Themes, Motifs & Symbols Themes Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work

. The Power of Narrative and Voice Walker emphasizes throughout the novel that the ability to express one’s thoughts and feelings is crucial to developing a sense of self. Initially, Celie is completely unable to resist those who abuse her. Remembering Alphonso’s warning that she “better not never tell nobody but God” about his abuse of her, Celie feels that the only way to persevere is to remain silent and invisible. Celie is essentially an object, an entirely passive party who has no power to assert herself through action or words. Her letters to God, in which she begins to pour out her story, become her only outlet. However, because she is so unaccustomed to articulating her experience, her narrative is initially muddled despite her best efforts at transparency. In Shug and Sofia, Celie finds sympathetic ears and learns lessons that enable her to find her voice. In renaming Celie a “virgin,” Shug shows Celie that she can create her own narrative, a new interpretation of herself and her history that counters the interpretations forced upon her. Gradually Celie begins to flesh out more of her story by telling it to Shug. However, it is not until Celie and Shug discover Nettie’s letters that Celie finally has enough knowledge of herself to form her own powerful narrative. Celie’s forceful assertion of this newfound power, her cursing of Mr. ______ for his years of abuse, is the novel’s climax. Celie’s story dumbfounds and eventually humbles Mr. ______, causing him to reassess and change his own life. Though Walker clearly wishes to emphasize the power of narrative and speech to assert selfhood and resist oppression, the novel acknowledges that such resistance can be risky. Sofia’s forceful outburst in response to Miss Millie’s invitation to be her maid costs her twelve years of her life. Sofia regains her freedom eventually, so she is not totally defeated, but she pays a high price for her words.

Most important. Nettie’s relationship with Celie anchors her through years of living in the unfamiliar culture of Africa. Harpo. Only by forcefully talking back to the men who abuse them and showing them a new way of doing things do the women of the novel break these cycles of sexism and violence. some are in the form of mentor and pupil. Walker portrays female friendships as a means for women to summon the courage to tell stories. The Disruption of Traditional Gender Roles . or paternalism. and some are simply friendships. providing reciprocal love in a world filled with male violence. beats Sofia only after his father implies that Sofia’s resistance makes Harpo less of a man. Relationships among women form a refuge. For instance. Mr. racism. one-dimensional monsters whom we can dismiss as purely evil. Sofia claims that her ability to fight comes from her strong relationships with her sisters. Those who perpetuate violence are themselves victims. In turn. The Cyclical Nature of Racism and Sexism Almost none of the abusers in Walker’s novel are stereotypical. Samuel notes that the strong relationships among Olinka women are the only thing that makes polygamy bearable for them. Female ties take many forms: some are motherly or sisterly. these stories allow women to resist oppression and dominance. for example. causing the men who abused them to stop and reexamine their ways. ______ is violent and mistreats his family much like his own tyrantlike father treated him. some are sexual.The Power of Strong Female Relationships Throughout The Color Purple. Sofia tells Eleanor Jane that societal influence makes it almost inevitable that her baby boy will grow up to be a racist. Celie advises Harpo to beat Sofia because she is jealous of Sofia’s strength and assertiveness. Celie’s ties to Shug bring about Celie’s gradual redemption and her attainment of a sense of self. The characters are largely aware of the cyclical nature of harmful behavior. often of sexism.

it requires a willing audience. or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes. contrasts. Likewise. does she feel fulfilled and freed. an audience guaranteed to listen. Motifs Motifs are recurring structures. Celie writes letters to God. as we see in the sexual relationship that develops between Celie and Shug. Harpo’s insecurity about his masculinity leads to marital problems and his attempts to beat Sofia. and Nettie writes letters to Celie. Shug’s confident sexuality and resistance to male domination cause her to be labeled a tramp. Her novel subverts and defies the traditional ways in which we understand women to be women and men to be men. Walker wishes to emphasize that gender and sexuality are not as simple as we may believe. Therefore. Shug’s sexual assertiveness. Disruption of gender roles sometimes causes problems. Sofia’s strength and sass. Only after Nettie returns home to Celie. When Celie never responds to Nettie’s letters. The Rural Farm Community .Many characters in the novel break the boundaries of traditional male or female gender roles. Nettie feels lost because Celie is her only audience. Throughout the novel. Both sisters gain strength from their letter writing. and Harpo’s insecurity are major examples of such disparity between a character’s gender and the traits he or she displays. Nettie grows disillusioned with her missionary work because the imperialists will not listen to her and because the Olinka villagers are stubborn. but they are saved only when they receive responses to their letters. Letters Walker uses the novel’s epistolary (letter-writing) form to emphasize the power of communication. although writing letters enables self-e-xpression and confession. This blurring of gender traits and roles sometimes involves sexual ambiguity.

