The Color Purple Critical Overview
by Alice Walker

The Color Purple book cover
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Critical Overview

(Novels for Students)

Since its publication, The Color Purple has aroused critics to both praise and to sharply criticize elements in the book. Trudier Harris in Black American Literature Forum criticizes the media for dictating the tastes of the reading public. The book "has been canonized," she states. It has "become the classic novel by a black woman," because "the pendulum determining focus on black writers had swung in their favor ... and Alice Walker had been waiting in the wings of the feminist movement...."

Harris contends that the popularity of the book has been harmful because it has created "spectator readers," and it "reinforces racist stereotypes." Because of the book's popularity, Harris maintains that black women critics are particularly reluctant to find fault with the book, even when they find elements in it disturbing. She also questions the novel's morality, which other critics praise. "What kind of morality is it that espouses that all human degradation is justified if the individual somehow survives all the tortures and ugliness heaped upon her?" The morality other critics find in The Color Purple, Harris feels "resurrect[s] old myths about black women." This critic cites Celie's response to her abuse as an example of the myth of submissiveness of black women. She also criticizes the sections dealing with Nettie and Africa because she feels they "were really extraneous to the central concerns of the novel" and accuses Walker of including them "more for the exhibition of a certain kind of knowledge than for the good of the work." The relationship between Celie and Shug, Harris also felt, was silly. Another criticism Harris has of the book is what she considered its fairy tale element. "Celie becomes the ugly duckling who will eventually be redeemed through suffering," says Harris. The book, she feels, "affirms passivity ... affirms silence ... affirms secrecy concerning violence and violation ... affirms ... the myth of the American Dream..." Anyone can achieve "a piece of that great American pie " Harris accuses the author of preparing "a political shopping list of all the IOUs Walker felt that it was time to repay." In spite of her sharp criticism of The Color Purple, Harris confesses that she is "caught in a love/hate relationship with" it.

Surprisingly, one of the most positive reviewers of the book was Richard Wesley. Writing in Ms. magazine, Wesley says "As an African-American male, I found little that was offensive as far as the images of black men," as they were portrayed in the book and the film. In his review, Wesley sees the character of Mr. emblematic of "male privilege. As long as black men seek to imitate the power structure that crushes them ... and as long as black women submit ... then the morbid relationship of Celie, the oppressed, and Mr., the oppressed oppressor, will continue to be played out in homes all across America." In his article, Wesley criticizes those who fault The Color Purple for painting a negative image of black males. "Walker is airing dirty linen in public. She is reminding...

(The entire section is 762 words.)