Although familial relationships are supposed to be ones of love and respect, Alice Walker, in her novel The Color Purple, portrays an ironic relationship of defiance and trust between Celie and Harpo.
Harpo seems to regard himself as superior to Celie, even though she is his stepmother. He specifically asks her “How come you stubborn?” as if the beatings are a result of a flaw of hers. His accusatory tone creates a space of defiance between them. He lacks respect and appreciation for her character, instead choosing to see her the way his father does. However, this defiance is directly juxtaposed with the shift in conversation to Harpo’s plan to marry. He confides in Celie, saying “I love somebody” and telling her about the girl he likes, a sudden show of trust and interest. This sudden contrast, influenced by Harpo’s trust and openness, highlights the complexity of their relationship and the perception Harpo has of his stepmother. He does not hold much respect for her, but reveres her enough to talk about his personal life and interests with her. Even his father lacks this such emotional investment in Celie, rarely confiding and conversing with her. The irony of Harpo’s attitude toward Celie, and women, forms a convoluted relationship of reliance, trust, and defiance.
Walker’s portrayal of familial relationships throughout the novel illustrates the influential power of cultural surroundings on human perception. Harpo adopts his father’s opinion of Celie, willfully accepting his father’s explanation of “she my wife,” and choosing to see her stubbornness and little else. This way, society’s predisposed denouncement of women is carried through generations. However, even systemic cultural values cannot drown out the individual as Harpo is more open with Celie than Mr. is. Harpo respects her enough to converse with her, and even seek Celie’s assurance of his plans.