The Color Purple was published in 1982 and earned Alice Walker the 1983 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award. The story follows an uneducated black woman during thirty years of life, through her suffering and attempts to find love and happiness in life. It graphically depicts the violence and sexual subjugation that many black women endured during the 20th century and, as a result, has been banned multiple times. It ranks high on the American Library Association’s list of most banned books. Ultimately an uplifting story, Steven Spielberg directed the 1985 film adaptation, starring Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey.
Why should we care? Because purple is the best color in the universe.
Let us begin by saying that any book that has been as censored and as hotly criticized as The Color Purple is bound to rock our world. And, any book that features the most knee-shaking color of the rainbow is guaranteed to be sheer genius. Thank you, Shug Avery for reminding us of our undying love for this most royal of colors. As Shmoop reflects on all things purple, we arrive at our two favorite icons in addition to Alice Walker’s masterpiece, heroes from whom we draw endless purple inspiration: Prince (the ever-evolving, many-named king of pop) and Harold (the pajama-wearing alchemist of Harold and the Purple Crayon). Shmoop, you ask, what do these vestiges of our youth have to do with our understanding of a book that treats the black female experience in 1930s Georgia? Oodles.
In The Color Purple, Celie tells Shug that she’s so preoccupied with chasing the image of God as a Dumbledore-look-alike out of her mind that she forgets to enjoy things like the color purple. Shug in turn encourages Celie to re-imagine her god as a being with which she can more closely connect, and, thus, to begin to take ownership over her life and enjoy the mysteries it yields. Shug gets us thinking: can we create our own identity? Are we in charge? Or is identity pre-made and pre-packaged for us by our family, our home, our friends, our community, and our CosmoGirl?
Our purple heroes help us sift through these hefty philosophical questions. Prince laughs in the face of pop and continually reinvents himself like the phoenix while writing songs about purple precipitation, the symbolic meaning of which still has scholars stumped. This purple man writes, produces, arranges, and performs all of his music on his own (more than 100) and has influences as diverse as funk, New Wave, Jazz, and hip hop. He wrote a song for Happy Feet and is a vegan.
Harold is an equally prolific artist of purple things, and he rocks the footed pajamas. He shows us how to make the world our oyster and how to draw an ocean to go sailing on and a purple pie when we get hungry. When he encounters a road block or a problem, he draws his way into a solution. Harold’s creations are due to an initial urge to enjoy a simple walk in the moonlight on a night when there is no moon. Talk about stopping to smell a field of purple roses. These royal legends teach us how to become who we are in the world, and, through them, purpleness almost becomes synonymous with creativity.
Like them, The Color Purple reminds us: you can’t fight the purple.