The Color Purple The Color Purple
by Alice Walker

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The Color Purple

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

At the center of this triumphant story is Celie, who gradually overcomes her disadvantages and achieves a sense of self-worth. Ranging from the early 1900’s to the 1940’s, the novel consists almost entirely of letters, many written in Celie’s limited but highly expressive dialect.

The first letters, those of the young Celie, are addressed to God: she does not know where else to turn. Raped repeatedly by her stepfather (she believes him to be her natural father), Celie is delivered of three children by him: the first is taken out and killed; the second and third, a boy and a girl, are given to a local couple. Celie’s stepfather forces her to marry Albert, who beats her and badly mistreats her.

Strangely, Albert’s mistress, a blues singer named Shug Avery, frees Celie from Albert’s bondage, first by loving her, then by helping her to start a custom sewing business. From Shug, Celie learns that Albert has been hiding letters written to her from Africa by her sister Nettie, a missionary. These letters, full of educated, firsthand observation of African life, form a moving counterpoint to Celie’s life. They reveal that in Africa, just as in America, women are persistently oppressed by men.

Not a feminist tract, this novel nevertheless shows how black women are the victims of black men, themselves locked into destructive cultural myths concerning the nature of masculinity. In Celie’s relationship with the stubbornly independent Shug Avery, “sisterhood” becomes more than a cliche.

From Shug, Celie gains not only self-respect but also a pantheistic faith in a God that is in everything and everyone. This faith is Alice Walker’s as well, and it gives her unflinching portrait of racial and sexual oppression a transcending hopefulness.

Bibliography

Banks, Erma Davis, and Keith Byerman. Alice Walker: An Annotated Bibliography, 1968–1986. New York: Garland, 1989. A thorough catalog of writings by and about Walker, this bibliography includes numerous book and poetry reviews. An introductory essay provides an overview of Walker’s life and her literary contributions.

Buncombe, Marie H. “Androgyny as Metaphor in Alice Walker’s Novels.” College Language Association Journal 30, no. 4 (June, 1987): 419-427. Offers a helpful look at the treatment of sex roles in The Color Purple in comparison to Walker’s other novels.

Butler-Evans, Elliott. Race, Gender, and Desire: Narrative Strategies in the Fiction of Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989. Insightful comparative study of the relationship between narrative technique and politics in three African American women writers. Bibliography.

Christian, Barbara. “Alice Walker: The Black Woman Artist as Wayward.” In Black Women Writers, 1950–1980: A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor/Doubleday, 1983. Examines thematic patterns in Walker’s work. Points out issues inherent in the role of the black female artist, such as the need for conflict leading to change.

Christophe, Marc-A. “The Color Purple: An Existential Novel.” CLA Journal 36, no. 3 (March, 1993): 280-291.

Davis, Thadious M. “Alice Walker’s Celebration of Self in Southern Generations.” In Women Writers of the Contemporary South, edited by Peggy Whitman Prenshaw. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984. Focuses on themes and patterns apparent in Walker’s work, from her poetry through The Color Purple. Shows Walker’s need to resolve her intellectualism with her rural roots.

Evans, Mari, ed. Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Garden City, N.J.: Anchor Press, 1984. Three excellent essays on the novels of Alice Walker. Includes a biography and selected bibliography. Discusses Walker’s work in the context of African American women’s writing.

Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and K. A. Appiah, eds. Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present . New York: Amistad Press, 1993. The most comprehensive and well-written...

(The entire section is 1,140 words.)