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Book Review of The Color Purple by Alice Walker

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    “Harpo say, I love you, Squeak. He kneel down and try to put his arms round her waist. She stand up. My name Mary Agnes, she say. ”-This passage is from Celie’s forty-first letter. Squeak has just returned from an unsuccessful attempt to release Sofia from prison. The prison warden raped Squeak, and she returns home battered and torn. However, Squeak is not defeated, and she makes an important act of resistance when she decides to reject the belittling nickname, Squeak, that Harpo has given her. She insists on being called by her given name, Mary Agnes.

    By renaming herself, Mary Agnes resists the patriarchal words and symbols that Harpo has imposed upon her. Walker repeatedly stresses the importance of language and storytelling as ways of controlling situations and as the first steps toward liberation. Just as Shug renames Celie a virgin, and just as Celie reverses Mr. ______’s words to say, “I’m pore, I’m black, I may be ugly and can’t cook. . . . But I’m here,” Mary Agnes renames herself to show her refusal to let the man in her life gain interpretive control over her. 2. “Us sleep like sisters, me and Shug. – In her sixtieth letter, Celie is recovering from the shock of learning Mr. ______ has been hiding Nettie’s letters to her. To help Celie overcome her anger, Shug positions herself as a very maternal or sisterly figure who protects and arranges Celie’s outside environment and makes sure Celie does not act on her instinct to murder Mr. ______. Nonetheless, though Celie and Shug’s relationship becomes more sisterly and familial, the intimate and sexual side does not disappear. In Shug and Celie’s relationship, Walker shows sexuality to be a complex phenomenon.

    Celie and Shug are sexual with one another, but they are simultaneously maternal, sisterly, friendly, and loving. 3. “It must have been a pathetic exchange. Our chief never learned English beyond an occasional odd phrase he picked up from Joseph, who pronounces “English” “Yanglush. ””- In the sixty-fifth letter, Nettie shares with Celie her sentiments about the Olinka villagers. After the Olinka have this “pathetic exchange” with a white man from the English rubber company, the Olinka conclude that it is a waste of breath to argue with men who cannot or will not listen.

    The cultural barrier between the Olinka and the English is so vast that both parties readily give up, believing no communication is possible. Samuel later mentions that the only way he and the other Americans could remain in Africa is to join the mbeles, the natives who have fled deep into the jungle and refuse to work for the white settlers. 4. “Well, us talk and talk about God, but I’m still adrift. Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking bout him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that? not the color purple (where it come from? ). . . .”- In the seventy-third letter of the novel, Celie recalls for Nettie this conversation with Shug. Celie has told Shug that she has stopped writing to God altogether. In response, Shug tries to help Celie develop a new understanding of God, which involves sidelining Celie’s notion of a God who is white and male and with whom she feels she has nothing in common. Shug gently suggests that instead of being mad at God for his injustice, Celie should reimagine God as a figure or entity with which she can more closely connect.

    Just because Celie’s image of an archetypal old, bearded white man will no longer do, Shug argues, Celie does not need to reject God altogether. Shug urges Celie to be creative and to see the presence of God in everything and everyone, as a sort of disembodied “it” with no race or gender. Shug’s lesson is part of a greater lesson that argues for reimagining one’s oppressors rather than rejecting them. Shug shows Celie that she does not need to reject men altogether. She explains that Celie can have men as friends and that her life does not need to revolve around men exclusively.

    Instead of dismissing men and God, Shug changes the power dynamic by reimagining them. 5. “Shug act more manly than most men . . . he say. You know Shug will fight, he say. Just like Sofia. She bound to live her life and be herself no matter what. Mr. ______ think all this is stuff men do. But Harpo not like this, I tell him. You not like this. What Shug got is womanly it seem like to me. Specially since she and Sofia the ones got it. ”- Celie recounts this conversation she has with Mr. ______ near the end of the novel, in her eighty-seventh letter.

