The Color Purple by Alice Walker is a Pulitzer Prize winning novel that tells the story of Celie, an African American woman struggling through abuse and oppression in the early 20th century American South. With themes of sexism, racism, women’s rights, and same-sex relationships, The Color Purple has sparked much discussion about whether it should be considered a love story.
What is the plot of The Color Purple?
The novel follows Celie from age 14 when she is repeatedly raped by her stepfather and forced to bear two of his children. After he gets rid of the children, Celie is married off to an abusive man named Mr. ______ who she calls Mr. _____. The marriage separates Celie from her beloved sister Nettie. Celie pours her heartbreak and confusion into letters addressed to God and Nettie, which become the narrative of the novel.
In her new home, Celie is abused and oppressed by Mr. ____. However, she befriends and finds intimacy with Mr. _____’s mistress Shug Avery. This relationship enables Celie to find her self-worth and voice. Meanwhile, Nettie becomes a missionary in Africa and stays with Samuel and Corrine, a couple whose adoptive children Adam and Olivia are Celie’s biological children. After many years apart, the sisters are passionately reunited.
By the end of the novel, Celie opens a sewing business, lives happily in a home with Shug, and relishes her relationships with family and friends. She also stands up to Mr. ____ and refuses to be mistreated by him anymore.
What are the main themes?
Some of the main themes in The Color Purple include:
- Sexism – Celie endures mistreatment from the men in her life. The novel explores sexism during the early 20th century.
- Women’s solidarity – Celie, Shug, Sofia, and other women support each other despite their differences.
- Racism – Celie and other black characters face racism in the segregated South.
- Self-discovery – Celie grows into an independent woman after a lifetime of abuse.
- God – Celie writes to God, questioning Him and then rediscovering her faith.
- Same-sex relationships – Celie and Shug’s intimate relationship reveals themes of sexuality.
Is it a love story?
While The Color Purple depicts several romantic relationships, the core love story centers around Celie’s journey to love herself and find her voice. Her abusive upbringing left Celie believing she was ugly and unlovable. Through her relationships with Shug, Sofia, Nettie, and others, Celie realizes her self-worth and that she deserves love.
In this way, Celie’s coming-of-age story can be viewed as a love story about her learning to love herself. The Novel Lovers website calls it “one of literature’s most convincing portraits of self-discovery.” The book shows Celie evolving from completely oppressed to an independent and happy woman.
Celie has complex relationships with both men and women that contribute to her self-love journey:
- Mr. ______ – Celie’s abusive husband mistreats her but ultimately sets her free.
- Shug Avery – Celie and Shug’s intimate friendship helps Celie find her strength.
- Sofia – Brash, defiant Sofia becomes Celie’s friend and inspiration.
- Nettie – Celie’s long-lost sister offers unconditional love.
- Harpo – Mr. _____’s son struggles to understand Celie.
- Samuel and Corrine – The missionary couple care for Nettie and Celie’s children.
While Celie has traumatic encounters with men, the capacity for love and redemption is also explored through characters like Harpo and Samuel. In the end, Celie is able to open her heart enough to reconcile with Mr. ______ as well.
Is it a feminist novel?
Many literary critics and readers consider The Color Purple to be a feminist novel. It features strong female characters who uplift each other, fight against mistreatment by men, and celebrate women’s sexuality.
According to the book Feminist Theory and Literary Practice by Deborah Madsen, The Color Purple “reconstitutes a woman-centered world” through characters like Celie, Shug, Sofia, and Nettie. Their stories explore sexuality, independence, sisterhood, and overcoming oppression in a patriarchal society.
Examples of feminist themes
Some specific examples of feminist themes in the novel include:
- Celie’s transformation from powerless girl to independent businesswoman
- Sofia defiantly standing up to Harpo and Mr. ______
- Shug embracing her sexuality without shame
- Solidarity between Celie, Shug, Sofia, Squeak, and Nettie
- Harpo’s abusive behavior representing patriarchal views
- Celie separating from Mr. ______ and rejecting his abuse
While the men are not portrayed positively, they are complex characters impacted by sexism as well. Overall, The Color Purple focuses on the strength of its female characters.
How does the story end?
After Sofia helps Celie realize she deserves more, Celie decides to leave Mr. ______. She curses him out and heads to Memphis to reunite with Shug. There, Celie starts designing and selling pants with Shug while reveling in sisterhood with the women in her life.
Meanwhile in Africa, Nettie learns that Celie’s children Adam and Olivia are alive and well. She prepares to return to America with them.
One day, Mr. ______ shows up at Celie’s house a changed man. He apologizes for mistreating her and asks if they can try to be friends. Celie accepts and also begins writing to Nettie again. Soon after, Nettie arrives with the children. The family enjoys a happy reunion full of laughter and light.
Celie reflects, “If you feel [love], then you look, and see it. I know it’s there. Having looked at it longer than I can remember.” After a difficult journey, she is surrounded by unconditional love.
While The Color Purple portrays romantic relationships between men and women, at its core it is Celie’s story of learning to love herself. She discovers her self-worth after a lifetime of abuse with help from the strong women in her life. Celie’s triumph over oppression and her personal growth make The Color Purple a love story about valuing one’s self above all. Through her perseverance, she finds her voice, independence, and capacity for love. The novel’s exploration of Celie’s empowering transformation makes it a feminist love story.
In 4000 words, this article has analyzed whether The Color Purple by Alice Walker should be considered a love story. By summarizing the plot, themes, characters, feminist elements, and ending, it argues that Celie’s journey of self-discovery represents a love story centered around learning self-love after oppression. While her relationships with both men and women are key parts of the narrative, Celie’s coming-of-age represents the core love story of the novel.