maroon. When Celie describes her religious awakening. the community of love that surrounds Celie at the end of the novel incorporates men and women who are bonded by family and friendship. the appearance of brighter colors indicates the liberation various characters experience. Colors Throughout the novel. such as “the color purple. he paints the entire interior of his house “fresh and white. ______’s transformation. Walker renders public events almost irrelevant. Symbols Symbols are objects. and dark blue. sexual orientations. When Kate takes Celie shopping for a new dress. Sewing and Quilts In general. When Shug and Celie hear news of current events from the outside world. Celie and Sofia use bright yellow fabric from Shug’s dress to make a quilt. Walker uses color to signal renewals and rebirths at several points in the novel.Walker sets most of her novel in a rural farm community that has few visitors. Later. it all just sounds “crazy” to them.” signaling his new beginning. symbolizes diverse people coming together in unity. sewing in The Color Purple symbolizes the power women can gain from productively channeling their creative energy. Celie overturns the idea that . The quilt.” Upon Mr. characters. After Sofia and Celie argue about the advice Celie has given Harpo. figures. With Shug’s help. By focusing on the personal lives and transformations of her characters. and talents. composed of diverse patterns sewn together. Sofia signals a truce by suggesting they make a quilt. Another important instance of sewing in the novel is Celie’s pants-sewing business. and she focuses on colorful portraits of each of her characters. she marvels how she never noticed the wonders that God has made. making its themes more universal. The unspecific time and place broaden the novel’s scope. the only color options are drab ones—brown. or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts. and who have different gender roles. Like a patchwork quilt.

. Shug invites Celie to imagine God as something radically different. she writes in her last letter. She knows deep down that her image of God as a white patriarch “don’t seem quite right.” but she says it’s all she has. Celie.. particularly their wives. yet Celie does not have a clear understanding of who God is. Being a black woman abus. empowering source of economic independence. “You must be sleep. The Color Purple Themes Little Words. as an “it” that delights in creation and just wants human beings to love what it has created. Men tend to attempt to exert their dominance over women. Men also commit sexual viole. Celie sees God as her listener and helping hand.sewing is marginal and unimportant women’s labor. Eventually. Religion The protagonist narrates the novel through a series of letters.. Initially. Dear stars.. dear peoples. God In the early parts of the novel. Dear Everything.” This reimagining of God on her own terms symbolizes Celie’s move from an object of someone else’s care to an independent woman. Celie stops thinking of God as she stops thinking of the other men in her life—she “git man off her eyeball” and tells God off. by beating them. the protagonist. writing.. dear trees.” But after Celie has chased her patriarchal God away and come up with a new concept of God. sees God as an old white man. the majority of which are addressed to God. Dear God. It also indicates that her voice is now sufficiently empowered to create her own narrative. and she turns it into a lucrative. Big Ideas Violence Black female characters in this book tend to be victims of violence. dear sky. “Dear God.

Sex For much of the book. until she meets a very inspiring woman name. but the love that exists within families as well. even if they love each other. even when they do. the protagonist is an extremely downtrodden character.. Marriage In this novel.. Married people rarely love each other and.. an uninspiring obligation to her husband. Celie maintains her love and affection fo. .. the protagonist sees sex as a form of violence committed against her or at best. Love Love.. uneducated blacks. surrounded by other poor. That is.. Her love is d. in The Color Purple is not only romantic.. they use violence to try to control their spouse. Though physically separated from all of her family members. As an African-American female living in the pre-Civil Rights South...Race At the beginning of the novel. The protagonist’s first experience with love is her love for her little sister.. hardly anybody fares well in marriage. Family The protagonist’s main concept of family is her connection to her sister over many years.

