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In both The Color Purple and A Thousand Splendid Suns it is evident that the thoughts, actions and personal growth of Celie and Mariam, protagonist of the novels are influenced by those who they surround themselves with, in addition to further factors such as the setting of each novel and major events that take place leading to their personal contentment and happiness.
A Thousand Splendid Suns set in Afghanistan from the early 1960s to the early 2000s which examines the limited role of women in an Afghan society and the hardships they face seen through the protagonist of Mariam. She holds a great amount of shame for being an illegitimate child causing her to be unable to stand up for herself and this contributes to her tolerance of being married to her controlling and dominate husband. With women of this time in Afghanistan having minimal right and dis-obeying their husband’s orders most likely leading to abuse, a prominent symbol in the beginning of this novel that emphases the patriarchy of this book, for Mariam especially, is the burqa which she obeys Rasheed’s order to wear it despite that she heavily dislikes it.
To Mariam, Rasheed’s will feel as “imposing and immovable as the Safid-koh mountains looming over Gul Daman”. These internal thoughts of Mariam highlight the evident domination of men over women in Afghanistan during this time with no escape. In the comparison of Rasheed’s “will” to “mountains” it shows that Mariam feels it would be useless to even attempt to fight back as not even a slight change will occur due to her sex in a male controlled country. In addition the idea of the mountains “looming over” the village where Mariam had grown up shows how the culture that the Afghan man possess of this setting is just like the mountains, it will always be there. “The suffocating way the pleated cloth kept pressing against her mouth” shows how an actual object is personified and physically silences the women where as in The Color Purple it is rather male blackmail and abuse that dominates and controls women seen through the relationship of Celia and Mr.
The novel The Color Purple is also set in a discriminating environment of the early 90s in America rife with minimal women’s rights and patriarchal control. Celie, the protagonist and narrator of The Color Purple, is a poor, uneducated, fourteen-year-old black girl living in Georgia. As a young girl, Celie is constantly subjected to abuse and told “she ain’t fresh”. She decides therefore that she can best ensure her survival by making herself silent and somewhat invisible by doing as she is instructed by the ‘superior’ men around her and tolerating their abuse. Celie has been silenced for so long that she has gotten used to having no voice with her natural reaction to say nothing. Like Mariam, Celie often expresses her displeasure, fury or rebellion in all of these situations within her own mind; however both Mariam and Celie only gain confidence to speak out and actively rebel when they cannot take the pressure any longer due to the influence of those around them respectively and other major events.
In the beginning of the novel, Celie does not speak out against her abuse no matter how severe; she first has to gain the self-confidence, through her development in the novel to eventually take a stand. She rather turns to the idea of writing letters to God which are her only outlet of emotions. However, this being her only way of self-expression is stilled controlled by men with Celie acknowledging that “the God she been praying and writing to is a man”. Her feeling of worthlessness just like Mariam both being a victims of abuse and control is evident with the fact that she does not even sign her letters to God due to her lack of self-worth. Normally, most people take pride in signing their names but this is not seen with Celie. But despite this setting of overpowering dominance that hinders her development, Celie just like Mariam shows great character growth throughout the novel due to a combination of major events that occur and the heavy influence of people that enter their lives.
Although the abuse that Celie faces throughout her life both from her step-father with him continuously raping her and demanding she “better shut up and get used to it” to the abuse of her new husband in which he feels he has the right to abuse her stating “cause she my wife”, she is exposed to various violent events where she does not fight back because “what good it do?. However, there is one major event that brings about change in Celie: Nettie’s long-lost letters, which Celie discovers with Shug’s help hidden in Mr. trunk. These letters strengthen Celie’s sense of self by informing her of her personal history and of the fate of her children she thought she had lost forever. This enables Celie to feel a sense of belonging in life and she stops thinking of herself as a mistake and not worthy, “I’m pore, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook, a voice say to everything listening. But I’m here.”
