Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

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

Pipe-Smoking and Pant-Sewing

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As The Color Purple has progressed, I have increasingly been interested in the gender fluidity of the novel, which is especially apparent within the last 30 pages. I first noticed it as a major pattern with Celie and her pant sewing business. Not only are pants during this period seen as specifically a male garment, but running a business was a man’s job. So the fact that she was doing both was really impressive. Then it turns out that she and Nettie were left their childhood home and the general store in town, so Ceile is once more a business owner.

What I’m trying to say is that the gender attributes that are strictly held in white society are not by the characters in this book. Sure, Harpo* was expected to beat his wife and have her mind him and when she retaliated with equal force, he sought to cover up his bumps and bruises and saving face by telling his father tall tales. But for the most part, gender norm violations are not made a big deal of. They are what they are the fact of their existence is accepted without batting too many eyelashes. And that’s what’s astounding about this: Its actually a very gender fluid book, and it doesn’t make a big deal about it. These are the kinds of books that will help pave the way to accepting gender fluidity fully into our culture in the future because people will be able to see what it would look like, see it as a normal thing.

The best illustration of this idea is one sentence on 272: “Now us (Celie & Mr. _____) sit sewing and talking and smoking our pipes.” The two of them are sitting on the porch, passing time pleasantly, not worrying who has the power. Celie narrates this scene nonchalantly, stating as fact and not making a big deal of the fact that they were passing time doing girly things (sewing) and manly things (smoking pipes) at the same time.

*Sidenote: I’ve been wondering something for the entire book- Is Harpo named after Oprah? I’m pretty sure that there is a correlation between them somehow. Oprah’s company is named Harpo Studios and Oprah spelled backwards is Harpo. The Color Purple was printed in 1982 and Harpo Studios was created in 1986.

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3 thoughts on “Pipe-Smoking and Pant-Sewing

  1. Super interesting response! I also believe that this is a gender fluid book and I think that the gender fluidity also goes back to Shug and Celie’s conversation about their God. Shug is insistent that her God is an “It” and not a man. While Celie during that conversation imagines her God as a old man– Zues like figure. The importance of the gender neutrality of God to Shug, in my opinion, shows her need to understand that oppression stems from men and it is not natural and is not divine.

    • I think the dynamic between an “It” and a “He” God is very interesting. I like where you went with Shug and her lack of understanding; I believe that Celie may cling to the notion that God is male because for most of her life, nothing seemed to go her way, from the abuse from her Pa and her husband to the situation with Nettie and the lost letters, and most, if not all, of her hardship been caused by the hands of men. Not only that, but the hardships of her female companions, Sofia’s beating, imprisonment and subsequent “job” as a servant for example, can be drawn back to men. Her male God, to her, didn’t much care about what happened to her, like the rest of the men in her life, so it would naturally make sense that a male God would act like male humans, who were made in the image of God, according to Genesis.

  2. It is a really interesting idea to think about Harpo in the context of Oprah’s company and also being Sophia’s (played by Oprah in the movie adaptation) husband. I think Oprah is such an iconic figure because she is an astoundingly gifted business woman. To top it off Oprah is currently North America’s only Black billionaire (according to Forbes in 2012).

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