I Love Harpo But I’ll Kill Him Dead ‘for He Beats Me! Excerpt from The Actor’s Devo

Posted: December 1, 2011 in Devotionals

December 1st

As long as you don’t forgive, who and whatever it is will occupy rent-free space in your mind. ~ Isabelle Holland

It has been said that convictions are born where Truth runs up against real life. It is one thing to make an intellectual assertion, and quite another to physically live out that assertion.  For instance, if the rights of individuals in America have been an evolving thing, then black women were definitely the last in line.  Nowhere in art has then been demonstrated more clearly than in the novel and subsequent film, “The Color Purple”.  Through this story we are able to feel what it must’ve been like to be a black women in the early days of freedom.  However, the term freedom is one used here loosely…there was more like a new kind of slavery that appeared as much as anything else.

Celie, the protagonist and narrator of The Color Purple, is a poor, uneducated, fourteen year-old black girl living in rural Georgia. Celie starts writing letters to God because her father, Alphonso, beats and rapes her. Alphonso has already impregnated Celie once. Celie gave birth to a girl, whom her father stole and presumably killed in the woods. Celie has a second child, a boy, whom her father also steals. Celie’s mother becomes seriously ill and dies. Alphonso brings home a new wife but continues to abuse Celie.

Celie and her bright, pretty younger sister, Nettie, learn that a man known only as Mister wants to marry Nettie. Mister has a mistress named Shug Avery, a sultry lounge singer whose photograph fascinates Celie. Alphonso refuses to let Nettie marry, and instead offers Mister the “ugly” Celie as a bride. Mister eventually accepts the offer, and takes Celie into a difficult and joyless married life. Nettie runs away from Alphonso and takes refuge at Celie’s house. Mister still desires Nettie, and when he advances on her she flees for her own safety. Never hearing from Nettie again, Celie assumes she is dead.

Meanwhile Mister’s son Harpo marries a tough modern black woman, Sophia.  Played in the movie by a new almost unknown weather woman (Oprah Winnfrey) she represents more the type of woman we will come to associate with black women in general.  In fact, many of the abuses enumerated in the story happened to a young Winnfrey, and indeed mirrored much of her own story.  Sophia had suffered many of the same things Nettie had suffered at the hands of whites and men in general…but she refused to be cowed.  She refuses to work as a maid for the Mayor and when he strikes her for her insubordination she strikes him back, for which she is sentenced to being his maid anyway…for 12 years!  Disgusted with the lack of help from Harpo she puts him away as her husband, shocking Celie that a woman would treat a man so…especially in the face of the terrific beatings she would receive whenever she stuck up for her rights.

Through a series of subsequent events, though, we discover that Nettie is still alive, and that Mister has been keeping them from Celie.  It turns out that letters indicate that Nettie befriended a missionary couple, Samuel and Corrine, and traveled with them to Africa to do ministry work. Samuel and Corrine have two adopted children, Olivia and Adam. Nettie and Corrine become close friends, but Corrine, noticing that her adopted children resemble Nettie, wonders if Nettie and Samuel have a secret past. Increasingly suspicious, Corrine tries to limit Nettie’s role within her family.

Nettie becomes disillusioned with her missionary experience, as she finds the Africans self-centered and obstinate. Corrine becomes ill with a fever. Nettie asks Samuel to tell her how he adopted Olivia and Adam. Based on Samuel’s story, Nettie realizes that the two children are actually Celie’s biological children, alive after all. Nettie also learns that Alphonso is really only Nettie and Celie’s stepfather, not their real father. Their real father was a storeowner whom white men lynched because they resented his success. Alphonso told Celie and Nettie he was their real father because he wanted to inherit the house and property that was once their mother’s.

Nettie confesses to Samuel and Corrine that she is in fact their children’s biological aunt. The gravely ill Corrine refuses to believe Nettie. Corrine dies, but accepts Nettie’s story and feels reconciled just before her death. Meanwhile, Celie visits Alphonso, who confirms Nettie’s story, admitting that he is only the women’s stepfather. Celie begins to lose some of her faith in God, but Shug tries to get her to re-imagine God in her own way, rather than in the traditional image of the old, bearded white man.

Celie and Mister reconcile, and begin to genuinely enjoy each other’s company. Now independent financially, spiritually and emotionally, Celie is no longer bothered by Shug’s passing flings with younger men. Sofia remarries Harpo and now works in Celie’s clothing store. Nettie finally returns to America with Samuel and the children. Emotionally drained but exhilarated by the reunion with her sister, Celie notes that though she and Nettie are now old, she has never in her life felt younger.

It’s as if she has been born again.  In fact, that is what has happened.  In the beginning she could only express her true feelings, without regard to consequence, through her letters to God.  She thought she was writing to some old benevolent white man, but finally realizes that we are all the sum of the choices we make…even when we believe we have no choice.  Each of the characters in the Color Purple demonstrate to us a different consequence for different choices made.  How many of us would not give most all we have to be able to see the different routes our choices might make our life take, if we could but just see them all from the beginning.  For Celie, it becomes a little bit easier to see the others choices as how they survive…they become just a little bit easier to forgive.  Realizing all this, that each person is responsible for their own choices and has to make their own peace with God and the world, she is at last able to enjoy the satisfaction of living out loud and being herself…of showing who and what she really is without apology.  Things just seem to work better then.  That’s how it is with Jesus and us.  When we realize that he isn’t just some angry old codger who is continually put out with us, but is lovingly correcting us through our choices, then we are able to live more boldly.  We know if we stumble he has covered us in his righteousness, and that he has given us instruction in the meantime on how to make good choices…obedience.  And obedience is better than sacrifice.  Celie saw the Truth and the Truth set her free…go and do likewise.

It was on this day in 2005 that The Color Purple, now produced by Oprah, opened to rave reviews and much success on Broadway.

John 8:31 Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”

34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

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