Places: The Color Purple

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1982

Type of work: Novel

Type of plot: Social realism

Time of work: 1920’s-1940’s

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places DiscussedPa’s home

Pa’s Color Purple, Thehome. Rural Georgia home in which Celie and Nettie live together as young sisters. This place serves as a frame for the novel, which begins and culminates in this small, frame house. Despite the severe psychological and physical abuse to which the girls are subjected in this place, the home is where their formative bonding occurs. Although the girls are treated like slaves in their own home, this place of origin endures throughout the novel as a constant reminder of their only identification as family and the primary source of motivation for a desperately hoped for reconciliation.

The culmination of the novel is directly linked to this place. At the end of the novel, Celie takes possession of the home. The significance of this act is threefold. First, it serves as a validation of her hard-won independence. The house becomes a place in which she makes the important decisions concerning upkeep. After this change occurs, the home becomes prosperous and its inhabitants are at peace, in contrast to Celie’s early years in the home under male leadership. The house also serves as a reward for the faithful endurance of the sisters. Their long suffering results in a happy reunion in the place of their childhood trauma. Finally, the place is a symbol of transformation. Its inhabitants are emotionally transformed into vibrant characters, symbolized by the house’s physical and structural reconstruction.

Mr. _____’s house

Mr. _____’s house. Celie’s home after she marries the unnamed Mr. _____. Representing the nadir of her existence, this house becomes her descent into hell, though the hellishness of the place is masked by its outward appearance within a social context that prohibits a woman from rising to the level of her abusive husband. What goes on behind closed doors in this home is protected by the sham of traditionally accepted behavioral norms and social custom. Within this house, Celie is continuously mistreated by Mr. _____, the ultimate insult coming when he brings his ailing mistress, Shug Avery, into the home and Celie is expected to care for her. In her marriage home, as in her childhood home, Celie has no control over her destiny and receives no more affirmation as a person than a slave might have.

*Memphis

*Memphis. Tennessee city famous for its night life, where Shug Avery, a singer and performer, makes her home. In Memphis, Celie lives with Shug in relative luxury, enjoying the amenities of Shug’s healthy income. Celie learns a trade, and with Shug’s support and economic sense, eventually makes great strides toward becoming financially successful as the owner and manager of her fashion business. Celie’s tenure in Memphis is important because it is the first time in her life that she is free from the bondage of abusive men. For the first time, Celie becomes aware of her options and begins to see herself as a valuable human being.

Olinka village

Olinka village. West African village where Celie’s two children are raised by Nettie and the place where Nettie spends most of her life separated from her beloved sister. The primitivism of this jungle place contrasts with the modernization of America, but more important, despite the obvious contrast, this place is used to parallel the journeys of Celie and Nettie. In both places, the ramifications of female subjection to men are indicated. This village also serves to presuppose the limitations of paganism, apparently contrasting with the Christian background and home of Nettie. However, the reality suggested by the author is that American Christianity, when reinforcing traditional relationships that obscure abuse and prevent female ascension and equality, is suspect.

Harpo’s home

Harpo’s home. Another ordinary home in the impoverished rural southern setting of this novel, and a place in which female retaliation to physical abuse occurs. Like his father, Harpo abuses his wife; however, Sophia fights back before eventually leaving him. Her action contrasts with Celie’s endurance of mistreatment. Left alone, Harpo transforms his home into a juke joint. Shug later sings there, and Squeak also begins her singing career at this place, so this is one place where a woman can be celebrated, provided she is talented and attractive. In contrast to the abusive family relations, the juke joint becomes a place where men in the community gather to celebrate their existence; however, their celebrations are little more than masks to cover the serious mistreatment of women.

Miss Millie’s home

Miss Millie’s home. Home of the white mayor and wife, where Sophia finds herself unjustly sentenced to twelve years of maid service for refusing to cower to Miss Millie. This home serves to remind readers of another layer, beyond the home, in a social nexus that encumbers a black woman seeking validation and independence. Readers see the awful price of racism that Sophia endures because she has sufficient dignity to stand her ground, but her stance contrasts with Celie’s tranquil endurance.

Samuel’s home

Samuel’s home. Home of a local minister, who will become a missionary to Africa, which becomes Nettie’s home when the girls are separated. It is the closest thing to a positive traditional view of domesticity in the novel. However, even this home, despite its overt piety and compassionate motives, reinforces female subjection.

