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; letters