Amsterdam 1992; First print: 1983
The novel is set in the south of the USA. It tells about a young black girl, Celie, and her struggle for self-determination.
The book is about two black sisters fron a poor family in the south of the USA. celie is married to a man who beats her and abuses her. Shug Avery, a friend of Celies husband, teaches Celie to have selfrespect. Celie discovers that her sister Nettie is still alive and they start writing letters to each other. Celie becomes more and more selfconfident and the readers see her become really happy.
Celie. An uneducated, ugly, 14-year-old black country girl. She is eager to learn, but being the eldest daughter she has to stay away from school to look after the children.
Celie is sexually abused by her stepfather - whom she thinks to be her real father - and by her husband.
At first she has no one she can trust. Therefore she writes letters to God.
Gradually Celie turns from a submissive wife into an independant woman.
Nettie. Celie's younger sister. She is as avid to learn as Celie is. Nettie is nearly married off to Mr. She is educated by Samuel and Corrine, the missionary couple.
Nettie is observant and considerate, has a general interest in people, and more particularly in teh fate of black people. She is happy to be able to loof after Celie's children.
Mr (Albert). A good-looking widower who wants to marry Nettie. He accepts Celie for his wife only because a cow goes into the bargain. Mr is inconsiderate, cruel, and he is contemptuous of women, especially of Celie.
He is Albert for Shug Avery, whom he has always loved, although his father would not allow him to marry her.
Only when Mr has changed and become a real friend to Celie, does she call him Albert.
Shug Avery. A very attractive woman, something of a femme fatale. She is a famous blues singer.
Shug has built up her philosophy of life from her own practical experience in life. She has learned to make her own decisions, to lead her own life.
She is both emotional and rational.
Shug is bisexual, but in the end she chooses for Celie.
Olivia. Celie's first child, procreated by her stepfather. Olivia is stubborn, smart and sharp.
Adam. Celie's second child, also begot by her stepfather. Adam is a sensitive boy who writes verse. He has a sunny smile. In spite of the cultural differences he marries Tashi, an Olinka girl.
Pa. The stepfather of Celie and Nettie. he lusts after his stepdaughterrs. With the help of his deceased wife's property he becomes a rich businessman.
Pa never repents of what he has done to Celie.
Celie's Mother. A mentally unbalanced woman on account of the brutal killing of her first husband. Her body was wasted by having too many babies. Her second husband's behaviour to Celie made her lose her will to live.
Harpo. Mr's son. He wants to rule over women as his father does, but he loses the struggle for power.
Sofia. Harpo's wife. She is independant, straightforward and strong. She leaves Harpo when he does not change his attitude towards her.
Squeak (Mary Agnes). Harpo's mousy little girlfriend. She is good with Harpo's children. She grows more and more independant and leaves Harpo to start a singing career.
Grady. Shug's husband. He is a small man with big teeth, who treis to look expensive. He is good at spending Shug's money. Grady has an eye on Squeak.
Henrietta. Sofia's daughter. She has a failing heart.
Suzie Q. The daughter of Harpo and Squeak.
Miss Eleanor Jane. The Mayor's daughter, who is in fact brought up by Sofia. She loves Sofia. She is good at preparing special food fir Henrietta.
Germaine. Shug's latest - and last - male lover. He is a 19-year-old fluteplayer in her band.
Corrine. Samuel's wife. She is sweet, good-natured, but weak. She and Samuel have adopted Celie's children, Olivia and Adam, and take care of Nettie. She is jealous of Nettie.
Samuel (Reverend). Thoughtful and wise. Both he and Corrine are missionaries.
Tashi. An Olinka girl, who chooses for the culture of her own people. She marries Adam.
The color purple stands for independence, for the liberation of one's mind and feelings. It plays an important part in Celie's - and Shug's - life. When Celie can choose a new dress for the first time in her life, she wants a purple dress. Celie's room in the house that she owns is purple.
When Shug explains to Celie how important it is to free oneself from traditional male and white domination and be able to enjoy life for its own merits, she says: "I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it."
It is a novel of character in so far as the spritual growth towards independence of Celie and Nettie is concerned. But characters in The Color Purple are also symbols for groups of people and aspects of society: women, men, blacks, Western culture, African culture. Therefore we could also call it a social novel.
Celie lives on a farm near a small country town in the south of the USA. Nettie spends part of her life in teh village of Olinka in the African jungle.
When Celie starts telling her stroy she is fourteen; at the end of the novel she is about fifty-five, and the Second World War has begun.
Altough The Color Purple is a grim story about all kinds of exploitation, the atmosphere is optimistic, at times even amusing. The tone is matter of fact.
Point Of View
Alice Walker has Celie and Nettie each tell their story. Celie's language is very limited and awkward at first. But through her experience in life it evolves and acquires a rhythm of its own: Black English.
Nettie's language is grammatically more correct, but less characteristic.
Each of them writes letters to one special person: God, Nettie and Celie. Especially Celie's letters are straightforward and frank, which makes it easy for the reader to get involved, although he is not personally addressed.
- The exploitation of woman by men, blacks by whites, and African culture by Western culture.
- The liberation of women and men from their respective traditional roles, but within their own cultural context (emancipation).
Alice Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, in 1944. She was the youngest of eight children. Her father was a sharecopper, i.e. a tenant farmer who pays a share of his crop as rent to the owner of the land.
Being black and poor in the south of the USA, Alice Walker got to know from experience what racial discrimination was about. Encouraged by her mother, an uncle, and her teacher, she went to university after she had finished school.
In the sixties she was inspired by Martin Luther King, whose face was the first black face she had ever seen on t.v., and joined the civil rights movement. She married a Jewish civil rights worker and moved to Mississippi.
She now lives in San Fransisco and is consulting editor to the feminist monthly Ms and the black political quarterly Freedomway.
Alice Walker is a poet, novelist, critic, and essay writer. She has published four volumes of poetry, a collection of prose writing, two collections of stories, and three novles: The Third Life of Grange Capelang (1970), Meridian (1976), and Pullitzer prize winning The Color Purple (1983).
Alice Walker writes about the discrimination of blacks and women, about the limitations posed upon them by society, and about the conscious choice of the individual that is essential to being liberated.
The Color Purple has been made into a film by Steven Spielberg.
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