‘The Color Purple’ – Notes on Critisism

Source of critics: Class and Consumerism in ‘The Color Purple’

Reading through this collection of critics, I have picked out the following two, giving a brief outline of what they say and also my opinion on these views.

Maryemma Graham

In her criticisms Maryemma Graham expresses concern that the real issues surrounding the novel are not clearly expressed to the reader and wider audience, such as the issues of prejudice towards women.

In her criticisms Graham says that Celie ends the novel with a white man’s american dream: working and earning money. In my opinion however I feel that the ending to the novel is universal and also maternal.

Carl Dix

In his criticisms of the novel, Carl Dix writes that although in the novel Celie ‘breaks the chains of women’s oppression’ there is still many other who doubt this view and that there are many other factors, not just a woman owning her own property, that break this chain of oppression.

Walker supports Dix’s criticisms and praises him. Walker justifies Celie’s prosperity by emphasizing its specific context. In the novel the main actions take place during the early decades of the twentieth century after the Civil War and the time after known as the period of ‘Reconstruction’, which failed to improve opportunities for African Americans, and before African Americans had civil rights.

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Steven Spielberg comments on the film of ‘The Color Purple’

An interview with Steven Spielberg, by where he comments on the making of the film and working together with Whoopi Goldberg in bringing the character of Celie to life.

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‘The Color Purple’ – Symbolism of Purple

The title points to the imaginative design. Purple is the colour of a bruise. When Sofia has been beaten by the police she is the colour of ‘an eggplant (P.77)Purple is also the colour of the robes of royalty and nobility, of Roman emperors and English lords. This is why Celie thinks it the colour of Shug Avery would choose to wear; ‘She like a queen to me, so I say to [Albert’s sister] Kate, Somethin purple, maybe a little red in it too’ (p.20). Red goes with purple, in stately robes and imperial pomp. There is no purple in the store  and even red would be too expensive for Albert; but Celie later makes pants of purple, red, and every other bright colour. But it is the contrast between bruised and battered victims and the queenly, triumphant figures women can become when they are free that gives ‘The Color Purple’ its basic structure. Celie makes pants for Sofia with one leg red and the other purple and then dreams of her wearing them and jumping over the moon’  (p.184). Celie has her room painted purple and red (p.240). The colour of bruises has become the noblest of colours by the end of the novel. 
Shug gives a new significance to the colour purple when she explains her religious belief to Celie, saying that it pisses God off if you walk by the colour purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it’ (p. 167). The very existence of purple is wonderful, and therefore a symbol of the wonder of existence which is the core of the new faith Shug and Celie share. 

‘The Color Purple’ – Feminism

Feminism is a prominent theme in the novel however it is important for  the reader to bear in mind that Alice Walker prefers the term ‘womanist‘ for a black feminist – commenting that ‘womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender’. Walker’s purpose in the novel is to show the ill treatment black women have endured, especially in the early twentieth century, in the southern United States and also in Africa and to show how they have struggled to free themselves.

The injustice of white supremacy in the old South is forcefully demonstrated, especially in the suffering of Sofia, but m,ore space and emphasis are given to men’s injustice to women, regardless of race, and to the gumption of the women who rebel. In contrast to the victims of male brutality, Shug Avery is a heroic figure, in Celie’s eyes, deserving the colour purple because she has won her independence and will not be any man’s ‘mule’. She lives as she sings, boldly; and is indifferent to ‘how people talk’ – that is, to the prejudiced gossip and slander of a patriarchal society. Like Sofia she has learnt to fight, but more effectively, without using fists, and she teaches Celie to do the same.

The theme of emancipation is present throughout the novel, Celie and Nettie progress from a state of near-slavery to independence and the power of self-expression. Nettie as a wife and teacher, Celie as a clothes-designer and business woman, needing no husband. The novel asserts that all women are sisters. Comforted and strengthened by Shug, Celie is ready to fight Albert when the discovery of the letters reveals the depth of his guilt. Only Shug can restrain her – meek though she has been until now – from killing him. When she first curses and leaves Albert, Shug gives her a home in Memphis and helps her to launch her own business. The scene described in Letter 74 shows Celie, Shug, Sofia and Mary Agnes (who has already proved her sisterhood with Sofia), uniting to assert their independence from the men.

‘The Color Purple’ – The Power of Narrative and Voice

I am currently studying English Literature at A-Level, during this course i’m required to write a two thousand word essay based on the the novel ‘The Color Purple’ written by Alice Walker. I am finding the novel to be both informative and also thought provoking.

I feel that in order for me to complete the initial asked to a high quality standard I must make myself aware of the themes and motifs that are commonly seen throughout the novel.

One common theme that can be seen throughout the novel is the power of narrative and voice. 

Walker emphasizes throughout the novel that the ability to express one’s thoughts and feelings is crucial to developing a sense of self. Initially, Celie is completely unable to resist those who abuse her. Remembering Alphonso’s warning that she “better not never tell nobody but God” about his abuse of her, Celie feels that the only way to persevere is to remain silent and invisible. Celie is essentially an object, an entirely passive party who has no power to assert herself through action or words. Her letters to God, in which she begins to pour out her story, become her only outlet. However, because she is so unaccustomed to articulating her experience, her narrative is initially muddled despite her best efforts at transparency.

In Shug and Sofia, Celie finds sympathetic ears and learns lessons that enable her to find her voice. In renaming Celie a “virgin,” Shug shows Celie that she can create her own narrative, a new interpretation of herself and her history that counters the interpretations forced upon her. Gradually Celie begins to flesh out more of her story by telling it to Shug. However, it is not until Celie and Shug discover Nettie’s letters that Celie finally has enough knowledge of herself to form her own powerful narrative. Celie’s forceful assertion of this newfound power, her cursing of Mr. ______ for his years of abuse, is the novel’s climax. Celie’s story dumbfounds and eventually humbles Mr. ______, causing him to reassess and change his own life.

Though Walker clearly wishes to emphasize the power of narrative and speech to assert selfhood and resist oppression, the novel acknowledges that such resistance can be risky. Sofia’s forceful outburst in response to Miss Millie’s invitation to be her maid costs her twelve years of her life. Sofia regains her freedom eventually, so she is not totally defeated, but she pays a high price for her words.