I know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Color Purple Reflective Essay

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The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a fictionalized novel about the low position African-American women had in American social culture during the 1930s. The story takes place in Georgia, Tennessee, and West Africa, where two African-American sisters by the names of Celie and Nettie suffer from racial and sexual abuse. Celie, the preeminent character of the novel, is seen handwriting letters to God about the perpetual beating and raping by her own ‘Pa,’ Alphonso.

Meanwhile, Nettie, the more pleasant looking of the two sisters, is offered to marry a man only known as Mr____. Sadly, Alphonso denies the offer, and instead chooses to propose Celie as a bride. Being anguished and continuously menaced by her father, Celie sees this as a breath taking opportunity to end her misery, and start a new life. Little did she know that her life with Mr____ was going to be a gloomy and challenging one.

Before Celie had to leave with Mr____, Nettie told her that she was going to send her letters everyday. But, as soon as Celie was taken by Mr___, she did not receive any of Nettie’s letters. Celie was miserable, and soon came to the thought that her sister was dead because she had not fulfilled her promise to send letters from her well-being. Continuing on with her life, Celie finds affection and love for a woman by the name of Shug Avery.

Loving her presence, Celie would take great care of Shug, and would treat her when she fell ill. Later in the novel, Celie realizes that Mr____ was hiding Nettie’s letters this whole time, and was overcome by emotion. As the book goes more into depth, these two African-American sisters reunite and find themselves free from their past racial struggles; they are able to find true love.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is an autobiography about Maya Angelou’s early childhood in the Southern United States. Her own story takes place during the Great Depression, where she and her brother Bailey lived their unbearable nightmare. Coming-of-age as a southern black girl, Maya is victim of racial and sexual discrimination, as well as violence, and loneliness.

Throughout the novel, Maya’s parents divorce; leading to her and Bailey moving out to Stamps, Arkansas. Growing up with their grandparents, Maya and Bailey finally decide to move in with their mother in St. Louis, Missouri. However, things reach a turning point when Vivian, Maya’s mother, finds out that one of her sugar daddies, Mr Freeman, sexually abused and raped her daughter. Sent to prison and then killed, Mr Freeman’s death felt like a burden for Maya, which lead to her and Bailey returning to Stamps. A little more further inside the book, we can witness Maya’s character changing.

As a matter of fact, while in summer with her father, Maya decides to run away from him, showing her first true act of self-reliance and independence. She displaces herself; intentionally this time, to a homeless-filled junkyard, where she lives for a month and learns an important lesson about humanity. At the end of the novel, Maya becomes San Francisco’s first black streetcar conductor, and carries the child of one of the neighborhood boys. Gaining confidence, Maya then graduates high school and gives birth to a son. She surmounted her struggle and became a loving and dignified woman. Indeed, Maya was most of her life a victim of racism, sexism and segregation, but she still managed to show resistance as a strong black African-American woman.

According to the EROC organization(End Rape On Campus), for every-African American woman who reports her rape, at least fifteen other African-American women do not report theirs. African-American women were victims to sexual assault, abuse and inequalities their whole life. They were also given no rights. It took them many years of constant struggle and oppression before they were finally able to vote (1920) and have a voice in their communities . Both I know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou and The Color Purple by Alice Walker summate the early lives of African-American females

. By comparing these two novels and asking the question: “How are Celie and Maya’s transformation as African-American women presented differently”, we can notice the different motives these African-American characters had, and how they used them to help themselves throughout their racial and sexual struggles. As a matter of fact, the transformation of these African-American female characters are shown through spirituality, symbolism, and imagery in these novels.


Alice Walker uses the theme of God and spirituality throughout her novel The Color Purple, to address the different motives these African-American woman have. As a matter of fact, God is what gives them hope and a voice in their communities, which is why Alice Walker mainly used this theme. Celie’s first letter is indeed a letter to God where she tells him “I am fourteen years old. I have always been a good girl.

Maybe you can give me a sign letting me know what is happening to me.” (Walker 1). Celie uses God as a symbol to show the violence and suffering that she endures. Her calls to divinity, as a young african american girl, are truth to all her childhood miseries. She questions her self-being and her exterior surroundings, asking the almighty what is occurring to her. Another piece of evidence is “I don’t write to God no more. I write to you” (Walker 192). The anger and harm present in Celie’s life is taken upon God. Celie is tired of her constant suffering, and blames it on God, saying that he ignored her these past times of struggle.

She then writes to nettie instead of god, losing faith in him. Celie’s abusive father, and other societal factors are making her lose her mind, and now her faith. Spirituality is represented a lot in this book and is considered an important figure for the lives of african-American females. A quote that further proves this is “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it” (Walker 196). Shug realizes that god, the almighty, is what brings good to life. It is what brings sex, enjoyment, and laughter to someone’s life.

