The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, tells the story of two sisters, Celie and Nettie, one living in rural Georgia and the other in Africa during the 1920s. The epistolary structure of this novel develops the characters through the point of view of Celie and Nettie. The reader learns about Celie’s difficult life through her letters to God, which are later addressed to Nettie. The reader gains insight about Nettie’s travels once her letters are discovered. The epistolary style of this novel effectively uses different levels of diction, portrays the importance of strong female relationships, and makes a statement about the treatment of women in the 1920s.
The Color Purple consists of letters addressed back and forth from the two sisters, even though all are read through Celie’s point of view. This allows for a very personal touch on every event in the novel because it is through the perspective of either Celie or Nettie. Celie’s letters allow her to have a strong voice, “Dear God, I am fourteen years old. I have always been a good girl.” (1). This structure allows the characters to speak directly to the reader. The letters allow the reader to switch between the sisters’ stories and experience two settings at the same time. Since this novel only consists of novels, it does not have much setting description, rather it is overflowing with descriptions of feelings and emotions. The letters build off of each other and slowly intertwine more, and more.
The diction in The Color Purple reveals certain aspects of the character’s lives. Celie is uneducated and not allowed to go to school. When Celie is young Pa tells her, “You too dumb to keep going to school” (9). However, Nettie is allowed to be educated because their father believes she is “the clever one in this bunch” (9). It is apparent that Celie is uneducated through her use of low diction, “Not much funny to me. That funny. I laugh. She laugh. Then us both laugh so hard us flop down on the step” (42). Nettie is much more educated and the reader can see this through her use of middle diction, “Rain came down in spears, stabbing away the mud of their walls. The wind was so fierce it blew the rocks out of walls” (153). The way Nettie speaks is very comprehensible and even descriptive. The character’s level of diction informs the reader of the extensiveness of their education.
The Color Purple illustrates the importance of female relationships. Celie is verbally and physically abused by multiple men in her life, but she is able to fall back onto stable and loving relationships with women. One strong relationship in Celie’s life is the one she has with her sister, Nettie. Over the span of many years and miles the sisters stay loyal to each other by writing letters. Celie also has an enduring relationship with Shug, one of her husband’s friends that she becomes very close with. Celie and Shug’s relationship becomes so strong that Celie opens up to her about the difficult past. Despite the rough relationships that Celie has with men, her strong ties with women keep her grounded.
The ambiguity of the name of Celie’s husband, Mr. _____, makes a statement about the treatment of women in the 1920s. Mr. _____ treats Celie badly, “Dear God, Harpo ast his daddy why he beat me. Mr. _____ say, Cause she my wife.” (22). Mr. _____ represents the majority of men in the 1920s and how they disrespected their wives. Men dominated their wives and perceived them as keepers of the children and house. Walker makes a generalization of how women were treated.
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, successfully makes a statement about the treatment of women and the importance of sturdy female relationships. Walker conveys these messages through creating a novel with an epistolary structure and utilizing different levels of diction. The letters in this novel slowly intertwine more, and more, until they seemingly become one.
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Michelle @ The True Book Addict, March 4, 2012 (view all comments by Michelle @ The True Book Addict)
One of my favorite films is The Color Purple. I actually didn't realize it until recently, as I was reading the book and it just happened to come on cable. I proceeded to watch it twice during the time of reading the book and I remembered how much I loved it. Well, the film in no way prepared me for how wonderful the book is. The film and the book are actually pretty close until it gets closer to the end. The ending in the book blows the movie away. The Color Purple is not just a story of a black woman who struggles with an abusive husband and missing a sister who she felt was the only person who ever loved her. It's a story of a community of black people who try to exist in a world of the white man's disdain and oppression. What makes the book so much better than the movie is that Walker allows the characters to grow in the end. There is a feeling of redemption for all of the characters, not just Celie. I liked it much better. Once again, the book prevails over the movie. Go figure.