    Their words of reconciliation concern the acceptance of differences—in gender roles, talents, and sexual orientation. The Color Purple concerns a universe in which traditionally masculine traits such as assertiveness, sexual gratification, and physical strength are present in female as well as male characters. Sofia’s assertiveness and strength are virtually unsurpassed by any of the male characters, whereas the nurturing and care that Harpo displays toward Mr. ______ could be considered feminine.

    By the end of the novel, a sort of mixing has occurred, as some characters’ masculine traits have rubbed off onto more feminine characters, and vice versa. Shug, for instance, learns from and reciprocates Celie’s gentleness and care, while Celie picks up some of Shug’s sexual assertiveness and follows Shug’s suggestion that she become owner of a business, a traditionally male role. Mr. ______ and Harpo, conversely, become somewhat feminized. Mr. ______ learns to sew and to be a good listener, and Harpo cooks, changes his baby’s diaper, and kisses his children.

    By the end of the novel, it is clear that Walker sees fixed gender roles as meaningless and impractical. Celie-As a young girl, Celie is constantly subjected to abuse and told she is ugly. She decides therefore that she can best ensure her survival by making herself silent and invisible. Celie’s letters to God are her only outlet and means of self-expression. To Celie, God is a distant figure, who she doubts cares about her concerns. Shug Avery- Our first impression of Shug is negative. We learn she has a reputation as a woman of dubious morals who dresses scantily, has some sort of “nasty woman disease,” and is spurned by her own parents.

    Celie immediately sees something more in Shug. When Celie looks at Shug’s photograph, not only does Shug’s glamorous appearance amaze her, but Shug also reminds Celie of her “mama. ” Celie compares Shug to her mother throughout the novel. Unlike Celie’s natural mother, who was oppressed by traditional gender roles, Shug refuses to allow herself to be dominated by anyone. Shug has fashioned her identity from her many experiences, instead of subjecting her will to others and allowing them to impose an identity upon her. Mr. ________- Although Mr. _____’s development is not the subject of the novel, he undergoes just as significant a transformation as Celie does. Mr. ______ initially treats Celie as no more than an object. He beats her like an animal and shows no human connection, even during sex. He also hides Nettie’s letters to Celie from Celie for years. Mr. ______’s harsh treatment of Celie spurs her development. Celie’s discovery of Nettie’s letters begins her first experience with raw anger, which culminates in her angry denunciation of Mr. ______ in front of the others at dinner.

    Celie’s newfound confidence, instilled in her by Shug, inspires her to react assertively and forcefully to Mr. ______’s abuse. When Celie returns from Tennessee, she finds that Mr. ______ has reevaluated his life and attempted to correct his earlier wrongs. Mr. ______ finally listens to Celie, and the two come to enjoy conversing and sewing together. Mr. ______ eventually expresses his wish to have an equal and mutually respectful marriage with Celie, but she declines. Nettie- Though younger than her sister, Nettie often acts as Celie’s protector.

    Nettie is highly intellectual and from an early age recognizes the value of education. However, even though Nettie is smart and ambitious, Mr. ______ effectively silences her by secretly hiding her letters from Celie. In her letters to Celie, Nettie writes that she is lonely, showing that like Celie, Nettie needs a sympathetic audience to listen to her thoughts and concerns. Motifs- Letters, Rural Farm Community, Colors Symbols- Sewing and quilts: After Sofia and Celie argue about the advice Celie has given Harpo, Sofia signals a truce by suggesting they make a quilt.

    The quilt, composed of diverse patterns sewn together, symbolizes diverse people coming together in unity. Like a patchwork quilt, the community of love that surrounds Celie at the end of the novel incorporates men and women who are bonded by family and friendship, and who have different gender roles, sexual orientations, and talents. Another important instance of sewing in the novel is Celie’s pants-sewing business. With Shug’s help, Celie overturns the idea that sewing is marginal and unimportant women’s labor, and she turns it into a lucrative, empowering source of economic independence.

