Feminist strength

Sofia is a strong female character who is determined to assert her independence by rejecting traditional ideas about a woman’s role in African-American society. Although staying in the domestic sphere (rather than forging a career like Shug), she becomes, in effect, the head of the house. Sofia has a natural ability in ‘manly’ activities like heavy outdoor work and domestic repairs and she takes all the domestic decisions, subverting the traditional male-female hierarchy which was traditional in not only African-American, but many white households of the period. Her first appearance in the novel symbolises the nature of her relationship with Harpo, when she comes to Albert’s house leading Harpo by the hand, as though she is ‘going to war’.

Patriarchy resisted

In a household which followed traditional patriarchal rules, a woman would be expected to obey a husband. Sofia, having been brought up in a male dominated household where she and her sisters literally had to fight off their father, brother and cousins, is not only determined to be independent but also has the physical strength to assert her authority over her husband Harpo. When Harpo tries to beat Sofia, she is more than capable of standing up for herself and inflicting equal damage on her husband. She knows that she has the support of her sisters, who are all big and strong like her and this proves to be significant as the narrative progresses.

Sofia’s marriage

Much of the novel’s plot focuses on the marriage between Sofia and Harpo and the difficulties that they experience. Sofia chooses Harpo as a husband and although pregnant when she marries him, she is not a victim. At the beginning of their relationship they love one another, but the marriage fails because Harpo is too conventionally minded to accept Sofia’s independent attitude. Instilled with the obligation to discipline his disobedient woman by beating her, Harpo only damages himself and Sofia’s respect for him. As husband and wife, the couple battle for years. Sofia only stops bothering when Harpo no longer notices that Sofia does not desire him anymore.

Ironically, Sofia’s decision to leave her husband enables Harpo to discover his talent for business, by turning their former marital home into a juke joint. Sofia is supported by her sisters, and clearly forms another liaison (with the father of Henrietta) but resents Harpo’s choice of a new partner. She expresses this by knocking two of Mary Agnes’ teeth out when the women encounter one another in the juke joint.

A fiery character

Sofia’s misfortunes figure prominently in the narrative when her short temper results in a lengthy jail sentence for assaulting the town’s white Mayor after he slaps her for being rude to his wife. Sofia is savagely beaten and sentenced to twelve years imprisonment. Ironically, it is Mary Agnes who intercedes with the prison warden and manages to get Sofia’s sentence commuted to serving as a prisoner-maid in the Mayor’s house. However, this is still a kind of slavery and one that embitters Sofia deeply.

During her years of confinement, both in prison and in the home of the Mayor, Sofia is fuelled by hatred and murderous thoughts, but also learns from Celie’s example to submit and disassociate herself from what’s happening. In this way she retains her fighting spirit and dignity, despite the brutal and humiliating injustice that she suffers. She cares conscientiously for the Mayor’s children, especially Eleanor Jane who develops a strong bond with Sofia, but cannot bring herself to pretend to love the white people who have humiliated her. When Eleanor Jane presses Sofia to admire her baby, Sofia with great dignity explains why she cannot do so. As a result the two women reach an understanding and a tentative friendship is formed between them.

In many ways Sofia is similar to Celie, in that she shows strong endurance and courage in the face of deep suffering, so it is not surprising that the two women form a strong bond of friendship that lasts throughout the novel.

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