Georgeann, April 30, 2009 (view all comments by Georgeann)
Alice Walker successfully conveys various social issues through a distinct style and point-of-view in her award winning novel, The Color Purple. Her novel is written in Epistolary form, meaning it is structured through letterforms. Walker’s use of vernacular dialect in the letters, which she coined as “Black Folk English,” gives the novel an informal style to seem less intimidating towards men and women. Alice Walker breaks a racial barrier by writing about less than perfect African Americans in The Color Purple.
There are parallels between Alice Walker’s background and the protagonist’s, Celie’s, experiences. She was born in Eatonton, Georgia on a rural farming community, which is similar to the setting of The Color Purple. At the age of eight Walker was accidentally blinded in one eye by her brothers. She resorted to writing and poetry to fight the loneliness and alienation she received from her family. By the age of 14, she had her cataract in her eye removed and regained much of the confidence she lost. Moreover her situation is much like Celie’s, in the fact that at a young age she struggled with family and alienation.
The Color Purple begins by introducing Celie and her abusive father. To escape the pain, she resorts to writing letters addressed to “Dear God.” These letters serve as her diary while God represents someone to talk to. She shares her traumatizing experiences with God. Her father rapes her and also forces her into a marriage with Albert, more so known as Mr. ______. To her dismay, he also abuses her. Celie begins to realize that all the men in her life only cause her pain. She even says, “I don’t even look at mens. That’s the truth. I look at women, tho, cause I’m not scared of them”(5). Just when she thinks life cannot get much worse, Shug, Mr._______ ex-girlfriend, arrives and becomes her best friend. Shug recognizes Celie’s weakness towards men and Mr.________. She says, “I won’t leave…until I know Albert won’t even think about beating you”(75). Shug provides Celie a support system, and teaches her about sex, God, and the power of love. Celie begins to question why she believes in God, why she puts up with her husband’s abuse, and why “it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it”(196). Overall, Celie must learn to overcome her flaws of weakness by answering all the questions that cause her pain.
The Color Purple effectively suggests that woman have the power of a voice to make a difference in the world. Alice Walker uses her voice to break a racial barrier that exists between some whites and blacks. She did so by characterizing imperfect African Americans within her novel. Walker avoids stereotyping by conveying a larger statement about society: that everyone has flaws, but is able to overcome them with support and a positive self-esteem. Walker also specifically portrays that without an outlet to communicate with, the world is a harsh place to live in alone. The book achieved its goal by revealing that the “color purple” should not get overlooked. The color represents beauty and individuality, which should not be hidden amongst a wide range of green grass or the enormous blue sky. Walker successfully conveys Celie as this color; in the beginning of the novel she was unnoticed, and by the end of the novel she has a voice.
In all, Alice Walker shows a beautiful transformation of a young woman in The Color Purple. She does so through the distinct style, first person point-of-view, and various uses of literary devices. Walker’s presentations of social issues in the novel are significant in that they are commonly seen in society today.
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Rebecca Gomez, December 3, 2007 (view all comments by Rebecca Gomez)
I feel this book is one of the best books I have ever read ,I love that how celie becomes a strong person and finally gets back to her family she has showed me alot with the life she lived but in the long run if you are strong a nd believe in you self you"ll get there so thank you for letting me say alittle bit about how great this book is
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by Mel Watkins, The New York Times,
"The cumulative effect is a novel that is convincing because of the authenticity of its folk voice....a striking and consummately well-written novel. Alice Walker's choice and effective handling of the epistolary style has enabled her to tell a poignant tale of women's struggle for equality and independence..."
by The San Francisco Chronicle,
"[A] work to stand beside literature of any time and place."
by The New York Times Book Review,
"Intense emotional impact....Indelibly affecting...Alice Walker is a lavishly gifted writer."
by The Nation,
"Places Walker in the company of Faulkner."
Published to unprecedented acclaim, The Color Purple established Alice Walker as a major voice in modern fiction. This is the story of two sisters — one a missionary in Africa and the other a child wife living in the South — who sustain their loyalty to and trust in each other across time, distance, and silence. Beautifully imagined and deeply compassionate, this classic novel of American literature is rich with passion, pain, inspiration, and an indomitable love of life.
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