Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

An English / Feminist Studies / Race & Ethnicity Studies Course Blog

Food and Weight Gain in Beloved and The Color Purple


I’ve just finished reading the first assigned portion of The Color Purple, and a connection that I made between this book and Beloved is that of food and weight gain and how it seems to play a part in establishing dominance in certain relationships.

In Beloved, near the end Sethe loses a lot of weight and Beloved gains a serious stomach because Sethe is giving her most of their food (I didn’t read Beloved’s swollen belly as a pregnancy because I didn’t think of her as a real human being because of her supernatural origins, so it honestly never occurred to me to think she might be pregnant). In The Color Purple, Sofia’s husband Harpo begins eating so much he makes himself sick more than once and Celie comments to Sofia that he might be eating that way because he wants to be Sofia’s size (she is naturally bigger boned than he is and curvy). This is important in speaking of Sofia and Harpo’s relationship considering they continually struggle with each other, Harpo for a submissive wife and Sofia for a husband who lets her be his equal, often physically hurting him in return when he tries to beat her into submission. Him attempting to be physically bigger than her could be seen as another way to try to establish equality with her (which he feels he doesn’t have because she isn’t submissive) and beyond that, explicit dominance. Perhaps he wanted also to become stronger and bulkier than Sofia as well so that he could overtake her in a fight, but the book does not say, it only speaks of him gaining weight.

In Beloved Sethe gives Beloved more food than she allots for herself and also waits on her like a maid, which Denver is embarrassed about and sees as inappropriate considering Sethe is the parent and Beloved the child. Beloved is clearly running the show near the end of the book, with Sethe desperate to make everything up to her and allowing her to do whatever she wants as she slowly loses weight and becomes ill. As Beloved gains weight, she also gains power over her submissive, starving mother. Perhaps this is only a coincidence. I’m not sure. This was just something I noticed in both books.



3 thoughts on “Food and Weight Gain in Beloved and The Color Purple

  1. The connection you make here is completely fascinating. The way Harpo’s and Beloved’s individual strains of greed manifest themselves via hunger (Harpo wants to be bigger, more manly, to rule over Sofia; Beloved wants to overpower Sethe) is something I hadn’t considered too closely, and certainly not so closely together. Like you, though, I took Beloved’s swelling belly as a result of her siphoning food, energy, life from Sethe, rather than it signifying possible (i.e., “real) pregnancy for her. I wonder how far the connections goes — as Beloved grows stronger with this force in her belly, overnourished yet with a ravenous spirit, her mimicry of pregnancy affords her power and strength; in Harpo’s case, his desire to get bigger backfires – it only happens unflatteringly, in in a highly feminized (which, in the context of the novel, would be received as negative) way, collecting around his belly, again as though pregnant, but thereby appearing comical. (sorry for that somehow fragmentary run-on…) But these each have me thinking, now, how this issue of pregnancy, of something inherent to womanhood, is used as both a symbol of power and of mockery.

  2. I think it is interesting that in the two stories weight gain is viewed as power over. For instance in the color purple Harpo is trying to gain weight so he can have power over Sofia, because of the way his father had power over his then wife.

    In today’s society weight gain is view as a weakness. When you get too big you can no longer do things yourself. You become dependent on others.

    I believe the latter is not so bad as it seems. Having power is a good thing. What can be bad is how you use your power.

    Thank you so much for this useful information,

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