As the progression of her letters show, Celie gradually gains the ability to combine her thoughts and feelings into a voice that is fully her own, “The more I wonder, the more I love.” This shows major development from the shy and nervous child we met who refused to have her own opinion. Celie’s process of finding her own voice has a climax with her enraged explosion at Mr. , in which she curses him for his years of abuse and abasement. Mr. responds in his insulting manner, but this does not affect Celie since she now possesses the sense of self-worth she previously lacked. This is similar to the events that occur with Mariam as she finally has the realization of her self-worth when she stands up to Rasheed and ultimately kills him to protect those she loves. Like in Mariam’s case this shows growth in their confidence and thus character development.
Throughout Mariam’s life, there are multiple events that take place which cause her to be the timid, shy and nervous character that we see and affect her character growth. Throughout the novel, we see the prominent dark cloud hanging over Mariam being the shame that she holds of being a harami, “an unwanted thing an illegitimate person who would never have legitimate claim to the things other people had, things such as love, family, home, acceptance”, in addition to the greater guilt she feels of being a contributing factor to her mother’s suicide. These feelings of no self-worth or confidence are brought into her unloving, forced marriage where Mariam struggles to bear a child with Rasheed leading to seven miscarriages and a feeling where she is “a burden to him”.
This key event leads to her dis-growth as a character and causes the irruption of the abuse by Rasheed where Mariam becomes an object of her his frustration forcing her to chew pebbles and explains how useless she is in giving him just “bad food and nothing else” in their marriage. This lack of love and belonging is a constant theme throughout Mariam’s life and a trigger for the want to change, but hope is brought into her life which is seen through the arrival of Laila where they are able to form a sister-like bond and soon after the arrival of Aziza which she questions Aziza’s love asking her “Why have you pinned your heart to an old, ugly hag like me?” . It is evident that Mariam has finally found love and a sense of belonging. Ultimately, the climax of Mariam’s growth as a character is seen in her ultimate sacrifice, giving up her own life so that those she loves can be free after killing Rasheed.
This turning point of killing Rasheed is an accumulation the pain that Rasheed has caused her, as well as the overwhelming love she feels with Laila. At first, Mariam is motivated by anger and a hunger for justice. Throughout her marriage, Mariam has accepted what destiny and fate has brought her, asking nothing of Rasheed and doing what is expected of a wife never fighting back but there is a point in the battle with Rasheed, where she realizes “what a fool she had been”. By now, when the person she loves most is threatened, Mariam sees her worth and believes that she’s never deserved the sheer violence she has endured. The powerful motivation of saving Laila’s endangered life is where the true growth is evident in Mariam as she “could not, would not, allow that to happen” and for her to lose the person she loved the most. Without the experiences and events that occurred leading up to this moment, Mariam wouldn’t have had the confidence and will to finally stand up for herself.
Celie, like Mariam is at this time reaching the peak in her development. Once leaving Mr. home Celie suddenly is free as she moves into her own house with Shug Avery allowing this home to be a space where Celie now finally has an opportunity to grow in independence, self- confidence and true happiness. Celie takes the act of sewing, and turns it into an outlet to express her inner creativity and she eventually turns it into a successful business .This shows major progression of her growth within herself. When Nettie, Olivia, and Adam return to Georgia from Africa, Celie’s circle of friends and family is finally reunited. Though Celie has endured many years of hardship, she says, “Don’t think us feel old at all. Matter of fact, I think this is the youngest us ever felt.” This happiness indicates that she has developed from the timid, miserable protagonist introduced to us at the start of the novel. The peak of Celie’s development is marked by her words, “Took me long enough to notice you such good company, he say. And he laugh. He ain’t Shug, but he begins to be somebody I can talk to.” this shows that she has more self-esteem, forgiveness and confidence as she even uses these words to forgive Mr. after all the pain and abuse she has endured from him.
