Spoiler alert: The Color Purple isn't actually about the color purple. Sure, it gets mentioned here and there, but if you're hoping this will be a book about all things purple in the world, you're probably better off checking out the classic children's book, Purple.
This novel features a bit more than pictures of grapes, eggplants, and that weird McDonald's character. It stars Celie, a poor black woman in the rural South, and follows her through about thirty years of her life—from repeated sexual abuse by her father as a young girl to even more abuse at the hands of her husband as an adult.
If there's one thing that becomes clear in the first few chapters of this book, it's that sometimes life just isn't fair. Luckily, with the help of some dear friends and her own indomitable spirit, Celie ultimately grows stronger and discovers her own independence.
It's a happy ending to an otherwise pretty intense and moving story. So moving, in fact, that the book won author Alice Walker the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award in 1983. They don't just hand those out to anyone, you know.
Still, despite the undeniable impact the book has had on audiences around the world, it remains one of the most commonly banned books even today—over thirty years after being published. The reasons? Homosexuality, offensive language, and other sexually explicit material (gasp!).
Now, we don't know about you, but any book that gets people like Nancy Grace all riled for a solid three decades must be pretty darn good. And guess what? This one is. Steven Spielberg even turned it into a movie, starring none other than Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah. Yes, the Oprah. If Oprah approves, you know you're gonna like it.
If you're ready to tackle The Color Purple's more mature and painful elements, you'll be rewarded with a powerful story about one woman's evolution from a wounded soul to a free and happy spirit. So curl up and settle down—it's about to get purple up in here.
Life: It can get pretty crazy. Whether it's stress at school, trouble back home, or drama with your friends, life has a special knack for pushing us into places we'd rather not go. But when the going gets tough, do we still have control over our lives and identities, or is it all up to fate?
In The Color Purple, Shug encourages Celie to re-imagine the way she thinks about God. Rather than picturing an old guy who looks kind of like Dumbledore sitting up in the clouds, Shug suggests that Celie envisions God as a being with whom she can more closely connect. This simple change seems to allow Celie to begin to take ownership over her life and enjoy the mysteries it yields. Shug gets us thinking: Can we create our own identities? 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?
Let's take a look at two other famously purple characters: Prince—popstar extraordinaire—and Harold, master of the purple crayon. Prince has laughed in the face of pop since the 1980's and continually reinvents himself while writing songs about purple precipitation, the symbolic meaning of which still has scholars stumped. He even changed his name to a symbol, for crying out loud. If that's not a bold move, we don't know what is.
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 draw an ocean to go sailing on and a purple pie for when we get hungry. When he encounters a roadblock or a problem, he simply draws his way into a solution.
These purple personalities help answer our earlier question: Yes! You can, in fact, forge your own identity, whether that means changing your name or your surroundings. Of course, like Celie, some of us may have menacing characters like Mr.___ to worry about—bullies, strict teachers, or whatever kind of hater you might encounter. And that's why this story matters.
Celie might seem particularly down and out, what with her social status as a black woman in the early 1900's South and the rampant abuse she suffers at the hands of almost every man in her life, but who hasn't felt like complete crud at some point or another? We can look at Celie's story and realize that if someone as downtrodden and mistreated as her can take control of her own fate, then what's holding us back?
The Color Purple can be pretty darn intense at points, but ultimately, it's an uplifting story about one woman's journey toward self-discovery and happiness. Let's just put it this way—If Oprah and Whoopi care about this book, then you definitely should too.
The Color Purple, directed by Steven Spielberg, stars Whoopi Goldberg as Celie, Oprah Winfrey as Sofia, and Danny Glover as Albert/Mr.__. And even though it didn’t win any Oscars, it was nominated for eleven.
Whoopi Goldberg as Celie in the movie production.
A poster promoting the Broadway musical version of The Color Purple.
Sofia and Harpo
Sofia (Oprah Winfrey) and Harpo from the movie production.
A professorial photo of Alice Walker.
Alice Walker: A Life
A biography of author Alice Walker, who was the first black woman to win a Pulitzer Prize.
"Do Like You"
The full lyrics to Stevie Wonder’s song "Do Like You," which provides the source for the novel’s epigraph.