . . And everyday we going to read Nettie's letters and sew.

A needle and not a razor in my hand, I think.

Sewing pants becomes a way for Celie to reclaim her personhood. As she's reading Nettie's letters, sewing pants all the while, she lets herself feel the anger that has been building in her for her whole life. She comes to a new understanding of her past and the wrongs that have been done to her; and that understanding makes it possible for her to imagine a different future. After a lifetime of forcing herself into the Procrustean bed of traditional femininity, Celie allows herself the freedom of comfort: A life with Shug. Pants instead of dresses. Joy instead of misery. When she reaches the last of Nettie's letters, she leaves Mr. ____ to make a new life in Memphis with Shug.

That's where her pants-making business truly takes off. Again, it's Shug—representing, as always, freedom from stifling gender roles to Celie—who comes up with the idea:

Let's us put a few advertisements in the paper, she say. And let's raise your prices a hefty notch. And let's just go ahead and give you this diningroom for your factory and git you some more women in here to cut and sew, while you sit back and design. You making your living, Celie, she say. Girl, you on your way.

(And Celie signs her letter to Nettie, “Your Sister, Celie, Folkspants, Unlimited.”)

This is how Celie makes her living. Even when Shug leaves her for a while, to gallivant off with a younger man, Celie still has this way of being free, of belonging only to herself. It’s not a subtle symbol, but it’s a powerful one.

Date: 2015-06-25 01:24 am (UTC)
chaila: Elizabeth Bennet reading a book, from the 2005 movie. (austen - lizzie/books)
From: [personal profile] chaila
What a good post. So much reflection of the potent symbolism in so few words. I read it three times. :)

Date: 2015-06-25 01:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] necromancyneverpays.wordpress.com
The part about not getting her letters always seemed like the worst part of that story. I hate it when someone writes, and the character written to doesn't get the letter.

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