Alice Walker’s The Color Purple carries immense historical and social significance over a 30-year span of time periods. The history of social issues and the historical significance they have over time will change as people age. The story of Miss Celie, an African-American woman from the south, who lived from the early 1900s to the mid 1900s, is a testament to the changes in her life. Walker uses Celie to represent what it means to grow and develop in America during a period when slavery had just been abolished. Celie can be seen as a representation of the entire black population that was mistreated by their male counterparts. Celie helped them to find their pride, value, and refuse to give in to the abuse they suffered. Walker contrasts this by using Nettie’s life to illustrate the horrible destruction of African culture in their pursuit of power, wealth and privilege. Walker then uses ShugAvery to further explore and explain the historical significance of Black culture and Harlem Renaissance. Walker, perhaps the most important aspect of her novel, uses the historical context to examine the presence and meaning of God. In fact, Walker uses the context of abuse and oppression to show how irrelevant it is for finding one’s purpose in life. The Color Purple is so richly filled with historical context and related analysis that it’s difficult to understand the novel without seeing the importance Walker’s masterful manipulations.
In the 1900s, there were many poor and marginalized communities of African Americans living in the South. This was because abuse was common and acceptable. Black Americans were also experiencing a shocking lack in education, as they had just received their basic human freedom. These two issues had a profound impact on Celie’s early years. She was molested and her stepfather abused her. He scolded her for not telling anyone except God. Mister, an abusive black man, abused her numerous times before selling her to her (Russell 27). Mister continued to abuse Celie in her childhood and perpetuated her rape. Walker, 59. “A grown child [was] dangerous in this historical culture.” Celie, as many others, was culturally appropriated abuse and degrading behavior. She was therefore an innocent, unworthy target. Celie eventually learns to confront her domestic oppressors. She demands to be treated as an individual. Mister is forced to recognize her dignity when she says subtly, yet powerfully, “I am here.” (Walker.196). Celie became strong as the United States’ women merged into one front demanding equality. Celie’s story is perfectly aligned by the Women’s Suffrage historical moment. It shows the importance and impact of massive societal, political, and personal events on a person’s daily life. Celie’s isolation from freedom and happiness is also due to the American African community being isolated due to a lack of education and tolerance. As Celie gained freedom and her voice, the United States made great strides in civil rights and gained freedom for the black community (Alice). Nettie escapes oppression, abuse and is allowed to attend school by her own merit and determination. Nettie “[wants] the world to work,” so she perseveres to find a home with a preacher family (7). The family and Nettie travel together as missionaries to a village in western Africa to visit the Olinka tribe. Nettie discovers her African heritage and the Olinka become a vibrant tribe in Africa. Nettie notes that her life in this land changes dramatically as she learns more about her heritage. In the pursuit of greed and wealth, Nettie’s village is destroyed. This village was destroyed by white Europeans without any regard for its culture or well-being, as the United States had done to black cultures. Nettie is watching as the white men destroyed the sacred roof-leaves of the village homes of the Olinka God. It was a new time for her, and it began in Africa. Nettie, her family and friends embark on the return voyage to home, after having spent a long time as refugees with Olinka. Their ship is then struck by German missiles. The story of Nettie, Celie and their lives after World War II begins is part of theirs.
Celie becomes more aware of the significance and history of Shug Avery’s entry into her life as a prominent singer from Memphis during Harlem Renaissance. Celie’s letters to her sister and God are the only way to tell The Color Purple. It is the most important aspect of Celie’s life. Shug shines a light on a dark period in Celie’s relationship to God, as she is angry at the circumstances that have been presented to her. Shug says to Celie that God is in you, and everyone else. God is the one who brings you into this world. Only those who search within can find it… God isn’t a he/she, but a It… Don’t be fooled by the appearance of nothing. It’s not a picture-perfect world. It’s not something that you can separate from anyone else, even yourself. God is everything to me. Everything that exists, has ever been or will remain. Walking, 148. “When you can feel it and feel happy to have that feeling, then you’ve found that.” Shug eliminates all relevance to place and time, stating that God can be anything. God is everything. It’s the very existence of purpose or being. It’s recognizing that every moment is important. Walker’s analysis of historical context and its significance in setting brings Walker’s final analysis full circle. It is the recognition of the beauty and purpose behind everything, regardless of the setting or context.
“Alice Walker.” Bio.com. A&E Networks Television. Web. May 20th, 2016
An exploration of novel summaries via RSS feeds. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 May 2016.Russell and Brenda, Allee Willis, Stephen Bray.
The Color Purple, a novel by Alice Walker, tells the story of a young African-American woman’s journey to find her voice in a patriarchal society. Alliance Theatre in Atlanta.
Walker, Alice. The Color Purple is a novel by Alice Walker. The book was first published in the United States by Harcourt Books in 1982.