Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
Sewing and Quilts
In general, sewing in The Color Purple symbolizes the power women can gain from productively channeling their creative energy. After Sofia and Celie argue about the advice Celie has given Harpo, Sofia signals a truce by suggesting they make a quilt. The quilt, composed of diverse patterns sewn together, symbolizes diverse people coming together in unity. Like a patchwork quilt, the community of love that surrounds Celie at the end of the novel incorporates men and women who are bonded by family and friendship, and who have different gender roles, sexual orientations, and talents. Another important instance of sewing in the novel is Celie’s pants-sewing business. With Shug’s help, Celie overturns the idea that sewing is marginal and unimportant women’s labor, and she turns it into a lucrative, empowering source of economic independence.
In the early parts of the novel, Celie sees God as her listener and helping hand, yet Celie does not have a clear understanding of who God is. She knows deep down that her image of God as a white patriarch “don’t seem quite right,” but she says it’s all she has. Shug invites Celie to imagine God as something radically different, as an “it” that delights in creation and just wants human beings to love what it has created. Eventually, Celie stops thinking of God as she stops thinking of the other men in her life—she “git man off her eyeball” and tells God off, writing, “You must be sleep.” But after Celie has chased her patriarchal God away and come up with a new concept of God, she writes in her last letter, “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God.” This reimagining of God on her own terms symbolizes Celie’s move from an object of someone else’s care to an independent woman. It also indicates that her voice is now sufficiently empowered to create her own narrative.