Alice Walker: The Color Purple
Alice Walker: The Color Purple
“The Color Purple” (1982) by Alice Walker is an epistolary novel set in rural Georgia, the United States, spanning from 1909 to 1947, encompassing a 40-year period. The narrative revolves around Celie, the central character and narrator, who pens letters to God, chronicling her life. While the novel is not an authentic account, it finds its roots in a love triangle from Alice Walker’s grandfather’s life.
The Color Purple is the story of Celie, a poor African-American woman who suffers sexual and physical abuse from her father and later from her abusive husband, Mister.
Celie’s life changes when she meets and develops a close relationship with Shug Avery, a blues singer who becomes her friend and lover, and who inspires Celie to assert herself and explore her own beliefs and identity.
The novel critiques the contemporary patriarchal society of United States and its impact on African-American women. The novel’s frank depiction of sexual abuse and its exploration of lesbian relationships were new for their time. It also presents a complex portrayal of religion and spirituality by challenging traditional interpretations of Christianity and offering a more inclusive and open-minded view of God.
1. Celie: Celie is the protagonist and narrator of The Color Purple. She is a poor, black 14-year-old girl whose apparent father, Alphonso, sexually and physically abuses her, and abducts and presumably kills the two children he impregnated her with. Celie is married off to an abusive husband known only as ‘Mister’. Celie later meets Shug Avery, with whom she becomes close and has a sexually intimate relationship.
2. Shug Avery: Shug Avery is a blues singer who was Mister’s mistress. Shug is taken in by Mister when she becomes ill and she is cared for by Celie. Shug becomes friends, then lovers with Celie. She is Celie’s mentor and helps her become an independent and assertive woman. Shug inspires Celie to consider her views on God. Shug also inspired Celie to start sewing pants for a living, which she does successfully later in the novel.
3. Mister: Mister is Celie’s first husband, to whom she is given by Alphonso. Mister initially wanted to marry Nettie, Celie’s sister, but Alphonso refused. During his marriage to Celie, Mister writes letters to his former mistress, Shug Avery. Mister hides letters from Nettie addressed to Celie. After Celie addresses the abuse she’s suffered and leaves Mister, he undergoes a personal transformation and becomes a better man. He ends the novel friends with Celie.
4. Nettie: Nettie is Celie’s younger sister, who runs away from home to Celie’s home with Mister. Nettie then runs away again when Mister makes sexual advances towards her. She is encouraged by Celie to seek Corrine, who is a missionary with her husband, Samuel. They all move to Africa to continue their missionary work.
5. Alphonso: Alphonso claims to be Celie and Nettie’s father, but it is later discovered that he is their stepfather. Alphonso sexually and physically abuses Celie until he marries her off to Mister. Alphonso married Celie and Nettie’s mother and lied about being their father so he could inherit her house and property.
6. Harpo: Harpo is Mister’s eldest son. He follows his father’s behaviours and attitudes, believing that men should dominate women and women should obey and be submissive. Mister encourages Harpo to beat his first wife, Sofia, as an (albeit stereotypical) assertion of male dominance. Harpo enjoys doing things in the home that are stereotypically women’s work, such as cooking and household chores. Sofia is physically stronger than Harpo, so she always overpowers him. He and Sofia reconcile and save their marriage at the end of the novel after he changes his ways.
7. Squeak: Squeak becomes Harpo’s lover after Sofia leaves him for a time. Squeak has mixed black and white ancestry, so she is known in the novel as a mulatto, though the term is now considered inappropriate/offensive. Squeak is beaten by Harpo, but she eventually experiences a transformation as Celie does. She asserts that she wants to be called by her real name, Mary Agnes, and she begins to take her singing career seriously.
8. Samuel and Corrine: Samuel is a minister and, together with his wife, Corrine, a missionary. Whilst still in Georgia, they adopted Adam and Olivia, who are later revealed to be Celie’s children. The couple takes the children to Africa to continue their missionary work accompanied by Nettie. Corrine dies of fever in Africa, and Samuel marries Nettie sometime after.
9. Olivia and Adam: Olivia and Adam are Celie’s biological children she had after she was sexually abused by Alphonso. They are adopted by Samuel and Corrine and go with them to Africa to do missionary work. Olivia develops a close relationship with Tashi, a girl from the Olinka village the family is staying in. Adam falls in love with Tashi and marries her. They all later return to America with Samuel and Nettie and meet Celie.
Violence, sexism, racism, colourism, religion, female relationships, LGBT
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