The Color Purple

“Womanist is to feminist as purple is to lavender.”–Alice Walker

A Critical Analysis October 19, 2008

Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple deserved every laudatory word it has received. Despite its controversial ideas, there is no denying that it is a great literary work and deserves not only the Pulitzer Prize but many others.

The story is told from a first person view of the main character Celie who throughout the story goes through a major transformation. The tone in the beginning is one of an oppressed, naive, young girl, who still has a lot of growing up to do. Even in the private recesses of her own mind, Celie was a meek character who was very passive. It seemed as though she did not even know she could be anything else. It’s only once Walker introduces strong independent characters like Sophia and Shug does the reader and Celie realize that her life could be different. The sharp contrast between these women’s and Celie’s characters really exaggerate what all Celie is lacking not only as an independent woman but as a human being at all. As Celie realizes this and begins her transformation, the tone itself begins to change. The book is no longer told from the mindset of a docile girl but from the mind of a strong woman.

The symbolism in this book is amazing. As you read, you could almost feel your mind making the connections. The symbolism of the pants is perhaps one of the more apparent ones. In the story, Celie actually thinks about how it is so strange for women to wear pants like a man. But in the end, Celie opens her own business making pants for men and women alike. This represents her journey of self discovery. She started out oppressing her own her feelings; she even describes herself as being as hard as a tree. But as she grows she learns that there’s nothing wrong with having feelings and this is where she can draw strength from. By the end of the story she is not merely admiring other people’s pants (feelings) but wearing her own.

This book plays on various themes but as I was reading, the most apparent one to me was God and our individual paths. In the beginning, Celie sees God the way most people are brought up to see him. When she thinks of God, she pictures a big white man sitting in a chair with a long gray beard. Sound familiar? It’s the same picture depicted in almost every child’s bible. As Celie grows, she begins to associate this image of God with the oppressive men in her life. She soon sees God as perhaps an agnostic would see him, a big kid with Lego set. This is the point where Celie hits work bottom. It isn’t until Shug tells her that God isn’t even a man that Celie finds her faith again and finally learns to really truly be happy. Celie’s journey in faith is like many of our own. We must lean on our friends for guidance and discover for ourselves who God really is and what He means to us.


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