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The Color Purple

by Alice Walker

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Critical Context

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When Steven Spielberg adapted The Color Purple for film in 1984, Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize and American Book Award–winning novel gained international prominence, as did the writer herself. Not only does the novel mark the apex of Walker’s career, but it is also her happiest, most life-affirming work.

Prior to Walker’s triumphant third novel, she had published The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970) and Meridian (1976). Additionally, Walker has excelled as a lyrical poet, an essayist, and a short-story writer. A ten-year anniversary edition of The Color Purple appeared in 1992, the same year that Walker’s fourth novel, Possessing the Secret of Joy, debuted. Possessing the Secret of Joy is linked to The Color Purple, as the later novel’s main character, Tashi, is Celie’s son’s girlfriend in the earlier novel.

Amid the lavish praise for The Color Purple have been some stringent critics, who are offended by the portraits of many of the characters. Contending that racism is strengthened by the unsavory qualities in the book’s Black male characters and that Celie is a thin and unbelievable character, some critics believe the book harms, rather than helps, African Americans.

Other critics, though, have praised the novel’s effective use of setting and scenery. Walker sees into the life of African Americans living in the Deep South as she picks up on the rhythms of life she came to know in her own youth. In spite of the possible unrealistic aspects of the novel, The Color Purple has become a classic, read and studied by many as an examination of a Black woman fighting traditions that could only keep her oppressed, subservient, and enslaved.

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Critical Evaluation