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Color Purple (Walker)

The Color Purple 
Alice Walker, 1982
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
300 pp.
ISBN-13: 9780156028356


Summary
Winner, 1983 Pulitizer Prize

Celie is a poor black woman whose letters tell the story of 20 years of her life, beginning at age 14 when she is being abused and raped by her father and attempting to protect her sister from the same fate, and continuing over the course of her marriage to "Mister," a brutal man who terrorizes her.

Celie eventually learns that her abusive husband has been keeping her sister's letters from her and the rage she feels, combined with an example of love and independence provided by her close friend Shug, pushes her finally toward an awakening of her creative and loving self. (From the publisher.)



Author Bio 
Birth—February 9, 1944
Where—Eatonton, Georgia, USA
Education—B.A., Sarah Lawrence College
Awards—National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize, 1983;The
  Lillian Smith Award from the National Endowment for the
  Arts; The Rosenthal Award from the National Institute of
  Arts & Letters; The Radcliffe    Institute Fellowship, the
  Merrill Fellowship, and a Guggenheim  Fellowship
Currently—San Francisco, California


Alice Malsenior Walker is an American author and feminist. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1983 for her critically acclaimed novel The Color Purple.

Walker was born in Eatonton, Georgia, the eighth child of sharecroppers. As well as being African American, her family has Cherokee, Scottish and Irish lineage. Although she grew up in Georgia, she has stated that she often felt displaced there.

In her book Alice Walker: A Life, author Evelyn C. White talks about an incident when Walker, who was eight year old at the time, was injured when her brother accidentally shot her in the eye with a BB gun. She became blinded in one eye as a result. In the book, White suggests this event had a large impact on Walker, especially when a white doctor in town swindled her parents out of $250 they paid to repair her injury. Walker refers to this incident in her book Warrior Marks, a chronicle of female genital mutilation in Africa, and uses it to illustrate the sacrificial marks women bear that allow them to be "warriors" against female suppression.

After high school, Walker went to Spelman College in Atlanta on full scholarship in 1961 and later transferred up north to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York, graduating in 1965. Walker became interested in the U.S. civil rights movement in part due to the influence of activist Howard Zinn, who was one of her professors at Spelman College. Continuing the activism that she participated in during her college years, Walker returned to the South where she became involved with voter registration drives, campaigns for welfare rights, and children's programs in Mississippi.

In 1965, Walker met and later married Mel Leventhal, a Jewish civil rights lawyer. They became the first legally married inter-racial couple in Mississippi . This brought them a steady stream of harassment and even murderous threats from the Ku Klux Klan. The couple had a daughter, Rebecca in 1969, divorcing 9 years later.

Walker's first book of poetry was written while she was still a senior at Sarah Lawrence, and she took a brief sabbatical from writing when she was in Mississippi working in the civil rights movement. Walker resumed her writing career when she joined Ms. Magazine as an editor before moving to northern California in the late 1970s. An article she published in 1975 was largely responsible for the renewal of interest in the work of Zora Neale Hurston, who was a large source of inspiration for Walker's writing and subject matter. In 1973, Walker and fellow Hurston scholar Charlotte D. Hunt discovered Hurston's unmarked grave in Ft. Pierce, Florida. Both women paid for a modest headstone for the gravesite.

In addition to her collected short stories and poetry, Walker's first work of fiction, The Third Life of Grange Copeland, was published in 1970. In 1976, Walker's second novel, Meridian, was published. The novel dealt with activist workers in the South during the civil rights movement, and closely paralleled some of Walker's own experiences.

In 1982, Walker would publish what has become her best-known work, the novel The Color Purple. The story of a young black woman fighting her way through not only racist white culture but patriarchal black culture was a resounding commercial success. The book became a bestseller and was subsequently adapted into a critically acclaimed 1985 movie as well as a 2005 Broadway musical.

Walker wrote several other novels, including The Temple of My Familiar and Possessing The Secret of Joy (which featured several characters and descendants of characters from The Color Purple) and has published a number of collections of short stories, poetry, and other published work.

Her works typically focus on the struggles of African Americans, particularly women, and their struggle against a racist, sexist, and violent society. Her writings also focus on the role of women of color in culture and history. Walker is a respected figure in the liberal political community for her support of unconventional and unpopular views as a matter of principle.

Additionally, Walker has published several short stories, including the 1973 "Everyday Use: for your grandmama." This story contains Walker's traditional subjects of feminism and racism against African Americans.She has one child, Rebecca Walker, from her marriage to Mel Leventhal. Rebecca is also an author and in 2000 published a memoir entitled Black White and Jewish, chronicling her parents' relationship and how it affected her childhood. Musician/Comedian Reggie Watts is Walker's second cousin;

Walker discussed her love affair with singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman in a December 2006 interview with The Guardian, explaining why they did not go public with their relationship, saying "[the relationship] was delicious and lovely and wonderful and I totally enjoyed it and I was completely in love with her but it was not anybody's business but ours."

