Black Women Writers @ Southwestern University

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

Celie as the Mammy

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While reading Patricia Collins’ article, I realized that the controlling images she analyzes can essentially describe the black women characters in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Therefore, I was able to understand (in part) Trudier Harris’ statement: “I don’t think it [The Color Purple] should have been [canonized]” (155). However, unlike Harris, I realized that even though the stereotypes/controlling images are present, Walker does not simply stop at the typical controlling image. At times the characters fit into the typical category of “mammy,” “matriarch,” and “jezebel,” but only a few pages later are these controlling images disoriented. Therefore instead of only perpetuating the cycle of controlling images, Walker attempts to thwart them by displaying their unnaturalness by unveiling the forces that create these images.

Celie has the most significant and obvious controlling image, the mammy. A mammy, as we defined in class, and as Collins purports, is considered a self-sacrificing mother figure. The mammy is situated as taking care of a white family’s children and not her own. Although, Celie is not taking care of white children, she is forced to care of Albert’s children, and is completely unable to care for her own. Both of these external factors are caused by Celie’s father; he gives Celie’s children to the town’s reverend and he eventually forces Celie to marry Albert. Therefore, not only is this portrayal poignant in that it displays the controlling image of Celie as a mammy by putting her in stereotypical circumstances, but it also shows the external, transgenerational forces causing Celie’s investment in the controlling image of the Mammy.

For further discussion: Shug as jezebel and Sofia as matriarch.

Works Cited

Harris, Trudier. “On the Color Purple, Stereotypes, and Silence.” Black American Literature Forum 18.4 (1984): 155-161.

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One thought on “Celie as the Mammy

  1. I also saw evidence of Celie being the mammy because she was taking care of children who weren’t in the lowest class. I’m not exactly sure where it was in the novel, but I remember Celie saying that Albert and his family actually owned their own land, although not much of what they had once owned was still in the family. This still puts them in a place of financial well-being as the family would not be in debt as was the case if they were share-croppers. So she wasn’t taking care of White babies, but she was taking care of babies from a higher social class (Or so he thought).

    Shug is a really interesting character because not only would she be considered a jezebel due to her perceived promiscuity, but also as a Black woman- making her own money and having men come second to that. But now that we’ve defined their categories, where do we do from here? Do we discuss how they undermine those roles? Or can we discuss the ways that these characters failing to remain within their controlling images, even when they’ve been placed into more than one, does or does not create positive action in undermining these stereotypes in the real world?

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