. Most of all. It is only the women with independent economic security that are able to stand up f. which Walker fully develops through Celie's mistreatment at the hands of her stepfather and husband. she has become a competent. THEMES . Instead. this book is a feminist novel about a powerful character finding out who she is and valuing what she can become. she learns that women can be equal to men ..THEME ANALYSIS Most readers will remember this novel for its depiction of domestic violence. Additionally. instead. and in matters of love and finance. Women and Femininity In this novel. most women either have to constantly fight against men.Sexuality and Sexual Identity Early on. In the course of Celie's search for truth. the protagonist begins to explain that she doesn’t look at men – they scare her.. she realizes that the patriarchal culture she has endured in the South is abusive to all women. When Celie returns to live in Georgia near the end of the power. or completely submit and be trampled over. she looks at women. she is no longer weak and submissive. Women are the only people who have ever been kind to her. in knowledge. there is a powerful theme about how oppressed people can unite with solidarity to overcome their oppressors.. however. Her sex. self- .. When she meets Shug and escapes from Albert.

she and Sofia become fast friends. on the other hand. She then helps Celie and Mary Agnes escape their lives of domestic abuse and drudgery. When Sofia is in jail. which Walker calls "womanism. form a deep bond. From that point on. Celie nurses her wounds and gives her comfort. This is the ultimate lesson of feminism. she marries Albert. Shug breaks the pattern of violence and abuse for Celie. In order to escape from Fonso.assured female who knows she can be content without depending on anyone but herself. Albert regularly beats Celie. offering advice to each other. The two most abused women in the novel. Shug is another woman in the novel who knows the value of women's solidarity. Celie and Sofia. Fortunately. quilting together. to both children and wives. she loses her desire for him and permanently erases him from her life. Celie has only known the importance of standing up for other women in her family. She imagines herself to be ugly. she gives . and offering mutual aid over the years. who is an abusive husband that values her only as a sexual object and a caretaker for his children. When she finds how Albert has treated Celie over the years. in fact. and incapable of enjoying pleasure. Sofia tries to combat her domestic violence by being violent herself. she has willingly protected both her mother and her sister from Fonso's abuse by sacrificing herself. Because of the violence she endures. In the process. is. Celie's self-esteem is injured as much as her body. she tells Harpo to regularly beat his wife. She endures the incest inflicted by Fonso in order to protect her mother and then Nettie from his cruelty. for domestic violence is the only thing that Celie knows and understands. she dares to stand up to her oppressor. To make himself feel more important and prove he is the boss. Sofia also escapes her domestic abuse by leaving Harpo. The two main recipients of the violence in the novel are Celie and Sofia. who both experience abuse in their childhood and in their marriages. Celie. is clearly depicted in the novel. in the beginning. Because of her size and her strength. Celie is unwilling to help Sofia in her plight. unworthy of love. portrayed as weak and submissive." The horror of domestic violence. she admits her mistake and works to correct it. When Sofia questions Celie about the advice given to Harpo. At first. In the past. their suffering brings them together in strong solidarity.

Celie a sense of her own unique beauty and spirit. In this statement. When Eleanor Jane brings her baby boy for Sofia to bless. She comes into the novel first as the other woman. she is raped. knocking out some of her teeth. Walker clearly indicates in the novel that the long history of racism will be hard to overcome. Shug says that she believes that it angers God if a person walks by the color of purple in a field without stopping to notice and admire it. When they get into a fight. to her. "children know goodness. however. Then when Eleanor Jane helps to care for the black Henrietta. the white community is outraged that she would lower herself to be employed by an African-American. The mayor can slap her and go free. Nettie dreads bringing Olivia and Adam back to America. Even Mary Agnes learns the value of women's solidarity. She treats Sofia poorly and wants Harpo to banish her. Shug summarizes her religious philosophy. when her daughter Suzie Q snuggles up to Sofia. for it is the color of royalty. Celie references the fact that she is discriminated against by the white community. At the end of the novel. and yet a really deep purple seems almost to be black. her white uncle. God is not some distant deity living on high. for he will probably grown up to be her oppressor. because they have grown up in Africa. It is clearly racism that lands Sofia in jail. THE MEANING OF THE TITLE In chapter 73. Throughout the novel. the girlfriend of Harpo. Sofia socks Mary Agnes. . she is beaten and jailed. the warden knows he does not have to worry about being charged with raping a black girl. like most white men." Walker places these first two themes inside the larger context of the misery inflicted by a racist society. Sofia tells her she cannot bless him. Mary Agnes tries to get her out and is raped as a result. about releasing Sofia. they have never felt or experienced racism. It is also significant that she chose the color of purple. when Sofia is beaten severely by the police in town and left wounded in jail. Mary Agnes says. but when she socks the mayor. When Mary Agnes approaches the warden. but a genderless. raceless being that wants people to appreciate and enjoy life.

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