documents the traumas and gradual triumph of Celie, an African American teenager raised in rural isolation in Georgia, as she comes to resist the paralyzing self-concept forced on her by others. Celie narrates her life through painfully honest letter...
The Color Purple is a 1982 epistolary novel by American author Alice Walker which won the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. It was later adapted into a film and musical of the same name.
Taking place mostly in rural Georgia, the story focuses on the life of African-American women in the Southern United States in the 1930s, addressing numerous issues including their exceedingly low position in American social culture. The novel has been the frequent target of censors and appears on the American Library Association list of the 100 Most Frequently Challenged Books of 2000–2009 at number seventeen because of the sometimes explicit content, particularly in terms of violence. In 2003 the book was listed on the BBC's The Big Read poll of the UK's "best-loved novels.
Alice Walker (born February 9, 1944) is an American novelist, short story writer, poet, and social activist. In 1982, she wrote the novel The Color Purple, for which she won the National Book Award for hardcover fiction, and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. She also wrote the novels Meridian (1976) and The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970). An avowed feminist, Walker coined the term "womanist" to mean "A black feminist or feminist of color" in 1983.
The cumulative effect is a novel that is convincing because of the authenticity of its folk voice...a striking and consummately well-written novel. Alice Walker's choice and effective handling of the epistolary style has enabled her to tell a poignant tale of women's struggle for equality and independence.
Mel Watkins - The New York Times
Alice Walker once told an interviewer, "The black woman is one of America's greatest heroes. . She has been oppressed beyond recognition."
The Color Purple is the story of how one of those American heroes came to recognize herself recovering her identity and rescuing her life in spite of the disfiguring effects of a particularly dreadful and personal sort of oppression. The novel focuses on Celie, a woman lashed by waves of deep trouble—abandonment, incest, physical and emotional abuse—and tracks her triumphant journey to self-discovery, womanhood, and independence. Celie's story is a pointed indictment of the men in her life—men who betrayed and abused her, worked her like a mule and suppressed her independence—but it is also a moving portralt of the psychic bonds that exist between women and the indestructible nature of the human spirit.
The story of Celie is told through letters: Celie's letters to God and her sister Nettle, who is in Africa, and Nettle's letters to Celie. Celie's letters are a poignant attempt to understand her own out-of-control life. Her difficulties begin when, at the age of fourteen, she is raped by her stepfather, who then apparently sells away the two children born of that rape. Her sister Nettle runs away to escape the abuse, but Celie is married off to Albert, an older man that she refers to simply as "Mr." for most of the novel. He subjects her to tough work on his farm and beats her at his whim. But Celie finds the path to redemption in two key female role models: Sophia, an independent woman who refuses to be taken advantage of by her husband or any man, and Shug, a sassy, independent singer whom Albert loves. It is Shug who first offers Celie love, friendship, and a radically new way of looking at life.
Well, us talk and talk bout God, but I’m still adrift. Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking about him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?) Not the little wildflowers. Nothing."
"Now that my eyes opening, I feels like a fool. Next to any little scrub of a bush in my yard, Mr. ______'s evil sort of shrink. But not altogether. Still, it is like Shug say, You have to git man off your eyeball, before you can see anything a’tall.
Man corrupt everything, say Shug. He on your box of grits, in your head, and all over the radio. He try to make you think he everywhere. Soon as you think he everywhere, you think he God. But he ain’t. Whenever you trying to pray, and man plop himself on the other end of it, tell him to git lost, say Shug. Conjure up flowers, wind, water, a big rock.
But this hard work, let me tell you. He been there so long, he don’t want to budge. He threaten lightning, floods, and earthquakes. Us fight. I hardly pray at all. Every time I conjure up a rock, I throw it.
Finally, Celie leaves Albert to follow her own desires and discover her own talents and abilities. The novel ends in celebration: Celie is reunited with her sister and even the demonic Albert gets a shot at redemption.
The Color Purple is one of the most successful and controversial books ever written by a black woman. It was an international bestseller, won both the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and in 1985 was made into a much-discussed movie directed by Steven Spielberg. The movie and novel provoked controversy about Walker's portrayal of black men, which many found offensive and one-dimensional. Of course, Walker’s book has outlived both the movie and its critics; its no-holds-barred portrayal of black male-female relations broadened the trail blazed by her hero, Zora Neale Hurston. The novel is a wonderful fulfillment of its author's mission: to tell the untold stories of those black American heroes who withstood the gaudiest abuse a racist, sexist society could offer and emerged triumphant.
In Celie’s first letter to God, she asks for a sign to let her know what is happening to her. happening to her. Discuss the way confusion and deception become powerful tools for those characters who want to take advantage of Celie. Unravel the layers of lies that are told to her throughout the novel, perhaps making lists that compare the fiction she is expected to believe with the truth about her world. These canbe concrete (Celie’s impression that Pa is too poor to provide properly for her, and the later realization that he had more resources than he ever lets on) or abstract (the assertion that Celie is unintelligent, though she demonstrates constant intelligence in planning for her safety and that of her sister). Ask the students to recall their own experience with a revelation: when in their lives has the truth set them free?
What is the effect of not knowing Albert’s last name? In early novels, it was not uncommon for authors to use a blank in place of a character’s name, to create the illusion that the character was someone the reader might know—someone whose identity had to be kept secret. What does it mean that Celie must call her husband Mr. ____? When does she at last begin calling him by his first name?
Why does Albert tell Harpo to begin beating his wife, Sofia? Why is it so important to Harpo that his wife have no will of her own? Is his relationship with Squeak (Mary Agnes) fulfilling? What do these scenes tell us about the nature of abusive cycles? Is cruelty something that is taught—something that is unnatural? In your opinion, what does it take for someone (male or female) to deserve true respect?
Just as Celie grew up being told she was inferior, Shug Avery was always told she was evil. What are your impressions of Shug, from the photo Celie sees early on, to the end of the novel, when Celie and Albert have united in their devotion to Shug? What does Shug teach Celie about being loved, and about finding one’s true self? What price does Sofia pay for being her true self?
What does it take for Celie to finally reach her boiling point and reject oppression?
What is Celie’s opinion of Grady and his haze of addiction?
Why is it difficult for Shug to commit to the people who love her? In what ways does Shug bring both pleasure and heartache to them?
Nettie’s life with Corrine and Samuel gives her the first semblance of a healthy family life she has ever known, but Corrine’s jealousy taints this. Only the memory of that crucial early scene, when Celie lays eyes on her daughter at the store, absolves Nettie just before Corrine dies. The Color Purple brims with these intricate turns of plot. List the seemingly minor scenes that turn out to be pivotal in the lives of the characters.
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