The Color Purple
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) · 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.
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
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