Maya Angelou also portrays the motif of God and spirituality in her novel I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings. For instance, Angelou reassures her audience by reminding them that at the end of the day, there is “an assurance that the covenant God made with children, Negroes and the crippled was still in effect” (Angelou 16). God will listen to everyone, including the disadvantaged, and love them no matter what. In other words, God is the only one to accept people for their true selves. This is why spirituality is an important aspect to the African-American life.

Since African-Americans had a little to no voice in their early communities, they were only able to speak to god; their so-called hummanizing movement all started with God. Maya, as an African-American female, also tells us that god and religion are the most important for the disadvantaged, which in this case are the African-Americans: “I find it interesting that the meanest life, the poorest existence, is attributed to God’s will, but as human beings become more affluent, as their living standard and style begin to ascend the material scale, God descends the scale of responsibility at a commensurate speed” (Angelou 120). She says this as if religion was the only good thing the ‘crippled’ could do that would bring joy and faith to them.

Both books use religion and spirituality in them to show the struggle of African-American females. In these books, spirituality also shows the commencement of what is called a future uprising. African-American females started talking to God and the almighty, as it was their only hope and way of thinking they could make it out of their misery. Nowadays, African-Americans can talk to anybody, and have a recognizable voice in everyday society without getting harrassed. The path they took to become who they are, which was slow, actually started with their constant beliefs in God, and the prayers they sent to him. God was an important motif for these African-American females, and it was the weapon they used to show strength and power. Apart from God, many other factors impacted the lives of these struggling African-American females. These essential factors were all represented by imagery and symbolism in The Color Purple and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

Purple Dress

The novel The Color Purple by Alice Walker also uses symbolism to show the transformation of African-American women. More specifically, Alice Walker’s constant use of symbols represent the change in Celie and Nettie’s lives. “I can’t remember being the first one in my own dress. Now to have one made just for me. I try to tell Kate what it mean. I got hit in the face and stutter” (Walker 21), Walker mentions the color purple as a symbol representing Celie and her transformation.

Purple, like mentioned in the book, represents God, love and life. It shows and dignifies power and freedom. This is why Celie feels free when she wears purple clothes and this is also seen when she paints her house purple. It is like her voice is recognized, but not only that; her whole body as well. Another quote from The Color Purple incorporating symbolism is “We know a roofleaf is not Jesus Christ, but in its own humble way, is it not God?” (Walker 154). In fact, Walker uses god to show the. Everything from help to joy is represented by god.

In this passage, Nettie tells us that shelter and help received is godlike. Only the almighty would do such grateful things. God is the answer for everything for them. If they need anything, then they ask and pray to him, as if he was the only being in the galaxy who would understand them. African-American movements and vocal shift started with god, and so this is why he is an important symbol in the book. Not only is he a symbol in The Color Purple, he is also one in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and many other books touching the topics of racial and sexual discrimination.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou also uses symbols throughout its story. These many symbols are meant to show the readers that the voice of African-American women did change. At the beginning of the book, we learn that Maya’s momma is running a store. Her store, ‘over the years it became the lay center of activities in town’ (Angelou 6). Maya’s momma is apparently the only African-American running a store, and one that is located in the center of everything and is referred to as the heart of the town. In this book, the store is a huge symbol of strength and faith. With a unique store, Momma has power and is looked upon with strength and hope. It is motivation like this that helped the vocal shift of African-American females happen.

During the prologue of I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, we are hinted of another symbol. In fact, “Easter’s early morning sun had shown the dress to be a plain ugly cut-down from a white woman’s once-was-purple throwaway…” (Angelou 2). Maya’s dress is the other major symbol in the book. It shows the struggle she constantly has. The way Maya describes the dress tells us that she hates it and that it makes her look horrible. This dress is a symbol of how Maya rejects her own race and is victim to racism. It is only after that Maya finally understands that she is nothing different than white people and that her dress had nothing wrong.

Both books have many different symbols throughout them to represent the struggle of the African-American life. Though both refer to purple in some areas, all these symbols change throughout the story, revealing more about the characters and their transformations. In The Color Purple, Alice Walker uses the color purple and god as symbols to represent Celie’s transformation from having a tough life as victim of abuse and rape to having a straightforward life with no more maltreatment. In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou uses her dress and her momma’s store as symbols to show her own transformation. As a matter of fact, her whole purpose of writing an autobiography was to show how she changed from a victim both racial and sexual discrimination to a dignified and caring women. Maya and Celie both go through a similar transformation, however, they used different motifs to boost their hopes up, and become who they are.

