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The Color Purple

Alice Walker

Key Facts

Important Quotations Explained

Study Questions & Essay Topics

full title  ·  The Color Purple

author  · Alice Walker

type of novel  · Historical fiction

genre  · Epistolary novel, confessional novel

language written  · English

time and place written  ·  1982, California

date of publication  ·  1982

publisher  · Simon & Schuster Inc.

narrator  · Celie (and Nettie at times)

point of view · Celie speaks in the first person through a series of private letters she writes to God and, later, to Nettie. At first, Celie’s letters focus only on what she does, hears, sees, and feels. Over time, they grow to include more complex themes and insights. Later in the novel, the narrative shifts back and forth between letters written by Celie and letters written by Nettie. However, the letters from Nettie are still read through Celie’s eyes.

tone  · The tone is very confessional and uninhibited, as Celie’s letters to God are private, much like journal entries.

tense  · Present

setting (time) ·  19101940. 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.

setting (place) · Rural Georgia

protagonist  · Celie

major conflict  · Celie is verbally, physically, and sexually abused by several different men, leaving her with little sense of self-worth, no narrative voice, and no one to run to.

rising action  · Shug teaches Celie about God, sexuality, and love, and helps Celie locate Nettie’s lost letters. These actions enable Celie to find her voice and sense of self.

climax  · Bolstered by the self-confidence she has gained through her relationship with Shug, Celie suddenly lashes back at Mr. ______ in an angry verbal tirade. She then moves to Tennessee with Shug and opens her own clothing store.

falling action  · Celie returns to Georgia as a successful entrepreneur and finds that Mr. ______ has undergone a personal transformation. After Alphonso’s death, she inherits her family’s home and welcomes the returning Nettie, Samuel, Olivia, and Adam into the house.

themes  · 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

motifs  · Letters; the rural farm community; colors

symbols  · Sewing and quilts; God

More Help

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Celie's Abuse

by sprinze, April 16, 2014

I think it's important to specify that her abuse was psychological, emotional, physical, and sexual. Rape is one of the most traumatic crimes committed and I'm certain it contributed to her sense of powerlessness and low self-esteem and feelings of worthlessness and her revulsion towards sex. Both her husband and her father raped her repeatedly. It's important.

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Shug and Celie

by sprinze, April 16, 2014

There's no note of sexuality here, which is also important. Celie was raped repeatedly by Mr., her husband, and her step-father. She grew numb to it, which can happen with repeated abuse especially when it happens so often. The only sex she ever enjoyed was the completely consensual and compassionate time she shared with Shug. That makes Celie possibly gay/lesbian/bisexual/queer, or even asexual because she wasn't actually concerned about the act but more the emotional attachment and connection with Shug. Without any other positive sexual ex... Read more

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44 out of 51 people found this helpful

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