BibliographyBanks, Erma Davis, and Keith Byerman. Alice Walker: An Annotated Bibliography, 1968-1986. New York: Garland, 1989. A thorough catalog of writings by and about Walker, this bibliography includes numerous book and poetry reviews. An introductory essay provides an overview of Walker’s life and her literary contributions.Bloom, Harold, ed. Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple.” Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 2000. Collection of essays about The Color Purple by scholars, who discuss such issues as the role of nation and the representation of the senses in the novel.Butler-Evans, Elliott. Race, Gender, and Desire: Narrative Strategies in the Fiction of Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison, and Alice Walker. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1989. Insightful comparative study of the relationship between narrative technique and politics in three African American women writers. Bibliography.Christian, Barbara. “Alice Walker: The Black Woman Artist as Wayward.” In Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor/Doubleday, 1983. Examines thematic patterns in Walker’s work. Points out issues inherent in the role of the black female artist, such as the need for conflict leading to change.Davis, Thadious M. “Alice Walker’s Celebration of Self in Southern Generations.” In Women Writers of the Contemporary South, edited by Peggy Whitman Prenshaw. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984. Focuses on themes and patterns apparent in Walker’s work, from her poetry through The Color Purple. Shows Walker’s need to resolve her intellectualism with her rural roots.Dixon, Henry O. Male Protagonists in Four Novels of Alice Walker: Destruction and Development in Interpersonal Relationships. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2007. Comprehensive reader of Walker’s representation of masculinity and gender relationships using four novels as exemplars, as well as making broader points about the novelist’s aesthetic.Evans, Mari, ed. Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation. Garden City, N.J.: Anchor Press, 1984. Three excellent essays on the novels of Alice Walker. Includes a biography and selected bibliography. Discusses Walker’s work in the context of African American women’s writing.Gates, Henry Louis, Jr., and K. A. Appiah, eds. Alice Walker: Critical Perspectives Past and Present. New York: Amistad, 1993. A good overview of Walker’s work, including the role of God and the spiritual quest in The Color Purple. Bibliographical references, index.Hite, Molly. The Other Side of the Story: Structures and Strategies of Contemporary Feminist Narrative. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1989. Discusses Walker’s fiction as an attempt to create an opposing view to the dominant stories of culture. Analyzes her relationship to language and her relationship to narrative tradition.Iannone, Carol. “A Turning of the Critical Tide?” Commentary 88 (November, 1989): 57-59. Discusses the political dimension of Walker’s fiction. Claiming that Walker writes from a militant feminist standpoint, Iannone contends that praise for The Color Purple results from “literary affirmative action.” Ironically, Iannone notes, the down-and-out characters in Walker’s work move toward more conventional, middle-class lifestyles.Parker-Smith, Bettye J. “Alice Walker’s Women: In Search of Some Peace of Mind.” In Black Women Writers (1950-1980): A Critical Evaluation, edited by Mari Evans. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press-Doubleday, 1983. Celie affirms herself and finds the strength that she needs by discovering that God is within, that God is herself.Proudfit, Charles L. “Celie’s Search for Identity: A Psychoanalytic Developmental Reading of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple.” Contemporary Literature 32, no. 1 (Spring, 1991): 12-37. Proudfit offers a good example of a psychoanalytic approach to the development of Celie’s self-concept.Simcikova, Karla. To Live Fully, Here and Now: The Healing Vision in the Works of Alice Walker. Lanham, Md.: Lexington Books, 2007. Argues that a broad multiplicity of discourses, concerns, and issues has shaped Walker’s fiction; attempts to reread that fiction through the lens of late twentieth and early twenty-first century global culture.Towers, Robert. “Good Men Are Hard to Find.” Review of The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. The New York Review of Books, August 12, 1982, 35-36. This often-quoted review points out major flaws in The Color Purple, including the book’s contrived and overly dramatic plotting. Towers, however, concludes that the poetry of Celie’s language transcends the novel’s imperfections.Watkins, Mel. “Some Letters Went to God.” Review of The Color Purple, by Alice Walker. The New York Times Book Review, July 25, 1982, 7. Comprehensive review of The Color Purple consisting of analysis of theme and technique. Author notes the weakness of Nettie’s stiff voice yet praises the effective implementation of epistolary style.Willimon, William H. “Seeing Red over the Color Purple.” Christian Century 103 (April 2, 1986): 319. Highly negative review of the film and novel versions of The Color Purple. Author considers the characters stereotypical, dishonest portrayals of black Americans.Winchell, Donna Haisty. Alice Walker. New York: Twayne, 1992. The role of sex, race, and class in religious imagery is analyzed. Includes a very helpful annotated bibliography.
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