The Color Purple – Essay Example

The Color Purple – Essay Example

The Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple has made a lasting impact on the literary scene, addressing race and gender relations in a time when most individuals overlooked such issues. Written by Alice Walker, the novel is an epistolary text composed of ‘letters’ from the main characters. The text not only comments on life for black women in the South, but on the sexuality and social position of these women.

The Color Purple begins from the prospective of Celie, the main protagonist of the novel. This fourteen year-old girl comes from a poor background with little education, and is often violently and sexually abused by her father. Celie is then forced into a loveless marriage and loses her only sibling, a sister, Nettie. Celie soon begins a relationship with her husband’s mistress, a female singer named Shug, who helps her discover letters from Nettie which Celie’s husband has kept hidden from her. Nettie not only befriends a missionary couple, but also locates two children Celie’s father had impregnated her with. Along the way, the sisters also discover their father to be, in fact, their stepfather. Eventually, the ending takes a happier turn; Celie is able to inherit her mother’s land upon the death of her stepfather, though her relationship with Shug soon ends. Nettie also marries, and the two families unite in the end.

Amidst this plotline, two subplots also unravel. One involves Sofia, an empowered black woman, who refuses to be dominated by the men around her. At first married and pregnant by Harpo, Celie’s husband’s brother, she is an independent woman that soon heads out on her own amidst much difficulty. There is also another marriage towards the end of the novel, where Celie’s son Adam is married through a violent African tradition.

The novel mainly addresses gender roles and the oppression of Southern black women, as well as racism. Though it displays men as predominantly violent and sexually perverted, it also approaches the idea that ‘evil begets evil.’ No single person in the novel, for example, is sexually or physically abusive unless they themselves have been abused or humiliated in some similar way. The novel also shows how society tends to react when women refuse their traditional gender role; any display of sexual confidence or independence on the part of a woman is met with resistance. The author highlights this, especially, in order to show how complex concepts like sexuality and gender really are. Religion also plays a key role, as characters keep and lose their traditional beliefs in God throughout the novel. Overall, The Color Purple is a complex novel that provided an entirely new outlook on female sexuality and gender roles, especially in the black community.