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Compare how Nathaniel Hawthorne & Alice Walker portray the struggles of the central character to achieve fulfilment.

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Introduction

Compare how Nathaniel Hawthorne & Alice Walker portray the struggles of the central character to achieve fulfilment in The Scarlet Letter and The Color Purple. Both novels are a celebration of American literature and explore the morals and values of the era in which they were set. The Color Purple being written in 1950 portrays the repression of black women especially in the South. Walker manipulates the character of Celie in order to exhibit a young woman's journey through life and the trials and tribulations she faces whilst fighting the social hierarchy women were expected to accept. While Hawthorne's use of the character of Hester Prynne, an adulteress and foreigner evidences the religious oppression that Hester is forced to confront (ironically through the moral weakness of a churchman.) The Color Purple is written in epistolary form with the letters at the beginning of the novel written to God from Celie however later in the novel the letters are written by the character of Nettie. Throughout, Sofia's story and the final return of Celie's adult children with Nettie are also explored in this way. The Scarlet Letter however is written in third person narrative - where the narrator is a strong presence. Hawthorne's pretence that the story is based upon a document found when he was surveyor of the Custom House in Salem enables him to speculate with the reader about aspects of the narrative. "Here to witness the scene which we are describing", this omniscient author approach - while not matching the direct intimacy of Celie's first hand narrative - permits the reader to have a more direct link with the story. The local southern black dialect in The Color Purple is mostly phonetic for example 'kilt' or 'killed'. The impact of the droll humour evident in the matter of fact simple language used by Celie and the understatement seems to make the horrors even greater. ...read more.

Middle

Sofia refuses to be patronised and makes the mistake of 'looking like somebody' driving in a car, which as a black woman was unusual in itself. Her character is truly revealed however when Sofia replies to the mayor's wife's offer of menial work with a "Hell, no". Further to this, the beating she receives is out of all proportion to the offence she committed but the ruling class of whites show no mercy to an "uppity nigger". The extent of the insanity of society at the time is brought to light by the reactions of her friends with regard to her seven year prison sentence for striking the major after refusing to be Miss Millie's maid. Sofia's friends are not shocked or surprised by this extreme punishment however clearly do not condone the fact that there had never been any true justification for the severity of the sentence she received, or the ten years domestic service she had to endure. The occasion in which Sofia is allowed to visit her family at Christmas time undoubtedly demonstrates the ignorance of the whites when Miss Millie insists on being driven home a very short while after Sofia's reunion with her children after such a very long time apart from them. Walker is able to authenticate that it is certainly possible for black and white people to relate to each other whilst accepting their differences. By the closure of the novel Sofia and Miss Millie have formed a friendship free of racial constraints; Miss Mille begins to appreciate Sofia as a woman rather than a faceless black person, no different from the rest of her race . Throughout The Color Purple Celie struggles to find religious fulfilment. The church is a fundamental aspect of the community to which Celie belongs and at the beginning of novel she is a staunch member and continues to be so, working as hard there as she does for Mr and his children. ...read more.

Conclusion

Shug Avery is possibly the best example of a liberated woman in the novel, although she suffers verbal attack from the church elders due to her lifestyle. Her career as a blues singer enables Shug to experience much more freedom than the other women whose lives are bound by home, work and child care. She is also much more sexually liberated than many other females, having numerous affairs and enjoying her sexuality with no restraints or false guilt. She holds a strong belief in God which is unfettered by convention and her relationship with Celie is a central theme of the novel. It is Shug who liberates Celie in all aspects of her life, guiding her into, sexual emotional and financial independence and combining the roles of sister, friend and lover. Shug possesses equality because of her own integrity as a person, and she transfers this on to Celie. It is no accident that the enterprise which gains Celie her independence is, paradoxically, a "woman's job"- sewing - but the product is trousers, for women to wear - this is a symbol of power in itself. Masculine and feminine temperaments are also addressed in the novel. Shug is described by Albert as being "more manly than most men", but as Celie rightly points out to him, those qualities of honesty integrity and independence, are equally valid as feminine qualities. What the novel asserts is that people are either weak or strong, and gender should not dictate perceptions of qualities which are essentially human. Walker, as an acclaimed writer has been highly praised by feminist critics for vividly portraying the brutality that women have faced throughout the years, however a number of critics have argued that the positive note on which the novel ends makes light of the offenses suffered by the female protagonist and runs in direct contrast to reality. Conversely, some reviewers have defended the novel's upbeat ending, claiming that it is not disloyal to feminist concerns, but rather furthers the idea that a woman-especially one surrounded by a community of nurturing women-can overcome affliction. ...read more.

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