‘The Color Purple’, written by American author Alice Walker, is an epistolary novel set in rural Georgia. Walker depicts the meagre social position held by African-American women in southern United States. Beginning with letters to God and slowly transitioning to letters shared between sisters Nettie and Celie, Walker conveys the brutality of sexism and racism, as well as the strive for liberty, throughout the 1930s.
Prior expectations could not prepare me for the graphic introduction of Walker’s ‘The Color Purple’. Walker initially alerts the reader to vulnerable, fourteen year old Celie and her abusive beginning in life. Whilst the child-like style of writing continuously reminds the reader of the innocence and defencelessness of young Celie, from the outset of the novel, one cannot possibly forget the grown-up stance she is forced to take from an early age. As the novel progresses, Walker charts the festering resentment towards Celie’s ‘father’, or more jarringly Celie’s abuser. Not only under the despotic hold of the white male, but within the additional clutches of the merciless men of the African-American community, must the women grow towards a progressive female camaraderie.
In addition, Walker presents a range of women and their varying attitudes towards the overbearing racism and sexism, within 1930s America. For example, Walker initially portrays Celie as a symbol of submission, in contrast to the infamous Shug Avery, a glamourous singer, who is defiant of tradition and a representation of insurgence. As female solidarity grows, Walker effectively conveys the cultivation of strength and unity, amongst the women both collectively and individually. Additionally, Celie’s passivity soon subsides as the directly proportional relationship between her advancing relationship with Shug Avery and her independence, as well as the contact with her sister Nettie, allow for the development of authority and control. Walker beautifully charts the ascent of female cohesion, in opposition of tradition, in turn emphasised through the epistolary style of writing, as a symbol of the strength of communication.
Finally, colour undoubtedly plays a key role, not only with regards to race and social class, but in the transformation from submission to defiance and autonomy. Whilst Celie’s initial wardrobe choice remains within the confines of dull browns and maroons, the vibrantly dressed Shug Avery literally and metaphorically brightens the life of Celie, perhaps as a symbol of hope and aspiration. Celie soon finds a passion for sewing and quilt making, yet another motif of independence, as creative energy is exuded through the bright colours and patterns of her designs. Alternatively, Celie’s use of a variety of patterns, colours and materials perhaps fulfils Walker’s intention or goal of creating a cohesive, diverse community, which mirrors that of a quilt. But why is the novel entitled ‘The Color Purple’? That question shall go unanswered, as I highly recommend reading Alice Walker’s unsettling, yet enthralling novel, in order to further delve into the troubling depths of racism, sexism, family and religion.