A Point of View
The Color Purple is written in the first person, and the voice is predominately Celie’s, but some of the letters that comprise the book are written to Celie by her sister Nettie. The story covers thirty years of Celie’s life from childhood to her maturity as an independent woman. By having Celie write in black folk English, Walker brings the reader close to the quality and rhythms of life that her characters experience. Celie’s dialect also reflects her lack of formal education. Nettie, who was formally educated, writes her letters in standard English. They are full of information that becomes a source of knowledge for Celie outside the world of her own small community.
The structure of The Color Purple is the series of letters Celie writes to God and to her sister Nettie. Some of the letters in the book are written by Nettie to Celie. This literary form is called the epistolary novel, a form developed in eighteenth-century England by novelists like Samuel Richardson. A major advantage of this structure is that the reader becomes intimate with the character of the letter writer. With the epistolary form, Walker was able to focus on the inner life of her main character and create a sense of intimacy that may be partly responsible for the success of the book. This technique creates a confidential reading experience. The reader has a chance to read over the character’s shoulder and look inside her. Nettie, to a great extent, escaped the cruelty that Celie experienced because she was able to leave home early. The tone of her letters to Celie contrasts sharply with Celie’s letters to God. In Nettie’s letters, there is much less intimacy. They do not contain the suffering that Celie has expressed in her letters to God. By introducing Nettie’s letters, Walker is able to shift her story from Celie’s life of despair to a life that begins to have hope. It is through the help of Shug Avery that Celie finds her hope-the letters from Nettie that Albert had hidden from her.
Basically there are four time frames of the novel. In the first period of her life, Celie experiences the misery of poverty and cruelty at the hands of her stepfather. In the second closely-related period, Celie experiences continued cruelty from her husband Albert. In the third period, she awakens to the possibility of self-realization through her relationship with Shug and her renewed contact with her sister Nettie. Finally, Celie has realized herself and has established a life where she has control; she has found the happiness and contentment that come from self-realization. Another period, not directly a part of Celie’s life, is Nettie’s time spent in Africa. The letters from Nettie serve as a contrast to Celie’s life. They also enlarge Celie’s perspective and help to universalize her life.
The primary symbol of The Color Purple is found in the title, The Color Purple. The significance of the color purple is that it stands for human hope. It is a miraculous color when found in nature, and one which indicates that the feeling of hope, despite misery is a miracle of the human spirit.