The Color Purple

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The Color Purple

Alice Walker – 1987 – Eva de Bruijn


The main theme of The Color Purple is – the response to – discrimination. In this book, there take place two forms of that theme: racism and gender discrimination. The narrator of the story is Celie, a fourteen-year-old black girl who is beaten and raped by her father and later by her husband Mr. ___. In the environment which she comes from, violence against women is usual: women are discriminated. Their fathers decide who they marry with and ethnic origin plays a big part in that. When they are married, they have to obey their ‘hubby’ and be their ‘maid’.

However, some women stand up, for example Harpo’s wife Sofia who defends herself against her husband. When Celie meets the extroverted Shug, she teaches Celie about her own body, femaleness and sexuality. By this way, Shug helps her to develop herself emotionally and gives her hope and inspiration. After she takes her freedom from her husband, Celie starts to make pants and becomes an independent woman. Those pants symbolize the emancipation: first, only men were allowed to wear trousers. Celie makes those garments for women too, which contributes to the gender equality.


The story takes place in the beginning of the twentieth century. In the book there are different settings, the story mainly occurs in Georgia and in Africa. Celie lives on a farm in Georgia, a state located in the southeastern United States[1]. After slavery, in the United States the economic and social relations for the black people - the African Americans -stayed much the same. Many African American left the South and migrated to the North because in that industrial area there were economic opportunities for them. The stragglers lived isolated from white society. By this way, there was a lot of racial and sexual discrimination. However, in the same period the first-wave feminism took place. Feminists pleaded gender equality. Shug comes from the city where she lives a much more liberated life than Celie. That is why she has a more modern, feministic view which has a big influence at Celie.


Main character

The narrator of the story is Celie, a fourteen-year-old black girl who is poor and uneducated. Her whole life she has been oppressed by men. When she was an adolescent her father beat and raped her and she has two children of him who were taken away when they were born. Later, she is beaten by her husband too. She is told that she is stupid, ugly and worthless so she has little sense of self-worth. Celie is not an assertive woman and very naive and compliant. She accepts it all.

Shug’s coming in Celie’s life causes a turning point. She teaches Celie about her own body, femaleness and sexuality. By this way, Celie develops herself emotionally and becomes more and more independent. She does not allow anymore the way Albert (her husband) treats her, takes her freedom from him and starts even an own business. The inferior girl has developed herself to an independent woman.

Key scene

Shug teaches Celie about love, sexuality and God and that helps her to defend herself and find her sense of self-worth. Then they find out that Albert has been keeping the letters of Celie’s sister Nettie from Celie. He has kept her separated from the only one she loves and who loves her. Celie gets furious (‘How I’m gon keep from killing him, I say’) and expresses this with a verbal tirade. She does not longer want to be oppressed by him. She leaves her husband and moves to Shug’s house in Tennessee. There she opens her own clothing store.

First, she was not assertive, not dependent and oppressed by men. Then, she gained self-confidence through her relation with Shug. Become stronger by that self-confidence she finally takes control of her own life and happiness.


Celie returns to Georgia and meets her ex-husband. She finds out that he has become someone else. After the death of her step-father, she inherits ‘his’ home. Nettie returns from Africa with her husband Samuel and Celie’s two children. After thirty years, the sisters see each other again and have a blissful reunion. Shug comes back – she had a relationship with Germaine – because she has discovered she only adores Celie. Celie is now with all the people she loves.

I think the end is satisfying because it is a climax, the result of the development of Celie. First, she is a victim; then, she becomes an independent woman who stands up for herself and has learnt to love and to be loved; and last but not least she is reunited with the people she loves.

Personal opinion

This story was very interesting and I have learnt much from it. I have got to know the situation of African American women in the beginning of the twentieth century. Alice Walker wants to say: love yourself, love to be loved, become independent and stand up for yourself because you're worth it. Furthermore, the moral is that you have to notice and enjoy the little things in life. That is why Shug says (p. 177): ‘I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.’

I think The Color Purple is a wonderful story about the development of a girl oppressed by men. Alice Walker writes without decorations or frills but the story is stunning and philosophically though. It has been written in everyday speech. In the beginning that was unpleasant but I got used to it. The message of this story interests me: my mother always educates me to become independent and love myself, and that is exactly the moral of this story.

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