Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


Walker uses the novel’s epistolary (letter-writing) form to emphasize the power of communication. Celie writes letters to God, and Nettie writes letters to Celie. Both sisters gain strength from their letter writing, but they are saved only when they receive responses to their letters. Therefore, although writing letters enables self-e-xpression and confession, it requires a willing audience. When Celie never responds to Nettie’s letters, Nettie feels lost because Celie is her only audience. Nettie grows disillusioned with her missionary work because the imperialists will not listen to her and because the Olinka villagers are stubborn. Only after Nettie returns home to Celie, an audience guaranteed to listen, does she feel fulfilled and freed.

Read about another work written in the epistolary style, Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper.”

The Rural Farm Community

Walker sets most of her novel in a rural farm community that has few visitors, and she focuses on colorful portraits of each of her characters. By focusing on the personal lives and transformations of her characters, Walker renders public events almost irrelevant. When Shug and Celie hear news of current events from the outside world, it all just sounds “crazy” to them. The unspecific time and place broaden the novel’s scope, making its themes more universal.


Throughout the novel, the appearance of brighter colors indicates the liberation various characters experience. Walker uses color to signal renewals and rebirths at several points in the novel. When Kate takes Celie shopping for a new dress, the only color options are drab ones—brown, maroon, and dark blue. Later, Celie and Sofia use bright yellow fabric from Shug’s dress to make a quilt. When Celie describes her religious awakening, she marvels how she never noticed the wonders that God has made, such as “the color purple.” Upon Mr. ______’s transformation, he paints the entire interior of his house “fresh and white,” signaling his new beginning.