"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker - an Analysis

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2007

17 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of content



3.Sociocultural Background

4.Textual Analysis
4.2.Characters and their relationship
4.3.2.Themes narrative voice relationships
4.3.3.Symbolism and Trousers
4.5.Narrative Techniques



1. Introduction

The Color Purple is Alice Walker's masterpiece, which made the author not only the first female Afro American author to receive a Pulitzer Price but moreover brought her world fame and a broader recognition of her other works. This analysis of the text focuses on motifs, themes and symbolism used in the story. It also talks about the author by giving an in-dept overview not only about her life but also the sociocultural background that shaped this novel. As mentioned before a clear focus is put on themes, symbols and motifs in the novel, which are widely used and therefore also are somehow responsible for the diversity of approaches to reading the novel. The textual analysis is enhanced by a brief summary of the plot, characters and their relationship as well as a compressed paragraph talking about the setting and an overview over some narrative techniques used in the novel.

2. Biography

Alice (Malsenior) Tallulah-Kate Walker, American by nationality and African American, Cherokee and Scottish-Irish by ethnicity, is a southern writer. (Bates 23)

Alice Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, in February 1944 as the youngest of 8 siblings. She did not have to support her family on the field, where they worked as sharecroppers, a job that Walker considered as even worse than the subjugation of slavery. (see Bates 8) At the age of 8 Walker joined her brothers in a game of cowboys and Indians, where she was accidentally shot in the right eye by one of them. This incident was particularly significant for the writer. First an active child, Walker retrenched now from active life, and felt depressive. Walker's educational life had started at the age of 4. An outstanding student, Walker, attended Spellman College as well as Sarah Lawrence, where she graduated in 1965. While still at college Walker also started traveling. Her first journeys brought her to Africa, and Europe. From there she returned with new impressions that inspired her writing. In writing Walker was also strongly influenced by her two sisters Ruth and Molly. While Ruth escaped as soon as possible, from their home and the suppression of their verbally violent father, Molly got a scholarship, went to college and traveled independently around the world. As different as both life stories might sound, both sisters provided Walker with stories about life, that influenced the writers later works. (see Bates 1-15) It was Ruth who talked with Alice about the lover's triangle which both had heard of, a story that should give Alice the inspiration for the Color Purple, having first the characters of Celie and Shug in mind. (see In Search 355)

Supporting the Civil Right Movement Walker met her later husband, Melvyn R. Leventhal a Civil Right lawyer who she married in 1967 and had her daughter Rebeca with. Married to a white, Jew, Walker speaks about the racial segregation of the United States as the American Apartheid, cumulating in the Civil Right Movement. Walker and her husband were the first interracial married couple in Mississippi, a state that only started allowing interracial relationships from the year 1967 onwards. Before that it was illegal to be in an interracial relationship not only in Mississippi, 16 other states forbade relationships between different races up to the year 1966. However, Walker's marriage, although full of love and admiration, which can clearly be seen in her text Beloved published in her book The Way Forward is with a Broken Heart (2001), was not meant to last. The couple divorced in 1976.

Walker was a gifted writer from the start. She won prizes and scholarships. Her debut novel was The Third Life of Grange Copeland (1970), poems, short stories and novels followed. Among them In Love and Trouble: Stories of Black Women (1973), Meridian (1976) and You Can't keep a Good Woman Down (1981). In 1982 The Color Purple, so far Walkers most successful book, was published. In 1985 it was made into a film by Steven Spielberg. A 2005 musical version, produced by Oprah Winfrey, which opened on the Broadway and also toured through America, followed. As the greatest success, however, the book itself can be considered. It won a Pulitzer Prize and made Walker the first African American to achieve the prestige carrying price. Besides writing Alice Walker has been teaching at different Colleges and Universities, Wellesly College and Yale University are only two of them.

Her private life always had a great impact on Walkers texts and thoughts. Due to this fact it needs to be mentioned that Walker relationship with women have sometimes been ambiguous. Women seem to have dominated Walkers life so far. The writer adored her mother and has, from an early age on, been interested in female writers and later started to ground “her work in a matrilinieal tradition of black writing.” (Walker Preface ix) Walker also loves her daughter Rebeca but she had problems in managing her career and her motherhood as she confesses in her story A Writer Because of, Nor in Spite of, Her Children published in In Search of Our Mother's Gardens (1983). Besides heterosexual love ties, Walker also had female partners who she referred to as lovers.

3. Sociocultural Background

Although slavery was prohibited by the Emancipation Proclamation of the year 1862, Blacks were still not included in everyday life. They were hardly able to find well payed jobs or work at all. While some had the chance to open small businesses of their own, mainly selling dry goods, others had to continuou or start working on fields. Working on fields meant working as “sharecroppers, tenant farmers, farm laborers, and casuals (work for food)”. (Bates 91) By the end of the 18th century and during the 19th century, however, farmer were given the opportunity to buy their own land and tools to start their own businesses. Walker places The Color Purple in the American South among independent but still poor farmers. (see Bates 91)

“Walker's heritage and history provides a vehicle for understanding the modern world in which her characters live.” (Davis 26) Her heritage and the modern society she grew up in are of utmost importance to understand the novel. Walker included herself strongly in the Civil Right Movement, which was not always easy at this time. Was being black already difficult enough at this time, meant being a woman another challenge. Although there was the fight for equal rights, in the beginning, it did not include necessarily female rights. (see Joannau 192) Thus Walker can be seen as a southern, black feminist or using the author's words womanist.

4. Textual Analysis

4.1. Plot

At the beginning of the story the reader learns, how Celie, then a 14 year old girl is raped by her, then thought to be father. The two children conceived by him are given away. Later Celie herself is given away into marriage, to Mr. ___, that is also full of abuse. Celie who fears that her sister Nettie could also be raped by their “father”, asks her sister to stay with them but Mr. ___, who was interested in Nettie even before his marriage to Celie, tries to start a sexual relationship with her. This makes Nettie run away, she joins a family of missionaries and follows them to Africa. (see Bobo 62-65) Meanwhile Celie's stepson Harpo marries the strong, black Sofia. Harpo wants to follow his father's and Celie's example of marriage and starts beating Sofia, who as she had to fight most of the men in her family before, fights back but is finally so exasperated and crestfallen that she leaves him.


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"The Color Purple" by Alice Walker - an Analysis
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Bachelor Katharina Eder (Author), 2007, "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker - an Analysis, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/171964


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