Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.

Sewing and Quilts

In general, sewing in The Color Purple symbolizes the power women can gain from productively channeling their creative energy. After Sofia and Celie argue about the advice Celie has given Harpo, Sofia signals a truce by suggesting they make a quilt. The quilt, composed of diverse patterns sewn together, symbolizes diverse people coming together in unity. Like a patchwork quilt, the community of love that surrounds Celie at the end of the novel incorporates men and women who are bonded by family and friendship, and who have different gender roles, sexual orientations, and talents. Another important instance of sewing in the novel is Celie’s pants-sewing business. With Shug’s help, Celie overturns the idea that sewing is marginal and unimportant women’s labor, and she turns it into a lucrative, empowering source of economic independence.


In the early parts of the novel, Celie sees God as her listener and helping hand, yet Celie does not have a clear understanding of who God is. She knows deep down that her image of God as a white patriarch “don’t seem quite right,” but she says it’s all she has. Shug invites Celie to imagine God as something radically different, as an “it” that delights in creation and just wants human beings to love what it has created. Eventually, Celie stops thinking of God as she stops thinking of the other men in her life—she “git man off her eyeball” and tells God off, writing, “You must be sleep.” But after Celie has chased her patriarchal God away and come up with a new concept of God, she writes in her last letter, “Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God.” This reimagining of God on her own terms symbolizes Celie’s move from an object of someone else’s care to an independent woman. It also indicates that her voice is now sufficiently empowered to create her own narrative.


The Color Purple is an epistolary novel, so letters—whether they’re to God or to one of Celie’s friends or relatives—play a pivotal role in communication. But the novel’s format is not the only reason why letters are a meaningful object within the narrative. Celie and Nettie both use letters to convey their life journeys, their hopes and fears, and their self-discoveries, even though both women assume to some degree that no one is actually reading their words. Celie also uses letters to convey pivotal emotions that she can’t bring herself to say out loud. When she argues with Shug over her fling with Germaine, Celie stops talking and starts writing her responses to Shug down on paper. In this sense, letters, or even the written word in general, become a symbol of self-expression and identity. They represent unadulterated truth and the inner workings of the soul. Additionally, because letters in The Color Purple are often written to an ambiguous figure—like God, or a long-lost sister who likely will never read them—they also serve to connect characters like Celie and Nettie to a sense of belonging and kinship that they don’t have in their current lives. The letters become a symbolic way to communicate with family, ancestry, and a greater power—a connection that is particularly profound and important, considering the novel’s focus on Black Americans and their complicated relationship with the homeland from which they were taken.