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Literature: The Color Purple

"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.
  • 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.
  • Cool Big Sis: Shug Avery starts out as this.
  • Dangerously Close Shave: Celie contemplates giving this to Mister before the razor's swiped from her hands.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Mister telling Harpo that "Wives is like children".
  • Don't Split Us Up: Between Tear Jerker 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.
  • 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.
  • Mood Whiplash: The very opening scene, after the two sisters are shown enjoying themselves among the flowers.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Word of Gay: Alice Walker has stated Celie is a lesbian and Shug is bisexual. She was rather disappointed this was almost completely left out of the film.


The Musical contains examples of:


The Bluest EyeLiterary Works by African-American AuthorsHome
A Confederacy of DuncesPulitzer PrizeLonesome Dove
Cleo from 5 to 7Roger Ebert Great Movies ListCome and See
The Colour of MagicLiterature of the 1980sThe ColSec Trilogy
The CollectorLit FicThe Cone Gatherers
CocoonFilms of the 1980sCommando
Out of AfricaAcademy AwardKiss of the Spider Woman

alternative title(s): The Color Purple
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