Book Reviews

A Glimpse of Pantheism

in Walker’s “The Color Purple”

Honoured with Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award Alice walker walked the steps of success and popularity with her famous works like: her first collection of poems Once (1965), focuses on her family memory, her first novel, The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970) deals with the theme of three generation of domestic violence, In Love And Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973), her short story Collection, You Can’t Keep A Good Women Down (1981) deals with racism and sexism, and her three more books, By The Light of My Father’s Smiles (1998), The Way Forward Is with A Broken Heart (2000), A Long Walk Of Freedom (2000). Sent By Earth; A Message From The Grandmothers Spirit After The Bombing Of The WTC and Pentagon (2001), written after the attack on world trade center in New York city on September 11, 2001. She won Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Color Purple (1982) in 1983.

The Color Purple has multiple concerning theme like race, sex, physical abuse, black feminism, lesbianism, sisterhood. Pantheism is one of these themes. Alice Walker herself writes about the novel: “This book is the book in which I was able to express a new spiritual awareness, a rebirth into strong feelings of oneness…” She interprets this novel in terms of spiritual and religious development by stating these two the main theme of this book. All the characters of this novel undertake this spiritual journey. In this novel Walker has used religion and spiritualism in a very broad sense.

The present paper is an attempt to make a critical analysis of The Color Purple in pantheistic perspective and focus on the pantheistic philosophy into which Celie emerges. Pantheism, it is said the term first used by English mathematician Joseph Raphson in his work De spatio reali, written in Latin and published in 1697 In 1720 John Toland wrote the Pantheistic on; or The Form of Celebrating the Socratic- Society in Latin. He coined the term “Pantheist” and used it as synonym for Spinosist. The word Pantheism is the combination of two Greek words; the ‘Pan’ and the ‘Theos’. Pan represents ‘all’ and ‘theos’ means ’God’. It refers that Pantheism is a belief that God and the universe respectively called and ‘divinity’ and ‘nature’ are the same. Both are inevitably inseparable. It has a philosophic view that everything is God and God is everything and everything that is present in the world is not separate from God but the resemblance of God.

Pantheism is defined as “God is everything and everything is God….the world is either identical with God or in some way a self-expression of His nature” (Owen 1971; 74). “Pantheism” in the words of Owen “signifies the belief that every existing entity is only one Being; and that all other forms of reality are either modes (or appearances) of it or identical with it” (Google). All existing things in this world are interconnected with one another. This connective link leads them to divinity. This divinity plays the role of a chain which links a man to God. In Pantheism there is no any particular God but everything that exists is God. Baruch Spinoza, Lao Tzu, Giordano Bruno, Ludwig Van Beethoven, Martha Graham and Tillich are famous for their pantheistic theme. Some literary pantheists are Emerson, Walt Whitman D.H. Lawrence, and Robinson Jeffers including Wordsworth.

Pantheism is also considered as an alternative to theism. Theism believes in a “personal” God which in some sense is separate from the transcendental world. On the other hand Pantheists usually deny the existence of a personal God. Different versions of pantheism offer different accounts of meaning of “unity” and “divinity” because of their different kinds so unity has no one meaning in all form of pantheism. That is why meaning of unity is not clear and determine. In pantheism and theism there are different ways to connect someone to the God. “Divine” is defined as pertaining to God (of, from, or like a god), but also as “sacred” or “holy”. Unity and divinity are two things through which a person makes communication with God whatever criteria are decided upon as necessary for attributing divinity to something one cannot decide a priori that the possession of divinity requires personhood without ruling out the possibility of the most typical types of pantheism. Monism is another term related to pantheism. According to H.P. Owen “Pantheists are monists” (Google).

