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The Color Purple by Alice Walker is an epistolary novel about African-American women in the southern United States in the 1930s. It addresses some crucial issues, such as segregation and sexism. This work was adapted into a film by Steven Spielberg in 1985 (Bay et al., 2015, p.169). More than that, The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction in 1983.
The novel is written as a series of letters, that are not dated, and has a fascinating and thought-provoking plot. Its name comes from a character’s words, “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it” (Walker, 1982, p. 196). Walker writes in an uneducated language and southern style to create the atmosphere of an impoverished area and develop complex relationships between the main characters and the themes mentioned above.
Summary of the book
The protagonist of the novel is Celie, a fourteen-year-old abused black girl who lives in Georgia and addresses her letters to God. Her father, Alfonso, repeatedly rapes his daughter and forbids her to tell anybody about what happened, except for God. Then, Alfonso marries Celie off to Mister Albert after her mother’s death. However, married life is also complicated and painful for the girl, as she has to bring up Albert’s children, do all of the housework, and suffer misery and hardship from him.
After Celie’s marriage, her younger sister, Nettie, gets the opportunity to leave her father’s household and move to Mr. Albert’s house. However, Celie’s husband kicks Nettie out after a while as she refuses to satisfy his sexual demands. Nettie promises to write to her older sister, but after she leaves, Celie does not receive any letters from her. The protagonist’s life changes only when Albert’s deathly ill mistress Shug appears in his home so that Celie will take care of her. Soon after Shug’s arrival, they fall in love with each other. For the first time, Celie can enjoy emotions, sex, and friendship.
Celie and Shug manage to find out why there was no news from Nettie for several decades. Mr. Albert appears to hide all of Nettie’s letters in the locked trunk. When the main character reads her sister’s letters, she opens up a new world and realizes all the abuses that she has suffered from her husband. That is why she decides to leave him and start a new life with Shug in Memphis. Furthermore, Celie learns that Alfonso is not her biological father and that her younger sister lives with the Reverend Samuel and his family in Africa. The girl also finds out that now she owns a house where Alfonso lived till his death.
In the end, Celie reunites with her sister, who returns from Africa with her husband Samuel and Celie’s children and maintains a close relationship with Shug. Besides, she keeps in touch with Mr. Albert as he changed a lot. Now Nettie and Celie are inseparable and happy so much that Celie writes that she has never felt so young before, though she is an old woman.
Celie is the protagonist of the book, who the author portrays as a victim through most of the novel. Her father and her husband rape her, she is deprived of any freedom and human rights, and she cannot take care of her children. The only person Celie loves – her younger sister Nettie – is also taken away from her. When she meets her husband’s mistress Shug Avery, a tipping point is reached. Shug encourages Celie to rebel against Mr. Albert and leave him. Celie becomes more self-confident and realizes all the extent of hardships she has suffered. More than that, thanks to Shug, she learns to love, feel emotions, and enjoy her life.
Nettie is Celie’s younger sister, who Mr. Albert is firstly interested in, but then, he agrees to marry Celie. Nettie is an educated and intelligent girl who loves her older sister very much. Nettie escapes from her father’s household to live with Celie. However, later, she has to leave because Mister tries to assault her. Nettie goes to Africa with the Reverend Samuel and his family as a maid. Throughout her travels, she writes regularly to Celie, but her older sister does not receive these letters because of her husband. Nettie returns to America with Samuel and two Celie’s children thirty years later.
Mr. Albert, Celie’s husband, is a character, who also experiences changes in his personality aside from Celie. In the beginning, he considers his young wife only a servant and “exercises socially superior power and gets benefit from the unpaid labor provided by Celie” (Abbasi and Hayat, 2017, p.184).Mr. Albert loves Shug, but he cannot marry her because of the public’s opinion. Besides, Mr. Albert hides Nettie’s letters from Celie and prevents their communication. In the end, he reconsiders his life and views and tries to forge relationships with Celie and other people.
Shug Avery is a famous blues singer and strong woman, who becomes a friend and, eventually, a lover to Celie. She teaches Celie to struggle and be independent and confident. Shug’s biggest problem is that she cannot stay with one person and does not have stable romantic relationships. Though sometimes Shug is also mean and selfish, she inspires people around her, brings entertainment, and becomes the protagonist’s loved one.
Violence, racism, sexism, and femininity are among the central themes of the novel (Lewis, 2017). In The Color Purple, readers can see how differently Afro-American female characters react to hardships and maltreatment. Celie is submissive; she suffers violence from her father and husband repeatedly and shuts down emotionally, while other female characters try to protest against abuse. Alice Walker also emphasizes the role of female relationships and their opportunities to fight for rights and challenge male oppression and dominance.
The novel The Color Purple raises crucial and global issues, such as women’s role and their discrimination by men in the twentieth century. Alice Walker illustrates the harassment a black woman has to go through, but she also demonstrates how a woman can struggle for self-confidence and respectful treatment. The Color Purple is a story about female strength, resistance, and fight, all fueled by love.
The Color Purple is an impressive piece of American feminist literature. Walker tells the readers about the lives of impoverished and humiliated women and considers complex social relationships. She uses different means to depict the atmosphere and the environment of the 1930s, such as the black folk language, and the first-person narrative. Despite being widely criticized for the use of language, The Color Purple has its actual historical background and continues to occupy readers’ minds nowadays.
Abbasi, M. and Hayat, M. (2017) ‘Marxist feminist critique: the socioeconomic position of Afro-American women in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple’, Journal of Social Sciences, 8(2), pp. 180-200.
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Bay, M. et al. (2015) Toward an intellectual history of black women. North Carolina: UNC Press Books.
Lewis, J. (2017) ‘Gender, race, and violence: a critical examination of trauma in The Color Purple’, Sacred Heart University Scholar, 1(1), pp. 24-38.
Walker, A. (1982) The color purple. San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.