Hi, friends. Today’s classic is well-known due to its major film adaptation. I’ll explain some background about the book and discuss my reaction to the film version.
Classics: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Color Purple (1982) is the story of a young American black girl (in the 1930’s) growing into a woman, told through her letters to God. She experiences heart-wrenching hardships from the start; as an adolescent, she is impregnated twice by her father, and as a young lady, she is forced to marry a hardened, cruel man. Because Celie’s husband acts predatory towards her sister Nettie, Nettie is obligated to move away from the area. Thus, Celie is left alone with an abusive husband and endless work between caring for the man’s children and keeping up the household. Her life seems hopeless, though she still addresses her letters to God.
Soon enough, an ex-lover of Celie’s husband comes to town and stays in their home. Shug Avery is a renowned singer with an unabashed, infectious quality about her. Oddly enough, Shug plays a big-sister-esque, nurturing role for Celie, and as the two grow closer, Celie begins a slow process of feeling human again–experiencing love and regaining self-worth. [Celie even forms a sort of crush on Shug because Shug is one of the only people to ever care for and encourage her.]
Sub-plots are interwoven throughout the novel with family members of the husband and others who live around them. Societal power dynamics due to skin color is the major theme of these sub-plots, and as with Celie’s story, the powerlessness of black women at that point in history is a particular focus.
Comparing the Book to the Movie
The film version, directed by Steven Spielberg and released in 1985, holds a score of 85% on Rotten Tomatoes. The film stars Whoopi Goldberg, Danny Glover, and Oprah Winfrey. The critical consensus reads, “A sentimental tale that reveals great emotional truths in American history.” I personally enjoyed the film, though I am unlikely to return to it more than occasionally due to its emotional heaviness.
With basically any film adaptation, details of the original story must be trimmed because of time constraints. With that said, I feel that the writers behind the film version used good discretion with the parts they included/excluded. Celie’s main storyline and even most of the sub-plots are faithfully portrayed.
The film adaptation leaves out a large portion of the novel where Nettie writes letters to Celie detailing her life since leaving home. I feel it was wise to exclude this portion of the novel from the film because the long digressions would slow down the film and seem unnecessary to the overall story. The filmmakers also wisely curbed some of what I can only term “weirdness” from the story, such as a bizarre conversation between Celie and Shug about the true nature of God.
Fun Facts About the Book
The Color Purple won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983, making Alice Walker the first black woman to win the prize.
The title refers to an exchange where Shug asks Celie if she takes the time to notice the little things God does to show love for us. “I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it,” Shug says.
The novel has been adapted to a movie, a Broadway musical, and a fifteen-episode radio broadcast.
The novel has been frequently banned or challenged over the years for sexual explicitness, explicit language, violence, and homosexuality.
Thanks for reading! Have you read the book or seen the movie? Let me know in the comments.