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What is the author’s purpose of the color purple?

In Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Color Purple, the color purple holds great symbolic meaning and represents many complex themes and ideas throughout the story. In this analysis, we will explore the significance of the color purple and examine how Alice Walker uses it to convey deeper meaning in her celebrated work.

Purple as a Symbol of Beauty and Individuality

One of the most central symbolic meanings of the color purple in The Color Purple is its representation of beauty, especially black beauty. The main character Celie is repeatedly told she is ugly by those around her, including her abusive husband who calls her “ugly” and “black and ugly.” However, Celie’s perspective begins to change when she meets the glamorous singer Shug Avery, who is described as an elegant and beautiful woman who takes pride in her appearance. Shug helps Celie realize her own self-worth and recognize her unique inner and outer beauty. This is represented through Celie making pants out of purple fabric, which represent her embracing her own bold and regal beauty.

In this way, the color purple symbolizes a rejection of societal limitations on beauty, especially for black women. It represents Celie embracing her authentic self without conforming to norms. Purple becomes a color of freedom, individuality and confidence for Celie. Walker seems to use it as a representation of the beauty and power of being one’s true self.

Purple as a Symbol of Femininity and Womanhood

Purple also symbolizes womanhood and femininity throughout the novel. Walker frequently associates the color purple with female characters like Shug Avery and her sultry, seductive side, as well as Celie’s happier, more fulfilled self after leaving her toxic marriage. This gives the color a distinctly feminine aura through the story.

The color purple moves from representing the suppression and suffering Celie experiences as a woman at the hands of men, to symbolizing the joy, freedom, and strength she gains by embracing her womanhood outside of patriarchal control. Over the course of Celie’s journey, purple evolves into a bold, positive expression of femininity and female empowerment.

Purple as a Symbol of Sexuality and Love

The color purple also carries sensual and sexual undertones in the novel, particularly through Shug Avery and her unabashed sexuality. It represents a rejection of the sexual oppression and shame Celie experienced growing up.

When Celie puts on Shug’s purple dress, she feels attractive and desirable for the first time. Purple becomes linked to Celie’s exploration of her sensuality and her lesbian relationship with Shug. It represents her sexual awakening and the passion, excitement, and love she discovers with Shug.

In this way, the color purple symbolizes sexuality, intimacy, and romantic love outside of societal conventions. It suggests freedom, fulfillment and the beauty of human connection.

Purple as a Symbol of Spirituality

The color purple also has spiritual connotations in the novel. Purple is associated with the natural beauty and divinity of the world. Shug teaches Celie to appreciate the small miracles in life, like the color purple found in nature.

Celie also envisions God as purple as she expands her initially limited, oppressive views of religion to embrace a more personal spirituality of love, acceptance, and inner freedom. Through this, purple represents Celie’s deepening faith and spirituality which sustain and uplift her.

The Significance of Purple in The Color Purple

In summary, the color purple holds great symbolic meaning in Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Here are some key points on the significance of the color purple in the novel:

Meaning Significance
Beauty Represents Celie’s unique inner and outer beauty as a black woman
Individuality Symbolizes Celie boldly embracing her true self and rejecting societal limitations
Femininity Represents female empowerment, freedom, strength and joy
Sexuality Symbolizes Celie’s sexual awakening, intimacy and love with Shug
Spirituality Represents Celie’s deepening faith and appreciation for the divinity in life

Through her strategic and multifaceted use of the color purple, Walker crafts a meaningful symbol that conveys transformations in Celie’s perspective on life, religion, relationships, womanhood, beauty, and self-worth. The color purple charts her journey toward independence, fulfillment, and empowerment.

Celie’s Initial Oppression and Isolation

At the beginning of the novel, Celie is an isolated, oppressed young black girl living in the early 1900s rural south. She suffers traumatic abuse from her step-father and is forced to marry a widower named Mr. ______ who continues the cycle of abuse. Celie’s life is filled with hardship and sorrow during this time.

The color purple is noticeably absent early in the story when Celie is most oppressed. Her life lacks beauty, individuality, sexuality, or spirituality which purple represents. She feels worthless and alone, stripped of the identity, agency, and connections purple symbolizes later in the novel.

Purple Fabric as a Creative Outlet

One of Celie’s only outlets is sewing and quilting purple fabric, which suggests her latent, stifled creativity. The purple fabric represents her imagination trying to break free and bring beauty into her life. However, at this point she is still too weighed down by trauma and isolation to embrace what purple symbolizes.

Shug Avery’s Purple Dress

Celie’s transformation begins when she meets Shug Avery, who wears a vibrant purple dress when she first arrives to recover from illness. This powerful visual of a confident, sexual, attractive woman in purple represents everything Celie feels she is not. Shug’s purple dress shows the beauty and freedom Celie yearns for but has been denied.

Shug Helps Celie Embrace Her Uniqueness

Shug becomes Celie’s life force – she recognizes Celie’s worth and helps empower her. As Celie’s perspective shifts and she embraces her identity, she stops sewing other people’s clothes and makes her first pair of purple pants just for herself. This represents Celie focusing on her own needs and celebrating her individuality, like Shug models.

Celie Finds Her Voice and Identity

In a pivotal scene, Celie puts on Shug’s purple dress and is described as feeling beautiful, free, and filled with life. This moment represents Celie fully embracing the power of purple and what it symbolizes. She gains confidence and begins to express her true self, even standing up to Mr. ______ for the first time. Purple becomes Celie’s color as she finds her voice and identity.

Exploring Sexuality and Femininity

Celie also explores her sexuality with Shug while wearing the purple dress, representing her sexual and romantic awakening. She learns to embrace pleasure and intimacy, which were shamed before. Purple highlights Celie joyfully accepting her womanhood and femininity in Shug’s arms.

Deepening Spirituality and Appreciation of Life

Shug also teaches Celie to appreciate nature’s beauty and connects this to spirituality. Noticing the purple flowers outside becomes symbolic of Celie opening her eyes to divine beauty around and within her. Purple’s spiritual symbolism expands as Celie develops her worldview and understanding of God.

Celie Gains Independence

Celie gains more agency and eventually leaves her husband to create a fulfilling, independent life for herself. The freedom, individuality, and empowerment purple represents is now fully realized in Celie’s journey. She even wears purple while enjoying her newfound autonomy.

The Color Purple Remains Meaningful

By the end, Celie has found romantic love, spirituality, creativity, and confidence. Purple remains a meaningful color linked to her metamorphosis into an empowered, liberated woman. Walker’s intricate use of the color purple connects Celie’s extraordinary transformation throughout the novel.


In The Color Purple, Alice Walker skillfully utilizes the color purple as a multifaceted symbol representing major themes like sexuality, femininity, creativity, spirituality and empowerment. It epitomizes Celie’s remarkable personal growth from a disempowered girl defined by others to an independent, fulfilled woman steeped in her own worth and identity. Through the transformative power of purple, Walker crafts an uplifting story about the resilience of the human spirit overcoming trauma to find inner freedom.