Violence: It's not the answer.
Still, there's a whole lot of it in The Color Purple. Most of the black female characters in this book tend to be victims of violence, and men attempt to exert their dominance over women—particularly their wives—by beating and raping them.
The way female characters react to violence varies dramatically. Celie suffers repeated violence from both her father and husband and reacts by shutting down emotionally and being very submissive. Other female characters, however, prove their strength in the face of violence. After suffering so much abuse, many women prove that they will not be dragged down. Eventually, when Celie realizes the extent of the emotional violence committed against her, she finds the strength and the willpower to leave her husband and start a new life.
Physical violence may be evil but sinning against another person’s spirit—or emotional violence—is the worst sin of all, according to the characters in this book.
Celie narrates The Color Purple through a series of letters, most of which are addressed to God. She initially imagines God as an old white man, something like Dumbledore or Gandalf. But as a black woman who's been abused by men all her life, Celie eventually begins to rebel against this image of God. She begins to see God as genderless and raceless, a more universal being who wants humans to enjoy all aspects of life—from nature to sex to the color purple. Sure, this may be a different expression of spirituality than we're used to seeing, but we find it pretty darn inspiring. What would your God look like?
Though both Nettie and Celie make peace with God and their faith, they ultimately have no use for organized religion.
The Color Purple has a lot to say about race in America. At the beginning of the novel, Celie is extremely downtrodden—almost to the point of being defeated. As an African-American female living in the pre-Civil Rights South, she sees nothing in her race to be particularly proud of. Remember, these were the days of legal segregation and Jim Crow laws; African-Americans were frequently the targets of bitter discrimination. Black women in this book are far too often victims of violent crimes committed by white men. However, as Celie learns about the rich cultures and civilizations that existed in Africa and reimagines her own vision of God, she gains some pride in her ethnic heritage. And you know what? So do we. You go, Celie.
Though whites have made Nettie’s life difficult, it is African attitudes toward African-Americans that affect her most because she realizes there is no universal brotherhood among people of the black race.
Though many characters in The Color Purple experience racial oppression, Celie’s life is separate enough from whites that she never does.
The Color Purple can be a harsh read at times, but it's ultimately a book about the power of love—both romantic and familial. Celie's first experience with love comes from her relationship with her little sister Nettie, whom she fiercely protects, even when it means sacrificing her own wellbeing. For the majority of Celie's life, Nettie is the only person she loves—and is also the only one to return the feeling to Celie. Celie's father and husband are anything but loving to her, and she experiences romantic love for the first time with another woman. In this novel, love isn’t necessarily about fidelity, and certainly isn’t about gender or marriage. Love is about self-sacrifice, respect, and unconditional care.
Though Celie was abused and love-starved, her relationship with Nettie prepared her for true love when it finally came around.
Although Shug loved many and loved well, she was unable to love one at a time. Thus, The Color Purple seems to make the argument that healthy love is not necessarily monogamous.
Celie's main concept of family is the connection she feels toward her sister Nettie. Though physically separated from all of her family members, Celie maintains her love and affection for her sister and two children for over thirty years. If that's not love, we don't know what is. During her separation from her biological family, Celie becomes so close to her friends that when she and Nettie are finally reunited, she refers to Shug and Albert as "her people." This reminds us that family can be whoever sticks with you through thick and thin.
Because they are separated from their blood relations, both Celie and Nettie create families from scratch with the imperfect people that come into their lives.
In The Color Purple, most of the marriages we see are pretty miserable. Married people rarely love each other and, even when they do, they use violence to try to control their spouse’s behavior. Romantic relationships also aren’t limited to marriage. This book is full of characters fluidly trading spouses and lovers. The one stable marriage we see exists between Nettie and the Reverend, but their relationship isn’t necessarily better or happier than Celie's relationship with Shug. We don't know about you, but we think Walker might have some things to say about marriage. This gets us thinking—is marriage really all it's cracked up to be?
In The Color Purple, marriage is an institution that serves few purposes other than a method and a means for men to control women.
Though men and women take marriage seriously in The Color Purple, it does not imply monogamy.
For much of The Color Purple, Celie sees sex as a form of violence and control, or, at best, as an uninspiring obligation to her husband. That is, until she meets a very inspiring woman named Shug. Shug defines "virginity" as an emotional state, rather than a physical one: If you haven’t enjoyed sex, you’re still a virgin. A pretty different attitude than that of, say, the Duggar family. Shug affirms the goodness of sex by straight-up stating that God created sex for humans to enjoy, and guess what? Celie's down. Although Celie had her physical virginity ripped away from her when she was raped by her stepfather, she gives up her emotional virginity through blissful experiences with Shug. We think it's well-deserved.
Although sex is a normal, everyday thing to most characters in this novel, Shug suggests that it transcends the everyday and becomes something sacred and divine.
Although Celie has already had several children and two sexual partners when she meets Shug, she is indeed a virgin.
Early on in The Color Purple, Celie begins to explain that she doesn’t look at men because they scare her. Instead, she looks at women. Women are the only people who have ever been kind to her. Celie's sexual identity becomes that of a woman who loves a woman. In this novel, sexuality isn’t about loving one gender or the other—it’s about loving individual people. And in Celie's case, she just happens to love a woman. This element of the story has proven controversial over the years, but we think Celie deserves all the love she can get.
The Color Purple indicates that love has nothing to do with a person’s sexual identity. Love happens where it happens and nobody can predict it or stop it.
In The Color Purple, many female characters are faced with a tough choice: fiercely (and sometimes unsuccessfully) fight against men's attempts to oppress them, or completely submit and get trampled all over. How's that for a cruddy situation? The only women able to stand up for themselves without severe repercussions are the ones who are economically independent, and they're few and far between. Women’s situations can improve, however, when women band together and support each other—like when Destiny's Child banded together and sang this classic song. All the women who independent: Throw your hands up at us.
Although women are universally oppressed in The Color Purple, all of them learn to stick up for themselves. Ultimately, men fail to hold onto their power because the women in their lives refuse to abide by it.
In The Color Purple, men see women as objects to control; to have a healthy relationship, the book implies that most of these women have to turn to other women, like Shug and Celie.