What are the advantages and disadvantages of Walker's epistolary technique for developing the readers understanding of Celie's world.
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John Diviney 130 What are the advantages and disadvantages of Walker's epistolary technique for developing the readers understanding of Celie's world "You better not never tell nobody but God. It'd kill your mammy." From the first sentence of 'The Color Purple' the reader can see that this is a dramatic novel. We can also divulge that it is not a very advanced society by the way of grammar and communication. We learn that this is what Alfonso, the stepfather of the protagonist, Celie, said to her after he first raped her when she was fourteen years old. From Alfonso telling Celie this she starts to write letters to God so she can tell somebody and not let it kill her on the inside. 'The Color Purple' is a novel make up of around 90 letters, with the first half of the book being written to God, and the second half being letters communicating between Nettie and Celie. To understand the importance of these letters we must first understand the character of Celie. She is a girl that was abused by her stepfather, and given to another man as a wife/servant depending on how this culture is looked at.
Celie sees God as pure white - the colour of the society that oppresses her colour. Has the white society indoctrinated her into this line of thinking or has her own life experiences led her to believe this to be true? When her stepfather tells her to tell 'nobody but God' that is what she does do. Celie writes down her experiences and feelings in the form of a letter. Each letter can be seen as a soliloquy - Celie bearing her soul to the reader. She has no reason to lie to God as he is always there for her and it would be a sin to do it. Her strong sense of spirituality lets her 'pour out her heart' and write in on a piece of paper. It is known that this is a practised coping technique: instead of keeping everything locked inside, like Paul D in 'Beloved', feelings should be expressed either verbally or in text form so there isn't so much conflict with the body and mind. Celie writes her letters so she doesn't destruct. Being black in a white-run society is hard enough but when you live in a place where there is internalised racism and prejudice it can be unbearable.
The disadvantages of using the epistolary structure is having so many letters that remember every event and every piece of conversation, is the book a source of reliable information? Is the book an accurate portrayal of a girl in Celie's position? In order to understand Celie's world the reader must believe that it is real but by having Celie remember everything and to have the ability to write it all down comprehensibly even though she comes from a rural, non-educated background. Would Celie even know Sofia's story of being a 'slave' for the mayor of the city in so much detail? By writing the book in letters it lets the reader take a step away and not become emotionally attached to the character of Celie unlike a flowing novel. We learn more about the themes of the book this way as we can analyse each event as it happens. We learn so much about Celie through her letters. We see her develop whilst we read. This is a very powerful technique as it is as if we are watching somebody grow up in front of our own eyes. Walker places domestic abuse and how oppressed people can unite with solidarity to overcome their oppressors inside the larger context of the misery inflicted by a racist society.
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