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Literature / The Color Purple

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"I think it pisses God off when you walk by the color purple in a field and don't notice it."
Shug Avery

A 1982 novel by Alice Walker, The Color Purple was later made into a 1985 film and a 2005 musical. In particular, the film version was director Steven Spielberg's first pure-drama film (and one of the very few Spielberg films not scored by John Williams) and the film debuts of Whoopi Goldberg and Oprah Winfrey.

When we first see the protagonist, Celie, she's fourteen and twice pregnant by her father. Her "Pa" then forces her into a marriage with "Mister," a widower far more interested in her younger sister, Nettie. Fortunately, Celie finds friends with Mister's old flame, Shug Avery, and Sofia, the strong-willed wife of Mister's son Harpo. These friends help Celie find the strength to become her own woman throughout the thirty years the story takes place.


This novel and film contain examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Pa.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family: It's revealed that Albert's evil streak was instilled in him by his father, same goes for Harpo by Mister.
  • Black Best Friend: Miss Millie is very attached to Sofia.
    • Unusual of course, in that Sofia is much more of a prominent character than Miss Millie.
  • Book Ends: The film begins with Celie and Nettie among the flowers, playing a clapping game. It ends with the two sisters playing the same clapping game when they reunite decades later.
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Towards the end, Eleanor Jane discovers just how her parents "convinced" Sophia to be their maid. She responds by willingly helping Sophia help Celie run her shop, and when her parents protest this, Eleanor Jane simply tells them that a woman like Sophia didn't deserve to have to work for trash like them.
  • Closet Key: Shug, for Celie.
  • Cool Big Sis: Shug Avery starts out as this.
  • Curse: Celie gives an epic one to Mister when she prepares to leave for Memphis with Shug: "Until you do right by me, everything you even think about is going to crumble." Though it's heavily implied that Mister's own Heel Realization soon afterward is what turns his life to shambles.
  • Dangerously Close Shave: Celie contemplates giving this to Mister before the razor's swiped from her hands.
  • Does Not Like Men: Celie, even going so far as to compare them to frogs in the novel. Considering how she's been treated by most of the men she knows, it's hard to really blame her.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Mister telling Harpo that "Wives is like children".
  • Don't Split Us Up: Between Celie and Nettie.
  • Epistolary Novel
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Mister. In the novel, Celie just calls him "Mr. ___" and notes that others call him "Albert;" the film canonizes Albert Johnson as his name.
  • Good Feels Good: Albert finally "doing right by" Celie, by paying for her family to come back from Africa.
  • Karma Houdini: Pa is never ever forced to face the consequences of his cruelty.
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: "Shug" is not Shug's real name, but rather a diminuitive of Sugar. There's only one line in the novel that reveals her real name, which is Lilli.
  • I Never Got Any Letters
  • If It's You, It's Okay: Celie and Shug.
  • The Lad-ette: Don't try to hit Sofia. You'll get the hardest beating.
  • Living with the Villain: From an arranged marriage no less.
  • Long-Lost Relative: Celie and her children.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Sophia and Harpo, at first. In the novel, Sophia makes mention of how Harpo loves to do traditionally feminine things like cooking, housekeeping and taking care of the children, while she prefers working in the fields and chopping wood.
  • Mood Whiplash: The very opening scene, after the two sisters are shown enjoying themselves among the flowers.
  • Not Worth Killing: Sofia pleads this when Celie has a carving knife against Mister's neck.
  • Obliviously Evil: Miss Millie. She may not be as overtly nasty as the more present antagonists, but she's also too self-absorbed to notice her own abhorrent behavior.
  • Out with a Bang: Pa dies while having sex with his current wife. In the novel, Celie hopes that he'd gotten struck by lightning or died from a terrible disease, and is disappointed when she finds out he died quickly and relatively peacefully.
  • Rage Breaking Point: Celie's results in a Crowning Moment of Awesome.
  • Rape as Drama: In the first few pages of the book... and Walker was just getting started.
    • Heavily implied in the movie, and did we mention that we were just talking about Celie.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Celie delivers a very well-deserved one to her husband, along with a Curse that he had coming.
  • Romantic Two-Girl Friendship: What Shug and Celie ultimately become... much to Celie's displeasure.
  • Single-Issue Psychology: Sofia is reduced to a broken shell after spending prison time for assaulting a racist mayor. An opportunity to crack a good joke later brings her back to her old self again. In the film version, this moment comes when Celie finally stands up to Mister.
    • The film goes on to subvert this trope shortly afterward, when Celie tells Mister straight out that she's prepared to kill him if he tries to stop her from leaving. Sofia visibly shrinks, showing the audience that her old self is still in there, but truly overcoming her time in prison won't be that easy.
  • Social Services Does Not Exist: Unfortunately justified as this book/film takes place in the 1910s/early 1920s and Celie is black, poor and a woman - as Mister points out, who would care?
  • A Storm Is Coming: The arrival of Shug Avery.
  • Stranger in a Familiar Land: After Sofia returns from prison, it's been so long that she cries because she no longer knows any of her friends or family.
  • Title Drop: Happens while Shug and Celie are passing a field of flowers.
  • Tranquil Fury: Celie, when she finally stands up to Mister.
  • Traumatic Haircut: When Celie has a hard time combing her stepdaughters' hair, she suggest shaving the hair off and starting fresh, but Mister disagrees and says that it is "bad luck to cut a woman hair". The girls have to then endure hours of pain as Celie tries her best to detangle their hair.
  • Villainous Incest: Pa, who's later revealed to be not her real father.

The Musical contains examples of:


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