Women’s life through The Color Purple and Amar Jiban

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In this article I am going to compare life of women in: “The Color Pur  ple” by Alice Walker and Rassundari Devi’s autobiography “Amar Jiban”. The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker. Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on female black life in the 1930s in the southern United States, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. Rassundari’s Amar Jiban written in 1869 and published in 1876 portrays the changing world of rural Bengal and situates woman there. In the age of 19th century Reform-ism in Bengal, the first full length autobiography was written not by a man but by an unknown, self taught, high caste Hindu housewife from a conservative rural household.

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“The Color Purple” is a collection of letters exchanged between the fictional character Celie, a black woman, and her sister. Celie goes through life having a hard time noticing the beautiful aspects and appreciating them. She had a difficult life and was abused as an adolescent. However, later Shug points out to her that life must be enjoyed. When they are in a field of purple flowers, Shug tells Celie to look at the flowers and embrace their beauty. “You must look at all the good and acknowledge them because God placed them all on earth.” After learning this, Celie has a better respect for life and everything it has to offer.

“Amar Jiban” narrates Rassundari Devi’s life and shows the restrictive norms and rituals enjoined upon a traditional Hindu housewife, yet through her dispassionate, objective style and subject matter, through the very act of writing, forbidden to women not so long ago, Rassundari Devi was engaged in a unique act of emancipation. Having never attended formal school, Rassundari was self-taught. Her book is a passionate description of the deplorable condition of women at the time as well as a secret plea to women to stand up from their seat of subservience to be critical of their own lives including the prevalent social customs and practices.

In both the text’s Celie and Rassundari Devi express their desires and troubles to their sole companion, God. Celie writes to God because she has no other way to express her feelings. Her writing thrusts her into a rich symbolic life that results in her repudiation of the life she has been assigned and a desire for a more expansive daily existence.While her faith is strong, it’s dependent on only what other people have revealed to her about God. Similarly, Rassundari Devi has a strong faith in God. She addresses God expressing her desire to study, to meet her mother and also her daily suffering. She was introduced to God by her mother as she told Rassundari, “He [God] will be with you all the time, so stop crying now,” while she was being sent away after her marriage at the age of twelve. In case of Celie, God’s image is thrust upon her as a white man. She has this belief because everyone she knows has said God is white and a male. Later, Shug tells her God has no race or gender. This enables Celie to see God in a different way. She realizes that you cannot attribute qualities to God because God is a part of the unknown. Her faith is now based on her interpretation of God, not one she learned from someone else. In case of Rassundari Devi’s autobiography there is a kind of invocation to God. She sees god’s design in her life. She knows that she is transgressing the norms of the society so she prays to god to take away the sting of every transgression. She studies in the disguise of God saying that it was god’s design that she could get her hands on Chaitanya Bhagvata. Overall both Celie and Rassundari Devi confide in God, their sole companion and though Celie realizes late but both women consider God as a medium to fulfill your happiness and desire. Celie realizes that God wants to see “it’s” people happy and satisfied and Rassundari’s narrative shows that she knows God understands her and is always with her to bring her happiness among all the suffering.

Either the texts at one point or the other put forth the question of whether it is wrong to be born a woman. Mr Albert once screams at Celie saying, “You pore, you ugly, you woman”, and Celie also thinks that a woman or wife’s destiny is to clean the house and bear children. Nettie in her letter to Celie says that, “The Olinka do not believe that girls should be educated because a woman is nothing by herself; she becomes something when she is married because she can have children.” Rassundari Devi too says “Is this my fate because I am a woman?” she further asks “just because I am a woman does it mean that trying to educate myself is crime.” Her real pain is evident when she cannot meet her sick mother and cries out, “Alas my God, why did you let me be born as a human being? It is indeed a very rare fortune to be born a human being. Birds and beasts are inferior beings. And to think of the sin I have committed even after being fortunate enough to be born a human. Why was I ever born a woman? Shame on my life! …If I were a son I would have flown directly to my mother’s bedside. But I am helpless. I am a caged bird.”

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Both women understand the value of education. Celie pushes her sister Nettie to study and she herself was also a very good student in school. In letter four Celie tells Nettie to “keep at her books,” which proves how much she values education. When Nettie begins to write regularly to Celie, she not only educates her from first hand experience the ways of Africa and its people, but in doing so she broadens Celie’s horizons.

Both the women are married off without any prior knowledge nor the desire or understanding of it. Where Celie is an adult yet does not know or desire to be married to someone she has never met. She is in a way sent off by her step father like an animal so that he can lay his hands on her younger sister. Rassundari Devi is married off at the tender age of twelve when she cannot even understand where she’s going and why. Both are helpless, immature and cannot understand their situations. Where Celie’s mother was not in her senses and later died Rassundari Devi’s mother, though a loving mother was helpless in keeping her daughter with her due to the societal practices.

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But then Celie has women whom she relates to can talk to and seek as an idol to follow whereas Rassundari Devi lacks any company or idol where she can find support. Shug, Sophia and Nettie bring strength in the life of Celie. They teach her to love and rebel. Shug helps Celie in respecting and loving herself and even helps helps her stand for herself. It is Shug who introduces to the God who loves everyone; Shug is the rebel who brings “pants” that is confidence to work outside household chores. Sisterhood is a helpful support in Celie’s life which teaches women the importance of each others support. Whereas, Rassundari Devi fights her struggle in silence and hiding in the kitchen which beckons us to fight even when we are alone. She taught herself to read anew in her husband’s household at the age of 25, and later to write, by secretly studying her husband’s religious manuscripts. She worked day in and day out for her family but in return at times she did not get anything to eat the whole day. Rassundari Devi in her autobiography thanks God that she is robust and healthy enough otherwise the daily work would have killed her. This shows the life of a married woman in early 19th Century Bengal.

Above I discussed in brief the two texts both situated in different time and places yet shows how similar the pain and suffering a woman faces. Be it in America, Africa or India there have been women who were suppressed, fought and rose. Even today we have such communities which suppress women but today we have role models to look at and grow. These two set decades apart express the inherent wish to break free, the struggle women go through and the final break through. I would conclude by saying that if these two women could counter their problems with strength, determination and friendships, why can’t we?

 

 

 

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