The Spirit Murder of Sofia Butler

The untimely transition of The Color Purple’s most audacious character

J. Eik Diggs


Photo by Léonard Cotte on Unsplash

Sofia Butler** from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple caused me to see an aspect of anti-black racism that I will never be able to shake from my memory. Her story illustrated one of the most unsettling realities of racial and gender violence that I have learned about to date. Though there are innumerable works that center the physical horrors brought about by anti-blackness, the life of Sofia Butler elucidated the possibility of escaping those horrors with a functioning body but a spirit that is beyond repair. Her story brought the indelible mark anti-black violence leaves on the mind into clear focus, and quite frankly, it haunts me.

Sofia Butler is the wife of the book’s protagonist’s son-in-law. (It’s important to note here that Celie, the protagonist, is in no way a consenting member of her marriage arrangement. Her “husband”, Mister, could be better characterized as her captor and abuser, making her and Sofia in-laws through ongoing physical and sexual violence). I quickly became a fan of her sharp wit, sense of humor, and the fact that she stands up for herself regardless of whose feelings it might hurt. She also has a notable physical presence; she’s described as “strong and ruddy looking, like her mama brought her up on pork” and as bigger than her husband, Harpo. She’s self-reliant and wise. But the best thing about Sofia Butler is that she shrinks her body and personality for no one — which we love to see for any Black woman — especially one living in the early 1900s.

Did I mention that Sofia takes no shit? She allows no one to diminish her self-assurance, not even her soon-to-be husband’s father when he insults her for becoming pregnant by his son. She claps back in the most effective and dismissive way that a Black woman can considering the era, checking the Black men that surround her with confidence and poise.

And Sofia doesn’t only use words to assert herself, she throws hands too. In fact, she decks at least three people in the book — one of whom is her husband who is constantly belittled by the men in his life for not being capable of putting her in her place. This criticism inspires his attempt to beat her into submission, an assault that Butler refuses to…