Old Books, New Readers discussion

The Color Purple
This topic is about The Color Purple
31 views
Archived > The Color Purple, Week 1 (February 2017)

Comments Showing 1-12 of 12 (12 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

Marta (gezemice) | 213 comments Please discuss your thoughts about the first quarter of The Color Purple here.


Michelle (mich2689) | 219 comments So much has already happened within the first quarter of the book. I'm going to try to put my jumbled thoughts down.

Celie endured repetitive trauma as a child and was not given her own voice. This was carried on to her own marriage, where she still did not have her own voice. Then comes Sofia who contrasts with Celie. I think Sofia's presence was powerful to Celie, because even though she wasn't speaking up more in person, she was at least able to be more assertive in her letters.

At first I was shocked when Celie encouraged Harpo to beat Sofia up. How could she assign someone else that fate when she herself knows how horrible it is? Unfortunately, this is what usually happens and that's why research has shown that those who were abused are more likely to perpetuate abuse.

I was also amazed at Celie's response to Shug Avery coming into their married life. She seemed so passive about her husband cheating and instead of jealously, she expressed more feelings of interest and caring for Shug.


Kimberly | 145 comments So far, this is a very interesting read. I haven't read many books that use letters for the book. In this first part, they are all by Celie and written to God.

I feel very sorry for her. Her father rapes her, getting her pregnant, not just once, but twice, then gets rid of the kids. He makes her quit school, claiming she's stupid, but I don't get that impression from her letters. If she was given a chance, she probably would have excelled. After all this, her father gives her to a man who just wants someone to look after his kids because he's in love with someone who won't marry him. She goes from one kind of abuser to another.

I wonder if the reason she told Harpo to beat Sofia wasn't just that she didn't know any other way, but rather jealousy. She wanted to knock Sofie down a notch. She does seem to try to make up for it later, and try to get Harpo to do things differently with Sofia. But, he won't change and wants to be like his Dad.

I find the relationship with Shug Avery to be interesting. Celie seems to be in love with her. From the first time she heard of her, she was fascinated by her, even before she even knew she was a person. She doesn't get jealous of her coming into the house because she wants to know everything about her. Plus, if she put up a fuss, her husband would most likely beat her, and have Shug there anyway. This way, she can learn more about Shug and not get beat.

I'm curious how this will all work out....


message 4: by [deleted user] (new)

"Ain’t nothing wrong with Shug Avery. She just sick. Sicker than anybody I ever seen. She sicker than my mama was when she die. But she more evil than my mama and that keep her alive."

Weird. This easy cameraderie between the ex and the present woman. A woman who is about to die and who was probably the only love of the husband of the other woman. Celie acknowledges Shug's meanness but that doesn't phase her at all... I guess a broken childhood - abused by the father, beaten up and seriously exploited by every other male she has known has left her immune to any meanness left in the world.

Morbid fascination as to what happens to Celie in the end alone keeps me reading this book - though if this were real life, I'd bet my life Celie's story-ending can't possibly be a happy one.


Pete Priya wrote: ""Ain’t nothing wrong with Shug Avery. She just sick. Sicker than anybody I ever seen. She sicker than my mama was when she die. But she more evil than my mama and that keep her alive."

Weird. This..."


That's an interesting passage to pull out, Priya. It is a strange dynamic between Celie and Shug. When you said that Celie is unphased by Shug's meanness, it occurred to me that meanness or assertiveness is something that attracts all of the characters to one another:

Mr. --------> Shug
Harpo -----> Sophia
Celie -------> Shug

It all seems to center around control and a desire to overcome control.

It's also interesting how Harpo's marriage mirrors Mr.'s desired marriage with Shug.

Does anyone have any insight into the absence of Mr.'s surname in Celie's writing? This seems to me to have something to do with power. Naming is interesting sometimes in literature. For instance, it's telling how Shug uses Mr's given name, but Celie doesn't even know his name.


Pete Michelle wrote: "So much has already happened within the first quarter of the book. I'm going to try to put my jumbled thoughts down.

Celie endured repetitive trauma as a child and was not given her own voice. Thi..."


Michelle, it is surprising how much has already happened. Sometimes, I look to the top of the letters, hoping to see a progression of dates, which sometimes are a part of epistolary fiction. It leaves me wondering how much time if passing between each letter. Sometimes, there are clues. Other times, there are not.

I also like your use of the word passive to describe Celie. That's so fitting. In addition to passive, she also seems a bit numb to everything around her. She even mentions this lack of feeling. Sometimes, narrators are especially passive characters, just reporting what they see around them. This is especially true for Celie. As the story progresses, less events actually are about her. And when the story's events do include her, things are more often being done TO her. She is rarely an ACTIVE force. The very first letter, in fact, begins with things being done to her.


message 7: by Pete (last edited Feb 10, 2017 02:05PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Pete Kimberly wrote: "So far, this is a very interesting read. I haven't read many books that use letters for the book. In this first part, they are all by Celie and written to God.

I feel very sorry for her. Her fath..."


