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Sewing is often viewed as a proper pastime for married women to engage in, even if it can often be laborious to do for hours on end. Yet, the women in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple managed to turn this monotonous activity into something profitable. Celie begins to use sewing as a way to bond with the other women who come into her life and, eventually, as a way to make herself economically secure without the help of a husband. In this way, the prominence of sewing in The Color Purple is used to symbolize the means through which the women formed a sisterhood and gained independence from the men that were dominating their lives.
One of the first positive interactions between Celie and Sofia is facilitated through the act of making a quilt together. Celie had previously told Harpo that he should beat Sofia because Celie was jealous of Sofia’s strength and assertiveness. When Sofia approaches Celie about her actions, she suggests that they “make quilt pieces out of… messed-up curtains” as a way to start with a clean slate (42). Seeing Sofia and Celie sew together prompts Shug join in, and soon after, the three women are making a quilt together with a pattern that Celie calls Sister’s Choice, a name which represents the sisterhood that Shug, Celie, and Sofia are symbolically creating with this quilt. As the women work on the quilt, Celie begins to feel a sense of empowerment, declaring to God that “for the first time in [her] life, [she feels] just right” (57).
Through her friendship with the other women, especially with Shug, Celie begins to find value in herself and realizes that she can hope for a life without Mr.___. After Shug suggests that Celie should own a pair of pants to wear while plowing the fields, the two begin a daily routine of sewing and reading Nettie’s letters. The fact that Celie is sewing something that she knows Mr. ___ would not consider proper for her to wear serves as a catalyst to speed up the process through which Celie asserts her independence. She begins to question God, one ideal that she always had complete faith in, and when Shug exclaims to Celie, “You coming back to Tennessee with me,” Celie realizes that she not afraid to go with her (177). The fact that Celie and Shug have shared secrets and sewn together has caused them to form a very close bond.
Ever since leaving with Shug to Tennessee, Celie finds herself unable to stop sewing pants to the point where she now has “pants all over her chairs, hanging all in front of the china closet. Newspaper patterns and cloth all over the table and the floor” (212). This mania for sewing is symbolic of how, now that Celie has taken her first step towards being liberated from Mr.___’s clutches, she cannot stop finding new ways to become more independent and self-sufficient. The pants that Celie has sewn are a physical manifestation of how much Celie’s search for independence has inspired the other women to search for happiness as well. Celie first begins to sew pants for Shug and Squeak, two women who were heavily influenced by Celie on their own search for independence. Soon enough, as Mr.___ notes, “everybody in the family just about wearing pants [she] made,” which symbolizes that sisterhood the Celie created with all of the women in the family (254). The most prominent sign that a woman no longer needs a man in her life is when she is able to achieve financial security on her own. Economic independence is something that women, especially black women, rarely possessed in rural Georgia, and it would not have been possible for Celie to achieve had she not embraced her gift for sewing. The start of Celie’s business coincides with her getting her own house to live in. This, along with the fact that Celie is now sewing primarily for profit, shows that she succeeded in creating a life for herself completely independent of men.
Traditionally, the ability to sew was a skill that was prized in wives. Wives could make their husbands’ clothes or they make linens and curtains to make the house beautiful for when their husband had guests over. Not many women enjoyed sewing, yet they spent most of their days engaged in this activity because they believed it was a part of being a good housewife. Celie transformed this feminine duty into something that she could do not just to make her husband happy but herself as well. Through her sewing, Celie was able to create a lifelong friendship with so many women that empowered her and design a path to independence and liberation from her confining past.
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