The Color Purple Sample Essays

The Color Purple won the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction in 1983. Alice Walker’s novel is unique in its preoccupation with spiritual survival and with exploring the oppressions, insanities, loyalties, and triumphs of black women. Walker’s major interest is whether or how change can occur in the lives of her black characters. All the characters except Nettie and Shug lead insular lives, unaware of what is occurring outside their own small neighborhood. They are particularly unaware of the larger social and political currents sweeping the world. Despite their isolation, however, they work through problems of racism, sexism, violence, and oppression to achieve a wholeness, both personal and communal.

In form and content, The Color Purple is a slave narrative, a life story of a former slave who has gained freedom through many trials and tribulations. Instead of black oppression by whites, however, in this novel there is black oppression by blacks. It is also a story by a black woman about black women. Women fight, support, love, and heal each other—and they grow together. The novel begins in abject despair and ends in intense joy. To discover how this transformation occurs, it is important to examine three aspects of the novel: the relationships between men and women; the relationships among women; and the relationships among people, God, and nature. At the beginning of the novel, alienation and separation are evident in all of these relationships, but by the conclusion of the novel, an integration exists among all elements of life. In terms of the relationship between men and women, no personal contact between the sexes is possible at the beginning of the novel, since the male feels that he must dominate the female through brutality.

The correspondence between Celie and Nettie is the novel’s most basic example of the alienation of women from women. Sometimes the alienation is caused by the men, as when Mr.—— keeps Nettie’s letters from Celie, but often it results from the attitudes of the women themselves. For the first half of the novel, the women are against one another, often because of jealousy, as when Shug mocks Celie and flaunts her relationship with Celie’s husband. Walker presents numerous examples of women in competition with one another, frequently because of men, but, more important, because they have accepted the social code indicating that women define themselves by their relationship with the men in their lives.

The first indication that this separation between women will be overcome occurs when the women surmount their jealousy and join together. Central to this development is the growing closeness of Celie and Shug. Shug teaches Celie much about herself: to stand up for herself to Mr.——, about her own beauty and her self-worth, and about the enjoyment of her own body. The love of Celie and Shug is perhaps the strongest bond in the novel; the relationship between Celie and her sister is also a strong bond.

While the men in the novel seem to have no part in the female community, which, in essence, exists in opposition to them, they, too, are working out their salvation. As a result of the way the women have opposed them, they reevaluate their own lives and they come to a greater sense of their own wholeness, as well as that of the women. They develop relationships with the women on a different and more fulfilling level. The weakness of the men results from their having followed the dictates of their fathers, rather than their having followed their own desires. Mr.——, for example, wants to marry Shug, but in the face of his father’s opposition, he marries another woman and makes her miserable because she is not Shug. Harpo tries to model his relationship with Sofia on the relationship between his father and Celie. Ultimately, both men find a kind of salvation because the women stand up to them and because the men accept their own gentler side. The men, by the end of the novel, become complete human beings just as the women do; therefore, the men are ready for relationships with women. Near the end of the novel, Mr.—— is content to sew trousers alongside Celie. By the end of the novel, Celie and Mr.——, whom she at last calls Albert, find a companionship of sorts. Harpo is content doing housework and caring for the children while Sofia works outside the home. Each individual becomes worthy in his or her own eyes—and in the eyes of others. The separation between men and women is shattered, and fulfilling human relationships can develop.

Alienation is also present in Nettie’s letters from Africa. The relationship between African men and women is presented as similar to that of men and women in the American South. The social structure of the Olinka tribe is rigidly patriarchal; the only roles available to women are those of wife and mother. At the same time, the women, who frequently share the same husband, band together in friendship. Nettie debunks the myth that Africa offers a kind of salvation for African Americans searching for identity.

In Walker’s view, God and nature are inextricably intertwined; therefore, alienation from one implies alienation from the other. Celie writes to God for much of the novel, but she writes out of despair, not hope; she feels no sustaining connection with God. Through her conversations with Shug, she comes to believe that God is in nature and in the self, and that divinity is found by developing the self and by celebrating everything that exists as an integrated whole. Celie also comes to believe that joy can come even to her; she learns to celebrate life’s pleasures, including the color purple.

That spirit of celebration is embodied in the conclusion of the novel. At the Fourth of July celebration, all the divisions between people—divisions that had plagued and tormented the characters throughout the novel—have been healed. The characters’ level of consciousness has been raised, and the seeds of feminism and liberation have been planted.