Kimberly, I think it's interesting that you point out how Celie moves from one bad situation to another. We feel badly for her in both, but, going from an incestuous, rape-centered "relationship" to a legitimate, albeit abusive, marriage would seem to be an improvement. It seems like Celie should feel some relief, but, so far, that is not the case. The only quiet moments between husband and wife are when they share in an admiration or love for Shug.

I wonder if Walker might be saying something about African Americans in the wake of abolition. One would hope that the end of slavery ---an institution that is clearly an abomination---would bring peace, freedom and happiness to African Americans, but that was not the case. Their lives are "legitimized" by becoming citizens and even gaining suffrage (males, anyway) five years after slavery ends, but the chains are still there, just not in the same, obvious ways as before. The parallels seem obvious when you start to work through it. I wonder if Walker meant Celie to be allegorical or representative of the whole black experience in this way.


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

I am not really sure where the line between the first two parts is, so I’ll just put my thoughts on Celie and Sophia in the first week and the whole Shug Avery development in the second.

I remember reading Beloved and thinking about how much emphasis was put on what it meant to be a slave. It was not just that slave owners thought that they had the right to treat another human being as their property; it was that some of the slaves themselves felt that way too. And although this novel covers a time period some time after the Abolition (I didn't find an outright time reference so far; there are cars – so maybe early 20th century?), Celie’s mindset as a daughter and wife does not seem to stray far from that. She does not stand up for herself, takes the events as they come and this probably happens because she doesn't know any better. What happened to her has happened to countless others, so what could she do but keep her head down and survive.

She does her best to keep Nettie safe, however, and this signals that she maybe just doesn't see herself as important enough. This is not surprising, considering her father’s (I loathe to give the man the familial function) and presumably her mother’s attitude towards her. It takes the shopping excursion with her sister-in-law, Kate, and the appearance of Sophie to show her that things could perhaps be different. Sophie is a particularly interesting character – she grows up in the similar situation, but the presence of her sisters teaches her that she can fight back and rely on others.

Two things that I at this point find a mystery are the title and the lack of last names. Purple has not yet been spotted anywhere yet except on a beautiful dress and on Sophie’s skin when she was in prison, but I presume that would be rectified somewhere down the line. As for why Celie refers to male characters as Mr. , even though we have heard that Sophie’s last name was Butler, I have no idea. Is it to present them as identical in their actions and to generalize them?


Pete Y wrote: "I am not really sure where the line between the first two parts is, so I’ll just put my thoughts on Celie and Sophia in the first week and the whole Shug Avery development in the second.

I rememb..."


I think the lack of surname may have a few reasons....

Perhaps by only referring to her husband as Mr. _______, Celie dehumanizes him, which is fitting since he acts so inhumanely towards her. We see him as vulnerable in his interactions with Shug, but Celie, by denying him a name, denies facing his personhood, she to speak.

The other option is antithetical to the first, and I don't know which I believe. Perhaps I will at the end. My other thought is that by not allowing herself to use his name, she denies herself power over him. The act of naming (or using a name) grants a kind of power and/or intimacy to the user. Think of the scene with the child (Olivia?) in the store.

Of course, a third option may be that Celie/Walker refuses to use surnames passed down by slave masters.


Michelle (mich2689) | 219 comments Pete wrote: "Y wrote: "I am not really sure where the line between the first two parts is, so I’ll just put my thoughts on Celie and Sophia in the first week and the whole Shug Avery development in the second. ..."

Pete, I'm learning towards your second reasoning for the lack of surnames: naming grants power. It makes sense that Celie does not feel that she has the power to call Mr________ by name. Shug, on the other hand, has no problem calling him Albert.


message 11: by [deleted user] (last edited Feb 12, 2017 10:00AM) (new)

Pete wrote: "Priya wrote: ""Ain’t nothing wrong with Shug Avery. She just sick. Sicker than anybody I ever seen. She sicker than my mama was when she die. But she more evil than my mama and that keep her alive...."

Completely true, Pete. All of them are indeed pulled in by the power exerted by another over them.

My take on Celie not using surnames is that she has a fear of all the father/male (dominating) figures in her life - but the point is: her step-father's treatment of her sets the basis of what she deems to be the normal behavior from men in general. There is but one scene in the whole book where Celie calls Mr. ____ as Albert - and that is when she has already realized he is only a man and moreover -one with no hold over her.


Glennis I read on the Lit-Lovers site - looking at discussion questions for The Color Purple - that it was once common to leave blanks for the last name. Since I've just finished 2 books having to do with slavery, I inserted "Freeman" as the last name to complete the sentences.

I've found myself seeing that African American women didn't necessarily have a lot of difference between slavery and freedom. Was it due to limited Women's rights in general, or did their menfolk take a page out of slave history and strike out at the one group who wouldn't fight them....the women.

Celie is raped, impregnated, and her mother dies. She becomes the "mammy." It's not only her love for her sister that causes her to want to protect her from their father, but her "duty" as the mother figure. Throughout this section of the book, we see evidence that Celie is still subservient and has yet to discover herself.


back to top