Ultimately, character growth of the two protagonists to a large extent is responsible due to the strong women that influence and encourage them to stand up and have self-confidence. For much of the novel, Celie is completely submissive and yielding to the constant abuse she faces. She encounters other women who are much stronger than Celie such as Sofia who tells Celie that she should stand up for herself and fight, but Celie feels that it’s better to survive than to fight and risk not surviving. When Mr. abuses her she simply says, “Well, sometime Mr. git on me pretty hard. I have to talk to Old Maker. But he is my husband. I shrug my shoulders. This life soon be over, I say. Heaven last all ways.” However, there are certain triggers and influencers that lead Celie to stand up. A trigger being that Celie proves herself to be willing to fight for the people she loves seen with her rather being the victim of Pa’s abuse so that he leaves Nettie alone. In a smaller way, Celie also fights for Shug seen when Mr. father comes and criticizes Shug, Celie silently rebels by spitting in the man’s water. It is evident that Celie has an inner desire to stand up for herself and protect her loved ones but ultimately she needs the push that comes in the form of Shug Avery to gain the confidence to.
Shug Avery in the novel The Color Purple acts as a similar figure of Laila. When her husband, Mr. , abuses her, she reacts in a similarly passive manner until Shug Avery moves into the house with them. Celie latches on to Shug Avery, who she admires as a beautiful, empowered woman role model that encourages her development and whom Celie compares to her mother throughout the novel. Unlike Celie’s natural mother, she refuses to allow herself to be dominated by anyone. Celie has the opportunity to befriend a confident woman who does not stand down when mistreated but rather confronts her oppressor. She shows Celie how to fight back, “You got to fight them, Celie, she says. I can’t do it for you.” and gives her confidence to begin to question why she is here and that she belongs this is indicated by the comment, “It didn’t take long to realize I didn’t hardly know nothing. And that if you yourself why you black or a man or a woman or a bush it don’t mean nothing if you don’t why you here, period” , this shows Celie is allowing herself the freedom to question life and allows herself the right to have her own voice, thoughts and opinions which shows her personal development. This shows major growth in Celie’s character on numerous levels which won’t have been possible without Shug Avery pushing Celie to fight back to her oppressors and be a strong woman she was born to be.
Similarly, Laila acts as the influencer on Mariam slowly weaving in inner strength to fight back to Rasheed. It starts off with Laila building Mariam’s confidence and feeling of self-respect and worth that has been ripped away by Rasheed – as seen through her daughter Aziza. With forming a special bond with Mariam she is able to gain the idea that she is worth love and to be loved by someone else as she “had never before been wanted like this. Love had never been declared to her so guilelessly, so unreserved.” Laila’s children fill the void that is embedded in Mariam due to the years of violence and abuse she has faced as she works her way to find her happiness and contentment once again in stating to Laila that “you and your children have made me so happy”. Though, this abundance of love is seen through the face of Aziza it is ultimately Laila being the driving force ensuring that Mariam feels worthy of life and love. In addition, Laila instills bravery into Mariam showing her that she is able to stand up for herself against her oppressors and do what is right.
This character growth and gaining of bravery is seen with Laila plaining to run away with Aziza and Mariam considering “kinder years were still waiting” and she should go with. Initially when Laila arrived this bravery of Mariam’s was not visible with her being submissive and accepting her fact as a bitten wife but now with Laila influencing her, she is able to growth beyond what she expected ultimately leading to the climax of her growth and bravery in killing her biggest abuser being Rasheed out of an act of bravery and love. Ultimately, Mariam never would have gained the confidence within herself if she hadn’t gained love and strength from Laila.
Thus, both Celie and Mariam in The Color Purple and A Thousand Splendid Suns showcased their character growth and gaining of independence due to a combination of those they surrounded themselves with, in addition to other crucial elements such as the settings and major events that took place ultimately leading to them gaining happiness and considerably flourishing as protagonists.
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