Rape, incest, sex , forced labor, and a little reefer on the side. These are all of the components of a Novel by Alice Walker. All of these views are illustrated proficiently in Alice Walkers third novel, The Color Purple. Each one of these aspects had a lasting impression upon the ideals and notions of the time. Walker’s writing’s helped to break the racial barrier that existed in some people’s minds.

One way that the barrier was destroyed was through Walker’s depiction of an imperfect black person. If a white person wrote about a less than perfect black person than it was considered racist. Now that a black person is writing about other blacks that are foretaking in acts that are, in their eye’s, immoral and corrupt, the subject is brought into a new light. These actions are discussed out in the open, and the idea that all people have their own “flaws”, is thought to be more fisable. Walker combines all of these issues in her story in a deceptive way.

They all are linked together by way of a semi-believable story line with one major overlaying theme. Prescott sums it up nicely, “Love redeems, meanness kills”(p74). This is illustrated in many ways in Walker’s novel. One perfect example of this is Mr. _____. Mr. _____, as he is called throughout the novel, was a wife beater, who, having been denied Celie’s sister, marries Celie to look after his children. He beats her and rapes her and is just plain nasty to her. Finally, one day, after Celie discovers another mean thing that Mr. ____ did to her, she leaves with her girlfriend to start a new life. Mr. _____ is left all alone. He starts to fall apart. He becomes afraid of the dark, and just gives up on life. That was his meanness that started to destroy his life. Now, just as Mr. ____ is nearing death, his son Harpo, starts to take care of him. Mr.___ starts to love him again. Now Mr.____’s life takes a towards revival. He becomes a new man. Once he starts to love his life starts to look up again. His and his son’s love redeemed him.
“The more I wonder, he say, the more I love.
And people start to love you back, I bet, I say.
They do, he say, surprise. Harpo seem to love me.”
(Walker, pg. 290)

Walker’s novel is very unique in regards to style. Her use of black idiom is very effective and adds the extra fragment of actuality and authenticity to the story line. “Walker’s use of language, especially Black idiom, is masterful and adds poignancy and depth to the narrative.” (Another characteristic of Walker is the inclusion of highly controversial and unique circumstances in her novel. For example, many authors of the time, black or white, would address the idea of either inter-racial or same-sex relations. Walker was an active feminist and her voice and opinions show through in many of her novels. The Color Purple includes many dynamic characters throughout.

Mr._____ is a good example of one such character. In the beginning of the novel he is a mean, strange old man who only marries Celie because he needs somebody to look after his kids. Mr.______ is really in love with her sister, but their father decides that her sister Nettie is too young for marriage so he settles for Celie. This shows how unfeeling Mr.____ is in the first portion of the novel. He beats his wife and overworks her and rapes her and abuses her. He is an all around bad guy. “First he put this thing up gainst my hip and sort of wiggle it around. Then he grab hold my titties. Then he push his thing inside my pussy. When that hurt, I cry. He start to choke me, saying you better shut up and git used to it.” (Walker, pg. 1,2) However, Mr.____ comes upon a big change in his life when Celie finally leaves him. Mr.____ is left all by himself and forced to survive and maintain himself on his own. Here is where he runs into some problems. Here is where the big change takes place. Mr.____ changes his evil ways and begins to show some compassion and love. The end of the novel depicts a markedly different Mr.____ then the beginning of the novel portrays. In the end of the novel Mr.____ and Celie actually have a civilized conversation and begin to see face to face. They become friends and often visit each other’s homes and chat on the porch while sewing. “Mr.____ look at me real thoughtful. He not such a bad looking man you know, when you come right down to it. And now it do begin to look like he got a lot of feeling hind his face.” (Walker, pg. 280) Mr.____ is not the only character that changes during the course of this novel, Celie also takes a drastic turn in her realm of thinking.

Celie starts out in the beginning of the novel as the “slave” to her father. First allowing herself to be raped and bearing his children and taking his abuse. Then on to the abuse that her “husband”, Mr.____ shows towards her. Celie takes all of this treatment in stride, this is the only life that she has known. She thinks that since she is only a woman this is the way that she is supposed to be treated. Then, all of the sudden a certain event causes her to dramatically change her course of thinking. This change is caused by the influence of a character that is new to the book. This character gives Celie the love and the respect that she always lacked. Celie was given the sense of being, a sense that she was a real person. A person with feelings, with a heart and a soul. A person that could love and be loved. This person gave her all of these feelings as well as a fresh new start and a new outlook on life. “For Walker, redemptive love requires female bonding.” (Prescott) This person became her lover. This person was Shug Avery.