One of the wildest aspects of mystical Christian thought lies in the simple truth that God is everywhere. And if God is in fact everywhere, then God is in all things, and all things are in God. Mystical theologian Matthew Fox writes: "As the ocean is in the fish and the fish are in God, so God is in everything and everything is in God." Theologians call this Biblical position "pan ENtheism," meaning literally, "all in God." Pan entheism is distinguished from pantheism, which maintains that God is all, and all is God. Panentheism is not yet in most dictionaries, but with Google listing over 8500 pages with the word, perhaps it’s time has come! (Google).

There are two types of Pantheism first is the Classical Pantheism: it is a phrase that has been used in various ways. This term generally used by American philosopher named Charles Hartshorne and second is the Natural Pantheism: in it God is defined with all beings, substance and universe. It believes that nothing can be separated from God. Naturalistic Pantheists believe in “god is everything and everything is God”. Natural Pantheism is seen in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple as she dedicates her novel “To the Spirit: without whose assistance/ Nor I / Would have been written” (Shahida 46).

The novel The Color Purple deals with the story of a black young Afro-American girl named Celie. In the beginning of the novel her step father rapes her two times and forbids her to tell any word to anybody but to God. So Celie writes letter to God. Her step father gets married another woman after her mother’s death but he continues to rape her. Celie’s step father forces her to marry with an aged man whom Celie calls Mr._. There she meets Shug Avery, a blues singer. When Shug meets her first time she does not like her. But Celie’s way of caring, wins her heart and they became good friend. As Celie’s earlier life is full of pains and sufferings, she thinks that God is indifference to her troubles. But when she discusses it with Shug, than Shug introduces Celie with such an image of God (pantheistic outlook), which was different from the image of God (monotheistic view of god) whom Celie used to worship.

In this novel Walker makes it clear that Christ advocates the helpful perception of oneself, of women, of people, of color and at large as beloved expression of the universe. She also tries to present the dogmatic belief about God and religion through the character of Celie who fully believes on the existence and knowledge of God described in the Bible. According to Philip Royster; “The Color Purple goes beyond sexism, racism and homophobia. The title is a celebration of the beauty, pleasure of living and how that celebration is at the centre of spiritual and growth” The theme of naturalistic pantheism is described in the novel through the conversation between Celie and Shug. Before her meeting with Shug Celie used to think that her God is passive one and blind to her troubles. She thinks God is like a male who has long beard and white skin. “He big and old and tall and graybearded ” (Walker 175). She believes that to please God one has to work for Him and carry the other work like “feed the preacher” and regular visit to the church.

But Shug plays an important role in the spiritual development of Celie. She tells her about the greatness of God by saying that God does not live in a particular place like church as man thinks so. He does not look like a big male having graybearded on white skin as the people used to say. Shug tells her that God is omniscient omnipotent and omnipresent. She says that people believe if they please God, He will care about them so they go to church but it is foolish thing because it is always God who pleases the human being back. She tells her if someone wants to please God he should admire every aspect of nature equally because everything in this world has its own importance. The same theme of equality has been expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his poem “The Mountain And The Squirrel”

The mountain and the squirrel
Had a quarrel
And the former called the latter ‘little prig’
Bun replied
You are doubtless very big:
But all sorts of things and weather
Must be taken in together
To make up a year
And a sphere
And I think it no disgrace
To occupy my place,
If I am not so large as you
, you are not so small as I
And not half a spry:
I’ll not deny you make
A very pretty squirrel track
Talents differ; all is well and wisely put;
‘If I cannot carry forests on my back,
Neither can you crack a nut’(Saxena 84).

In this poem the poet wants to say that in God’s creation, all things and creatures, big or small, have their respective distinct quality and definite place. All are important in one another way. Neither should condemn the other. Neither should consider the other weak and useless. The same thing Shug wants to understand Celie in the novel The Color Purple.

