- Alice Walker's novel The Color Purple is much darker and more complex than Speilberg's adaptation, which develops the comedy and the musical aspects more. In the book, the men are meaner, crueler, more abusive, more sexist. In the movie, they seem more like childish clowns, especially Mr. ____. The book reads like tragedy and ends up like comedy only at the end. The film introduces the comic/musical aspects much earlier and develops them throughout.
- Celie is a writer in the novel: she writes to God. It's an epistolary novel. Letters to God is the impetus of how the novel beings, as confession. There's no such writing or confession in the movie: it's interior monologue done as voice over. Speilberg only shows her writing to Nettie, not to God.
Some other, smaller differences:
- There's no quilting in the movie. It's a major motif in the book.
- The movie shows more female's kissing (homosexuality) than the book (there's only Shug and Celie), which takes away from the power of the sexual experimentation.
- Again, the music is a major character in the movie (Quincy Jones was brought in to do the score), and there's more hymn singing and juke-joint cross-cutting to make it seem more like a musical than a novel. Obviously, this is a major reason why it becomes a musical on Broadway later.