The Color Purple by Alice Walker Summary, Main Idea, Conflict, Point of View, Setting and Tone

Category: The Color Purple
Last Updated: 20 Apr 2022
Essay type: Summary
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“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker is a series a letters by and to the main character, Celie. The book begins with fourteen year old Celie writing to God about her father raping her and taking away her children. After Celie's mother dies, Celie focuses on protecting her sister, Nettie, from her father's sexual advances and encourages her to run away. A widower called “Mr. __” wants to marry Nettie, but their father rejects him. Eventually Celie marries Mr. __, who later is called Albert, and her living conditions do not improve at all.

Celie becomes infatuated with Shug Avery, a blues singer who is her husband's mistress. Years later, Celie helps nurse Shug back to health. Eventually, they fall in love with each other. Meanwhile, Nettie has become a missionary in Africa and has written many letters to Celie, all of which Albert has hidden from her. Celie acquires the letters and discovers that her own two children are alive and living with a missionary couple with whom Nettie works. She also discovers that her father is actually her stepfather and not a blood relative. Nettie's letters help Celie grow stronger and more self-assured.

That confidence soon turns to fury and discontent with God over the abuse she has endured throughout her life. Celie begins writing to Nettie instead of God, when she starts becoming “blasphemous” (192). Eventually, Celie leaves Albert and moves to Memphis with Shug. There, Celie starts a business making pants. After inheriting the house from her mother and real father, Celie returns home. She visits Albert, who is a very changed man, and they develop a relationship of respect. Nettie, still in Africa, marries the now-widowed Reverend who had adopted her sister's children.

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At the novel's end, the two sisters are reunited. The main idea of the novel suggests that the struggle of finding one’s voice, self-discovery and relationship with God is a complicated journey that can take a lifetime. Throughout the Novel, the main character, Celie goes through a complete transformation. At the beginning Celie is timid, submissive and passive. Celie does or says nothing to fight back against her stepfather’s abuse. Later in life, when her husband abuses her, she reacts in a similarly passive manner. She works all day and night while he does nothing.

Celie can also be described as voiceless. So much so, that she can’t bring herself to pray out loud, so she writes to God instead. Celie’s letters to God are her only outlet and means of self-expression. As a young girl, Celie is constantly subjected to abuse and told she is ugly. The only way to ensure her survival is by making herself silent and invisible. As the novel progresses, Celie morphs into a strong, independent, outspoken woman. She leaves her abusive husband, confronts her abusive father and comes to terms with her relationship with God and herself.

She begins to wear and make pants, and eventually starts her own business. The main conflict of the novel is and internal conflict between Celie’s thoughts and beliefs and the “God-fearing” teachings of life and gender-based roles she lived by. This conflict is resolved towards the end of the story, when she returns home, alone, but happy and content with her life. Celie gained the ability to synthesize her thoughts and feeling into a voice that is fully her own. She forged her own life as an independent business woman despite a male-dominated and racially prejudiced society.

She fought her way through life, and questioned everything she had been taught. Celie and Shug's deep conversations and reading her sister’s stories about African religion and belief help Celie evolve her views on God. For example, she was taught God to be an old, white, bearded male, everything she is not. She learns to believe God is one who encompasses everything on Earth, creates thing for us to enjoy and lives within her. “The Color Purple” is written in the first person narrative. The reader enters Celie’s mind and hears Celie's voice in a diary or letter format.

Even when reading Nettie’s letters, it is through Celie’s eyes. First person narrator is when we enter the mind of one speaker or narrator who tells about things that he or she has seen, done, spoke, heard, thought and also learned about in other ways. The first example of this narrative, “You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill you mammy” (1). This statement was obviously only spoken between the narrator and her abuser. “I am fourteen years old. I have always been a good girl” (1), is a second example of the novel’s point of view.

This type of narrative brings the reader close to the quality and rhythm of life that Celie experiences. It allows the reader to intimately get to know Celie. Through Celie’s dialect and poor grammar, the reader becomes personally engaged in Celie’s experiences and struggles. Almost like reading the unedited thoughts that go through a person’s mind. Though The Color Purple is a historical novel, it never refers to any factual events. Because of this, we presumably follow Celie through thirty or forty years of her life, from the age of fourteen up until her hair is gray.

The setting of the novel is primarily rural Georgia in the early twentieth century. As a poor black woman in the rural south, Celie’s bad treatment is largely ignored which was the norm in this time period. Celie leaves Georgia to live in Memphis with Shug. There, Celie lives a life of luxury and empowerment. Living a poor, downtrodden life in the South, Celie had never stopped to consider her African heritage until Nettie sends letters describing the West African village she’s living in. Nettie describes her first experiences in Africa as "magical. Celie returns to Georgia, taking with her what she has learned from Memphis and Africa. Celie now has her own house. A big beautiful house specially built by an architect from Atlanta, with tiles transported from New York, in which she can live life as she chooses. Celie lives most of her life very isolated and ignorant, until she starts to learn more about herself and the world from people who enter into her life from very different settings than her own. There are many language devices exhibited in Walker’s novel.

The color purple for example, is symbolized to represent all the good things in the world that God creates for men and women to enjoy. Celie associates the color with royalty and longs for a purple dress. Shug says that she believes that it "pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it. " (196). As Celie does learn to love life, she decorates her bedroom in her own home as all purple and red. Secondly, the use of a deep Southern dialect is highly essential in understanding the novel.

The author’s use of non-standard dialect allows the reader a feel for the story’s cultural and geographical location. “Now that my eyes opening, I feels like a fool. Next to any scrub of a brush in my yard, Mr. __’s evil sort of shrink…Shug say, you have to get man off your eyeball, before you can see anything a’tall” (197). This gives each letter confessional feel to it. Irony is exhibited when Sofia is imprisoned for “sassing the mayor’s wife” (84) after she asked Sofia to be her maid. Eventually she is released from prison only to become the one thing she absolutely refused to become, the mayor’s maid.

The overall tone of Alice Walker’s novel is serious and honest. The author conveys an honest portrayal of the utter hardship and tragedy. The author allows the reader to take a serious look at life through letters to God. The conflict between Celie and her religious and political views aids in establishing the novel’s tone. It is an internal conflict and because it deals with being honest with oneself, the tone is honest as well. The tone also coincides with the central idea in which the struggle of finding one’s voice, self-discovery and relationship with God is a complicated and serious journey.

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The Color Purple by Alice Walker Summary, Main Idea, Conflict, Point of View, Setting and Tone. (2017, Apr 08). Retrieved from

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