Celie has suffered a lot in her life. So Celie ask to Shug what do God for me. She replies that; “He gave you life, good health and good woman that love you to death” (Walker 173) and says that God loves all his creations and she is one of the God’s loveliest creations. When Celie says that “sinners have more good time”(walker 175) , Shug understands her by saying that “now that ain’t it” “us worry bout God a lot but once as feel loved by god us do best us can to please Him with what He likes.”(175) she says that God loves admiration and it hurt God “ if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it”(walker 177). She tells her that everything in this world has been created by God so he loves all his creation and He is present in the entire worldly thing and He loves each of them equally because He has created all of them. Shug’s vision of God seems fantastically liberating when she says “I think it pisses God off if you walked by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it” (Walker 177). She tells Celie that everything created by God want to be loved. And she should love them and appreciate them.

There is no matter if the thing is good or bad, beautiful or ugly, living or non-living. Here perhaps Shug wants to say that there no action is good or bad God likes all the actions. So man should not care for the good or bad actions or feelings like sex and shit. But a man should always try to please God by doing the thing he likes because a man’s act of leading his life happily also pleases God. He should enjoy his life. He should not hate any natural or scientific things or aspects of this cosmos rather he should love them and appreciate them. Everything in this world has its own importance.

Shug teaches Celie that she should feel the presence of God in all natural things. She says to Celie if a person wants to please God it is not necessary “to go in church and sing in a choir, feed the preacher and all like that” (174) because God is present in every natural aspect. There is his presence in our realization of being a part of everything. She never imagines herself apart from the nature. Thus there naturalistic pantheism is reflected in her speech as she believes a universal soul that circulates in all objects. She says;

God is inside you and in inside everyone else you come into the world with God .but only then that search for it inside find it and something it just manifest itself even if you not looking or don’t know what you looking for trouble do it for most folks I think sorrow lord feeling like shit (walker 176).
She tells Celie to feel loved by God by being herself a part of God and says that everything in this world is the image of God. She expresses her personal experience:

My first step from the old white man was tree, then air, the bird then other people. But one day when I was sitting quite feeling like a motherless child which I was it come to me that feeling of being part of everything not separate at all. I9 know if I cut a tree my arms would bleed and I laughed and I cried and run all around the house I know just wait it was. In fact when it happens you can’t miss it. In sort like you know what she says grinning and rubbing high up on thigh (Walker 176).

Here Shug’s concept of God seems similar to William Wordsworth’s mystic pantheism that is seen in his famous lyrical poem “Tintern Abbey” in which he perceives a universal soul in nature:

A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something for more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of the setting sun,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man (96-101)

In his another poem “Influence of Natural Objects” Wordsworth virtually identifies the Soul of nature with God:

Wisdom and Spirit of the Universe!
Thou soul that are the Eternity of thoughts!
And giv’st to forms and images a breath
And everlasting motion! Not in vain (1-4)

Here the poet addresses the power of pervading nature as the wisdom and spirit of the universe, the poet says that it is the soul of every natural objects. Same thing Shug wants to teach Celie. She tells her that God also appreciated sexuality and wants men to enjoy them. Shug’s religion includes many ways of praising God that more conventional theologians consider sinful. Her God wants people to appreciate all worldly things including sexual pleasure, music, dancing, the wonders of nature and the color purple in the field, since “God loves all them feelings”(176) because He made them.

After Shug’s teaching and explanation about God Celie’s internal spiritual development begins. It demolishes her previous conception about God that He is a big, tall, white skin man as described by white men in the Bible. Now Celie understands and accepts her own individuality. She becomes aware of the fact that her notion about God which she has imagined was a narrow conception because of the white men who wrote Bible for the white people. Shug’s conception of spiritual truth includes a God who is neither man nor woman, neither black nor white, but God is in everything and in every human being even God is present in their thoughts and ideas and actions.

Now Celie turns away from structured religion and develops a personal pantheistic belief. She abandons traditional and monolithic God in favour of more personalize faith. According to Hankinson Celie shifts from a God centered perspective to a nature centered perspective that is a part of Celie’s spiritual transformation. After her conversation with Shug Celie‘s spiritual journey is complete and now she writes her letter not only to God but to all natural things by addressing them “Dear God, Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear people, Dear everything Dear God”( Walker 259).

