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

The Color Purple

by Alice Walker

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Significant Allusions

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Biblical Allusions: Walker uses many allusions to individuals and events from the Christian Bible, partly because many southern black communities in the early 20th century would have been very familiar with the Bible. Christianity was central to black American life and would have been very important to Celie and her family. 

  • The Christian God: Most of the novel is comprised of Celie’s letters to God, who is represented in the Bible as being omnipotent and omnibenevolent but at times ruthless. With Shug Avery’s help, Celie’s perception of God evolves from a punishing, conventional white Christian God to a benevolent God that is rooted in the natural world. 
  • Adam and Eve: In letter 87, Celie tells Albert about how the Olinka have reimagined the story of Adam and Eve. In the Book of Genesis, Adam and Eve are the first humans God creates. God permits them to live in the Garden of Eden on the condition that they not eat fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. However, a serpent tempts Adam and Eve into doing so. Eve succumbs and eats from the Tree of Knowledge, thus committing the Original Sin. She also persuades Adam to eat the fruit. God is outraged and casts them out of Eden, condemning humankind to lead lives of misery. In the Olinka’s version, all of the original humans are black until one day white children begin to be born. The Olinka kill the white children and their mothers for being different. Adam is the first white child who is not murdered; he is cast out instead. He swears vengeance against all black people, an event that explains the later arrival of colonialism and racism. Furthermore, Adam’s and Eve’s shame arises from their whiteness, since the Olinka correlate nakedness with whiteness. 
  • The Colossians: For much of the novel, Celie endures a great deal of abuse without standing up for herself or even allowing herself to become angry. Celie connects her passivity to biblical teachings, specifically from the Epistle of Paul to the Colossians in the New Testament. Children are to respect and obey their parents (Colossians 3:20) and wives are to obey their husbands (Colossians 3:18). However, husbands are also told to “love your wives, and be not bitter against them” (Colossians 3:19), and fathers are to “provoke not your children to anger” (Colossians 3:21). Celie’s obedience sharply contrasts with the brutality of the men around her, suggesting that select biblical passages are weaponized in order to control black women. White slave owners employed similar tactics in order to justify slavery. 
  • Jesus Christ: Celie’s relationship to Christianity morphs in part because she realizes the extent to which white Christians falsely represent images of God, angels, and Jesus Christ. A particularly significant moment arises from one of Nettie’s letters, in which she tells Celie that the real Christ is described as having hair like “wool” (Revelation 1:13–14).

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