    God: In the early parts of the novel, Celie sees God as her listener and helping hand, yet Celie does not have a clear understanding of who God is. She knows deep down that her image of God as a white patriarch “don’t seem quite right,” but she says it’s all she has. Shug invites Celie to imagine God as something radically different, as an “it” that delights in creation and just wants human beings to love what it has created. Eventually, Celie stops thinking of God as she stops thinking of the other men in her life—she “git man off her eyeball” and tells God off, writing, “You must be sleep. But after Celie has chased her patriarchal God away and come up with a new concept of God, she writes in her last letter, “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God. ” This reimagining of God on her own terms symbolizes Celie’s move from an object of someone else’s care to an independent woman. It also indicates that her voice is now sufficiently empowered to create her own narrative. Letter 7: Alphonso refuses to hand Nettie over to Mr. ______, stating that she is far too young and inexperienced to marry a man with children.

    Alphonso wants Nettie to continue her schooling and offers the man Celie instead. Alphonso claims that though Celie is ugly, a liar, and “spoiled twice,” she is older and hardworking and owns her own cow, which she could bring into the marriage. Alice Walker- Alice Walker, best known perhaps as the author of The Color Purple, was the eighth child of Georgia sharecroppers. After a childhood accident blinded her in one eye, she went on to become valedictorian of her local school, and attend Spelman College and Sarah Lawrence College on scholarships, graduating in 1965.

    Born at home on February 9, 1944, under the sign of Aquarius in the town of Ward Chapel, a neighboring community of Eatonton, Georgia. She is the eighth and last child of Willie Lee Walker and Minnie Lou Tallulah Grant Walker. In 1994, Walker changed her middle name to Tallulah-Kate, in honor of her mother and of Kate Nelson, her paternal grandmother. Historical Background/ Elements of Time Period- Her works are known for their portrayals of the African American woman’s life. She depicts vividly the sexism, racism and poverty that make that life often a struggle.

    But she also portrays as part of that life, the strengths of family, community, self-worth, and spirituality. Many of her novels depict women in other periods of history than our own. Just as with non-fiction women’s history writing, such portrayals give a sense of the differences and similarities of women’s condition today and in that other time. Theme: The power of narrative and voice; the power of strong female relationships; the cyclical nature of racism and sexism; the disruption of traditional gender roles Setting- Rural Georgia-1910–1940. Though The Color Purple is a historical novel, it never refers to any factual events.

    There are no dates, little sense of the passage of time, and very few mentions of characters’ ages Literary Devices- Metaphors, Simile, Personification, Repetition, and Foreshadowing I found the book quite educating. It is not common that a book is written about racial profiling from a woman’s perspective, and I could really connect with that. I enjoyed how she used the kind of dialect she did, because it truly made it seem genuine. I did not like how constant the abuse was for women in the novel, but I guess it was common in the setting of the book.

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    Book Review of The Color Purple by Alice Walker. (2017, Feb 14). Retrieved from

    Frequently Asked Questions

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    What does Alice Walker say about The Color Purple?
    Alice Walker: It actually could be any color you don't notice—anything! Anything could be the color purple. It's a symbol. It speaks to our blindness about the wonder of this place.
    What is The Color Purple book about?
    The Color Purple documents the traumas and gradual triumph of Celie, an African American teenager raised in rural isolation in Georgia, as she comes to resist the paralyzing self-concept forced on her by others. Celie narrates her life through painfully honest letters to God.
    What is the main message of The Color Purple?
    The Color Purple movingly depicts the growing up and self-realization of Celie, who overcomes oppression and abuse to find fulfillment and independence. The novel also addresses gender equality.
    Why The Color Purple is a good book?
    The Color Purple was a particularly fitting choice, given its feminist themes and exploration of racial segregation and discrimination. It was a book I had considered a couple of years ago for a previous reading challenge when the theme was a feminist novel.

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