Her way of perceiving things has been changed now and it is first time in her life the color purple that Celie being native and being noticed as a part of God is a majestic composition. Now Celie sees the soul of God in every objects of nature as William Wordsworth sees the universal soul. He writes in a poem:

In all things, in all nature, in the stars,
Of azure heaven, and unending clouds,
In flowers and trees, in every pebbly stone
That paves the brooks…
…from link to link
It circulates, the soul of all the world (Sharma 23)

Celie finally understands that God is neither big nor small, neither rich nor poor, neither handsome nor ugly, neither man nor woman, neither black nor white, neither living nor no-living. But one should see God in everything in this world. Man should realize His presence in;sun ,moon stars ,trees, flowers, every act of man, either it is good or bad. Treedy Bloser Bush has seen in the character of Shug as amalgamation of pan-religion. He observes that Shug develop the holistic consciousness of the Christian mystic of Buddhist and Hindu thought and of African animism. She realizes that god is inside each person and people come to church to show not to find God” Walker affirmed her animism and pantheism as early as 1973, and clearly professed a pantheistic faith; “Certainly I don’t believe there is a God beyond nature. The world is God man is God so is a leaf or a snake.” Overall the God who is ocean or drifting clouds the God with in melons, mangoes or any kind of attractive, seductive fruits the God who worships us too is confronting curative celebrant.

In a nut shell pantheism is a philosophical concept it means that each thing in this world has the same importance. So in this world nothing is great or small, high or low, superior or inferior, good or bad, bitter or sweet. In other words pantheism means that god is not only presented in all human beings’ feelings, emotions, activities, passions, desires, love and hate, but also He is presented in each thing which is the part of this cosmos or universe. In this cosmos everything created by God. So everything should be loved or praised by all beings without giving preference to anything or anybody. Famous dramatist William Shakespeare also writes in his Hamlet that “nothing is good or better but thinking makes it so” (Arora 18). No action should be condemned because it is made by God. God is neither male nor female, nor black nor white, nor big nor small. God is presented in every living or nor living thing, thinkable or unthinkable ideas. The same thing is taught by Shug to Celie in her speech.

Walker presents her views about god and religion through Shug and attacks the dominance of man in society which has placed him at the same pedestal as God. Thus a glimpse of Pantheism is seen in the novel the Color Purple written by Alice Walker.

Works Cited

  • Arora, Sudhir k. A Handbook of Language and Literature for Competative Examinations. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2011. Print.
  • Goyal, Dr. B.S. Alice Walker’s The Color Purple: A Critical Study. New Delhi: Surjeet Publication, 2011. Print.
  • Hankinson, Stacie Lynn.“From Monotheism to Pantheism: Liberation From Patriarchy in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.” Midwest Quarterly. 38-3 (Spring 1997): 320. 28. Print.
  • Louret, Maria. The Color Purple. Modern Novelist: Alice Walker. Newyork: St. Martin’s press, 2000. 90-120. Print.
  • Naturalistic Pantheism. web. 20 Dec. 2011.
  • MLA Handbook For Writers of Research Papers. 7th ed. New Delhi: Affiliated East-West Pvt. Ltd., 2009. Print.
  • Shahida, Ms., Dr. Mohini Chakranarayana. Alice Walker: The Color Purple. Meerut: Sarika Offset Press, 2005. Print.
  • Sharma, Dr. Balak Ram. William Wordsworth: Selected Poems. Meerut; Sahitya Bhandar, 2003. Print.
  • Saxena, Dr. Ratna. English: A Textbook For Class IX. Agra: Pioneer Printers, 2011. Print.
  • Walker, Alice, The Color Purple. London: Phoneix, 2004. Print.


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