Mostly black and white illustration of nine letters, one of them has been opened

The Color Purple

by Alice Walker

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The Color Purple

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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 1900s to the 1940s, 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.

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