Shug Avery was an old lover of Celie’s husband, Mr.____. She had been brought back to Mr.____’s house because she was sick and Celie was to look after her. Shug was also a different person in the introduction of her character. She was a snobbish, high class brat. The Stereotypical rich, spoiled woman. At first she treated Celie and Mr.____ as if they were nothing but her hired help. Then she began to take a liking to Celie. At first they talked and sewed together. Then there relationship moved to the next level. Shug is the one who gave Celie her new outlook on life. She began to treat Celie as a real person should be treated. She offered her love and warmth and gave her a reason to be. She single handedly turned Celie’s life around for the better. Shug knew of all of the opportunities that existed out in the world, she had seen a lot of it because she was a singer that toured around a lot. She told Celie of these prospects and began to start Celie thinking of leaving Mr.____ in search of a better life. The final straw that led to convincing Celie to leave was the horrifying act that Mr.____ had been withholding letters to Celie from her sister Nettie.

Nettie was the luckier of the two sisters. She had met the people that had adopted Celie’s children, befriended them and traveled to Africa with them. Once there she lived among the Olinka tribe. All the time that she was in Africa she wrote letters to Celie. She never got any reply but she never gave up hope. Celie really admired Nettie, and she was a powerful influence upon her life even though she wasn’t present. “How I’m gon keep from killing him, I say. Don’t kill, she say. Nettie becoming home before long. Don’t make her have to look at you like us look at Sofia.” (Walker, pg.150) Nettie always had the insight that Celie lacked. She knew right away that Mr.____ was abusing her. She even wrote to Celie and told her “You’ve got to fight and get away from Albert. He ain’t no good.” (Walker, pg. 131) The two sisters longed for each other the entire time that they were separated. When they finally were reunited they were so happy that neither of them could say a word. They just stood there and hugged and hugged and emersed themselves in the love that they felt for each other.

This is how the novel ends. It ends on a happy note. All of the abuse and all of the bad, unforgivable incidents, are forgiven. Everyone is happy and together. The theme of “Love redeems” is fulfilled. Everybody is redeemed from there love of another person. The story line is very well wrapped up and there is a fulfilling finish to an entertaining novel. Everyone enjoys a story where there is an ending to the likes of ; they all lived happily ever after, this is that story. Now wouldn’t you just like to read it for yourself?

Works Cited

Abbandonato, Linda. A View from ‘Elsewhere:’ Subversive Sexuality and the Rewriting of the Heroine’s Story in The Color Purple. PMLA, Oct. 1991 v106 n5 p1106 (10).

Bartelme, Elizabeth. Victory over Bitterness. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jean C. Steve. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984.

Bloxham, Laura J. Contemporary Fiction Writers of the South. Ed. James M. Flora and Robert Bain. London: Greenwood Press, 1993.

Current Biographical Yearbook. (1984) Current Biographical Yearbook 1984: Walker, Alice. New York: The H.W. Wilson Company. pg. 430 – 433.

Hite, Molly. The Other Side of the Story: Structures and Strategies of Contemporary Feminist Narrative. Ithaca and London: Cornell UP, 1989.

Kranz, Rachel. The Biographical Dictionary of Black Americans. Facts on File, New York, (1992). pg. 155 – 156 Library Journal. June 1, 1982.

Magill, Frank N. Critical Survey of Long Fiction. Anglewood Cliffs: Salem Press, 1983.

Prescott, Peter S. A long road to liberation. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jean C. Steve. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984.

Ross, Daniel W. Celie in the looking glass: the desire for selfhood in The Color Purple. Modern Fiction Studies, Spring 1988 v34 nl p69 (16).

Walker, Alice. (1982). The Color Purple. California: Pocket Books

Watkins, Mel. Some letters went to God. Contemporary Literary Criticism. Detroit: Gale Research Company, 1984.

Whitaker, Charles. Alice Walker: Color Purple author confronts her critics and talks about her provocative new book (Interview). Ebony. May 1992. v47 n7 p86 (4).

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