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The Color Purple

by Alice Walker

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Analyze The Color Purple as an epistolary novel referencing its salient features.

Quick answer:

The Color Purple by Alice Walker can be critically analyzed as an epistolary novel because the narrative is shaped by Celie’s and Nettie’s letters. The salient features found in an epistolary novel include unflinching intimacy and experimentation with language and grammar.

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The Color Purple by Alice Walker can be analyzed as an epistolary novel because it’s told through letters. Epistolary derives from epistle, which means "a letter." In Walker’s book, Celie’s story is told through her letters to God and her correspondence with Nettie. The narrative is produced within these documents. Celie’s sexual trauma, her marriage to Mr., and her relationship with Shug all take place within the confines of letters.

One salient feature of the epistolary novel is intimacy. The personal tenor of letters allows Walker to provide an unmediated view of Celie’s life. For example, in the first letter, Celie graphically narrates how her father abuses her. As this is a letter to God and not intended for the general public, Celie doesn’t have to censor herself or downplay the terrible things that her father does to her. The premise of confiding to one specific listener helps Celie tell her story with unflinching detail.

Other salient aspects found in the epistolary novel relate to syntax. As Celie is not setting out to create a literary work, she is not bound to the established rules of grammar. She can construct sentences how she wants and punctuate them as she deems fit. She doesn’t put quotations around dialogue; and not all of her sentences come across as proper sentences—like, early on, when Celie writes, “But me, never again.” Such experimentation with language and words is often a salient feature of an epistolary novel.

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