Mental Picture

Alice Walker uses a lot of imagery in The Color Purple. Mental images of the atrocities of racism and sexism can be powerful enough to trigger emotions to the reader. Walker used imagery as a tool to show the transformation of African-American women. Violence is seen constantly throughout the novel. “They fight. He try to slap her. What he do that for? She reach down and grab a piece of stove wood and whack him cross the eyes . . . She throw him over her back. He fall bam up gainst the stove” (Walker 37). These types of quotes give us a mental image of the violence and suffering African-American females had throughout their lifetimes. It also shows us that they did take action and tried to oppress this suffering. It shows us that by making the African-American female beat the white instead.

Throughout her novel, quotes about losing faith can be seen. “Too many to kill off, I say. Us outnumbered from the start” (Walker 100). This type of quote gives us a mental picture of the world before ours. It shows that whites were the dominant and that they outnumbered the African-Americans. It also shows the mental of blacks, and what they were thinking inside their heads. It shows that they felt attacked and wanted to do something about it, which is why they want to ‘kill’ the whites.

Maya Angelou also uses imagery throughout her novel I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. She has a similar reason to Walker as she uses imagery to show how violent her childhood used to be, but also how it stopped as she went on her adult years. “In Stamps the segregation was so complete that most Black children didn’t really, absolutely know what whites looked like. Other than that they were different, to be dreaded” (Angelou 25).

Angelou gives us a mental image of how intense segregation was. As a matter of fact, it was so harsh that black people didn’t even see whites and know how they looked. African-Americans slowly became known to the world around them, as well as accepted. However, before being recognized, they went through horrible and unforgiving/ unforgettable times.

Maya Angelou also uses imagery when she talks about how “the whitefolks have their money and power and segregation and sarcasm and big houses and schools and lawns like carpets, and books, and mostly—mostly—let them have their whiteness. It was better to be meek and lowly…than to spend eternity frying in the fires of hell” (Angelou 131). She makes us feel what it seems to be jealousy. African-Americans did not have the life of whites, but they preferred their life, as they thought white people will rotten in hell after their death. This is because of the violence white people put on blacks. For them to be heard, they had to be put through suffering, violence, inequality, and other horrible things.

Maya writing this book. “The fact that the adult American Negro female emerges a formidable character is often met with amazement, distaste, and even belligerence. It is seldom accepted as an inevitable outcome of the struggle won by survivors and deserves respect if not enthusiastic acceptance” (Angelou 272). By this quote, Maya Angelou is showing the progress African-American females had throughout history. From nothing to recognized, their success should be looked upon and used as motivation for something even bigger. It shows the respect that African- American females deserve and the courage they have from conquering all of these societal obstacles.

Both these books have strong imagery in them. They use that imagery to show appeal to their readers and make them understand what it felt like to be a minority. These two books have imagery that represent the violence and suffering, and imagery used to show the transformation of African-American female’s lives. Comparing these books, they use imagery to show different types of violence African- American women had, but they use imagery the same way. They use it to show through how much these women had to go trough and how their lives changed. It changed from violence, abuse, rape, and thefts to love, freedom, family and dignity.


The voice of African-American women changed drastically throughout history. It was self-esteem, divinity, and confidence that gave these women the morale to fight for their rights. Celie and Maya, two African-American characters in books I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Color Purple, show their transformation from their childhood to their late adolescent years. Their constant struggle against racial and sexual discrimination did not cease them from becoming who they are near the end of their lives. Both Celie and Maya showed true acts of courage and commitment; even as victims of sexual abuse and rape, these two women were still capable of finding hope, and freedom. Sharing their story is hope for other African-Americans who seek to do the same thing.

In essence, Celie and Maya’ transformations represent the vocal shift of African-American Females. Their never-ending nightmare turned out to be a falsehood; they both became loving, caring, and dignified women. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou and The Color Purple, by Alice Walker both use the motifs divinity, symbolism, and imagery to express their moral. No matter the race or the ethnicity, the sex or the gender, it takes bravery, ambition, and audacity to overcome one’s fear.


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I know Why the Caged Bird Sings and The Color Purple Reflective Essay. (2021, Apr 22). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/i-know-why-the-caged-bird-sings-and-the-color-purple/



What did Alice Walker say about The Color Purple?
Alice Walker, the author of The Color Purple, said that the novel explores the experiences of black women, including their struggles with racism, sexism, and domestic violence. She also emphasized the importance of sisterhood and the power of storytelling in healing and liberation.
What is the lesson of The Color Purple?
The Color Purple is a story about the strength of women and their ability to overcome adversity. The novel shows that women can be survivors and that they can find happiness even in the face of great hardship.
What is the significance of the title The Color Purple?
The title of the book is significant because it is the color of royalty and it is also the color of African American skin.
Why does it say Mr in The Color Purple?
The story is about a man named Peyton Farquhar who is about to be hanged for trying to sabotage a railroad bridge during the Civil War. As he is about to be hanged, he imagines himself escaping and swimming to safety.
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