Thursday, 28 August 2014

Significance of the Title "The Color Purple"

The Color Purple - Significance of the Title
                                                                             Deepshi Arya 1313225
The Color Purple is written by the African-American writer Alice Walker. It is one of the most significant novels in the literature of the Black Americans. Walker lived in the south which was the hub of racial discrimination. The novel portrays the physical, societal, economical and political environment she grew up in and the effects of various modes of inequalities of race, ethnicity, class, color, and especially gender on the lives people especially the woman. It further elaborates how the colored people found their way through these tough times by looking towards religion which again was manipulated by the whites to gain complete control over the colored. All of this is brought out through a series of letters which the central character, Celie first writes to God and then Nettie her sister. The entire book encompasses these letters and there is an evident shift from belief in God and the way to look at religion and spirituality. The span of years this book is written over is around forty years as it is seen that when the book starts people are travelling in wagons and then they move onto travelling by cars as well as in the beginning of the book Celie is only but a little girl and in the she is old with grown up children. Also the time lapse between the letters varies ranging from 5-6 years. This is deduced from clues in the letters.

There an evident psychological and spiritual growth in the novel. However the significance of the title “The Color Purple” holds true throughout the novel. Celie, as the novel starts is a staunch member of the church who states that, “As long as I can spell G-O-D I got somebody along.” (Walker, pg.  )  After she reads Nettie’s letters, her belief that God, the angels and the prophets from the Bible are all white changes drastically. She realizes that Jesus had hair like the lamb it is then she realizes that god is more like her. Her perception about God goes under complete transformation after listening to Shug who believes in respecting the nature and beauty of life and rejects the narrow perceptions of the church asserting “it pisses off God if you walk by the color purple in the field and don’t notice it.”(Walker, pg.  ) The title “The Color Purple” is based on this philosophy. Something as simple as the color purple should be enjoyed in life as it is a gift from God. By appreciating the beauty of nature and respecting it, Celie finds a more liberating religion. Shug urges Celie to enjoy everything that God gives as he is a genderless, race less being who enjoys being admired.  This admission changes her life. The color is no more just a color but helps her understand that God isn’t a white man but an entity who is a source of wonder and marvels.

It is a veritable fusion of transformations of people, cultures and worlds. The title has a significant part in this transformation. In the beginning of the novel Celie is subjugated by Albert and his children. Even Mister’s sister Kate feels bad for Celie and asks him to buy her new clothes. This is the first time Celie mentions her fondness for the color. She imagines Shug in this color who according to her is beautiful, royal elegant and liberated. This color has historical significance as it has been associated with royalty and status. The Romans wore togas that were purple which was symbolic of respect. Thus in the West this color was associated with authority and power. Hence Celie and Kate search but find no purple cloth for her to wear. This is an indication of how Celie is not yet liberated. She wears colors which are dull colors instead of happy colors like red and purple in the beginning.

Later with Shug helping her, she finds her own identity and independence and this again is indicated as she makes pants for Sophia that are red and purple. This not only is symbolic of Celie’s independence but also the advancement of women who now wear pants as earlier this was an abhorrent idea to the society but is acceptable now. Celie owns a house now in which she decorates her own room with red and purple. She now finally gets what she likes and deserves. Albert gives her a purple frog that he carves for Celie which is symbolic of the transformation of the relationship men and women share. The color purple here is no more just a color but shows Celie’s dignity and her transformation as a person and also the change in the thoughts of people of the society.

The color purple can also be a biblical reference as when Christ was crucified and the blood of the innocent was spilt. The color purple then is symbolic of pain, torture and injustice. It is the same with the bruises that Celie and the other women have on them due to gender discrimination. When Sophia is arrested for sassing the mayor’s wife she was beaten up and Celie compared her face to that of an “eggplant”. The eggplant is purple and here the color symbolizes the bruises and pain that the woman went through. As well as it is symbolic of the bruises on the soul of women. The scars on the Olinka women were purple as well showing the bruises of tradition that women carry.  The color purple here is no more just a color but symbolic of the discrimination and evidence of this discrimination that women had to face.

“The Color Purple” is now not just a title or a color but goes on to being symbolic of the various transformations in the book. Thus the title is significant throughout the span of the letters and gives us a better understanding of the book and helps the reader connect to it and understand Celie and the era she was living in. This connection elicited by the title is seen in one of the journal entries from the book “The Freedom Writers” compiled by Erin Gruwell where in a girl facing racial discrimination and was sexually abused by her uncle as a child and connects with Celie. She watches her mother get beaten up by her step father repeatedly. One night when she can take it no more, she takes her mother and sister and runs away from her step father. It was at this point when she sees the bruises on her mother’s face that she realizes that the color purple is not just a color or title anymore  but the reality and helps her face it.

Thus, the color purple seems to have a meaning much deeper than could be fathomed at first glance. The title of the novel is as complex as it seems simple. It permeates through the novel, having some importance throughout the book. Thus, the color purple becomes a recurring aspect of the book and that qualifies it to be made the title.

·        The Color Purple by Alice Walker
·        The Freedom Writers Diary compiled by Erin Gruwell
The African- American Literature History


  1. your post is very interesting to read and highly useful.Thanks for sharing it

  2. Excellent, but a bit more emphasis on the colour symbolism and the theme of sorority would have been appreciated

  3. It is indeed a discursive explanation for the title.

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