Alphonso (Fonso)

A serial abuser

Alphonso, also called Fonso or ‘Pa’, is Celie and Nettie’s stepfather, having married their mother shortly after their father was killed by white business rivals when the girls were very young. Both sisters believe that Fonso is their natural father and do not find out the truth until many years have passed. He is perhaps the most repellent character in the novel, since he embodies a crude sexual voraciousness that seems to verge on paedophilia and dies before making amends.

When Celie is fourteen, Alphonso rapes and abuses her because his wife, weakened by continuous pregnancies, has refused to have sex with him. Celie bears two illegitimate children whom he brutally removes, leaving Celie with the belief they have been killed or sold. In this way he replicates the behaviour of previous white slave owners.

Alphonso remains an abuser and molester of young girls until his death. Once a widower, he has designs on Nettie and jeers at Celie when she tries to act as a substitute, before copulating with her anyway. He marries a young girl called May Ellen and uses her for sex in the same brutal way he treated Celie. May Ellen later returns to her family because, as Fonso says, she got ‘too old’ for him. Fonso’s third wife, a 15-year-old girl called Daisy, outlives him. Ironically, Daisy explains that his death was the result of a vigorous bout of sex between the pair before they ‘dropped off’ to sleep. In Fonso’s case, the sleep was permanent.

Hypocrite and thief

Fonso’s lust is matched only by his hypocritical behaviour. When his friend Albert (Mr -) notices Nettie as a prospective wife, Fonso, determined to keep Nettie for himself, negotiates a marriage with Celie, telling Albert that Celie is not ‘fresh’ but concealing the fact that Fonso himself is the father of her two children. He also steals the sisters’ inheritance (the general store, house and land), using it to build up a successful business for himself. He tries to defend this action by telling Celie that he was being compassionate in keeping the shocking truth about their father’s murder from her.

The final hypocrisy is the towering tombstone that describes Fonso as an ‘upright husband and father’. Whilst Fonso has clearly succeeded in the society of his peers, like previous slave owners it has been at the price of oppression and deceit. Celie can only assert the triumph of having survived him, trust in the restoration of the children he stole away and cleanse her property of his malign spirit.

Fonso has no regard for women except as sex objects and is incapable of feeling guilt for the way in which he treats his stepdaughters or his wives. It is difficult to find any redeeming feature in his character and Walker makes little effort to show any evidence of consideration, compassion or a sense of right and wrong.

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