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:

  • 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.
    • Mister is savvy to this very early on, warning her that if she ever so much as scratches him during a shave, he will kill her.
  • 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".
  • Domestic Appliance Disaster: Albert have no idea on how to do any house chore, but insist on prepare breakfast for Shug Avery. Thinking the (fire fueled) oven does not work fast enough, he pours too much petrol in it and the inevitable bonfire ensues.
  • Don't Split Us Up: Between Celie and Nettie.
  • "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:

  • In Mysterious Ways: The title of the opening number - which is difficult to swallow, as it's a Church full of people who say they want to praise and honor God - yet they do nothing about the horrific abuse that they know is going on in Celie and Netti's house.