In 1983, The Color Purple won the prestigious Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, making Walker the first African-American woman to win, as well as the National Book Award. Walker also won the 1986 O. Henry Award for her short story "Kindred Spirits", published in Esquire magazine in August of 1985. She has also received a number of other awards for her body of work (see above).

Most recently, on December 6, 2006, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver inducted Alice Walker into the California Hall of Fame located at The California Museum for History, Women, and the Arts.

Existing criticism of Walker's work has centered largely on the depiction of African American men, in particular relating to the novel The Color Purple. When The Color Purple was published, there was some criticism of the portrayal of male characters in the book. The main concern of much of the criticism was that the book appeared to depict the male characters as either mean and abusive (Albert/"Mister") or as buffoons (Harpo). This criticism intensified when the film was released, as the narrative of the film cut a significant portion of the eventual resolution and reconciliation between Albert and Celie.

Walker addressed some of these criticisms in The Same River Twice: Honoring the Difficult 1996. The book was a semi-autobiography, discussing specific events in Walker's life, as well as the perspective of experiencing reaction to The Color Purple twice, once as a book and then as the movie was made. The book also chronicled her struggle with Lyme disease. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews 
The cumulative effect is a novel that is convincing because of the authenticity of its folk voice...a striking and consummately well-written novel. Alice Walker's choice and effective handling of the epistolary style has enabled her to tell a poignant tale of women's struggle for equality and independence.
Mel Watkins - The New York Times 


Alice Walker once told an interviewer, "The black woman is one of America's greatest heroes. . . . She has been oppressed beyond recognition."

The Color Purple is the story of how one of those American heroes came to recognize herself recovering her identity and rescuing her life in spite of the disfiguring effects of a particularly dreadful and personal sort of oppression. The novel focuses on Celie, a woman lashed by waves of deep trouble—abandonment, incest, physical and emotional abuse—and tracks her triumphant journey to self-discovery, womanhood, and independence. Celie's story is a pointed indictment of the men in her life—men who betrayed and abused her, worked her like a mule and suppressed her independence—but it is also a moving portralt of the psychic bonds that exist between women and the indestructible nature of the human spirit.

The story of Celie is told through letters: Celie's letters to God and her sister Nettle, who is in Africa, and Nettle's letters to Celie. Celie's letters are a poignant attempt to understand her own out-of-control life. Her difficulties begin when, at the age of fourteen, she is raped by her stepfather, who then apparently sells away the two children born of that rape. Her sister Nettle runs away to escape the abuse, but Celie is married off to Albert, an older man that she refers to simply as "Mr." for most of the novel. He subjects her to tough work on his farm and beats her at his whim. But Celie finds the path to redemption in two key female role models: Sophia, an independent woman who refuses to be taken advantage of by her husband or any man, and Shug, a sassy, independent singer whom Albert loves. It is Shug who first offers Celie love, friendship, and a radically new way of looking at life.

Well, us talk and talk bout God, but I’m still adrift. Trying to chase that old white man out of my head. I been so busy thinking about him I never truly notice nothing God make. Not a blade of corn (how it do that?) not the color purple (where it come from?) Not the little wildflowers. Nothing."
"Now that my eyes opening, I feels like a fool. Next to any little scrub of a bush in my yard, Mr. ______'s evil sort of shrink. But not altogether. Still, it is like Shug say, You have to git man off your eyeball, before you can see anything a’tall.

Man corrupt everything, say Shug. He on your box of grits, in your head, and all over the radio. He try to make you think he everywhere. Soon as you think he everywhere, you think he God. But he ain’t. Whenever you trying to pray, and man plop himself on the other end of it, tell him to git lost, say Shug. Conjure up flowers, wind, water, a big rock.

But this hard work, let me tell you. He been there so long, he don’t want to budge. He threaten lightning, floods, and earthquakes. Us fight. I hardly pray at all. Every time I conjure up a rock, I throw it.

Finally, Celie leaves Albert to follow her own desires and discover her own talents and abilities. The novel ends in celebration: Celie is reunited with her sister and even the demonic Albert gets a shot at redemption.
 
The Color Purple is one of the most successful and controversial books ever written by a black woman. It was an international bestseller, won both the American Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and in 1985 was made into a much-discussed movie directed by Steven Spielberg. The movie and novel provoked controversy about Walker's portrayal of black men, which many found offensive and one-dimensional. Of course, Walker’s book has outlived both the movie and its critics; its no-holds-barred portrayal of black male-female relations broadened the trail blazed by her hero, Zora Neale Hurston. The novel is a wonderful fulfillment of its author's mission: to tell the untold stories of those black American heroes who withstood the gaudiest abuse a racist, sexist society could offer and emerged triumphant.
Sacred Fire



Discussion Questions 
1. In Celie’s first letter to God, she asks for a sign to let her know what is happening to her. Discuss the way confusion and deception become powerful tools for those characters who want to take advantage of Celie. Unravel the layers of lies that are told to her throughout the novel, perhaps making lists that compare the fiction she is expected to believe with the truth about her world. These canbe concrete (Celie’s impression that Pa is too poor to provide properly for her, and the later realization that he had more resources than he ever lets on) or abstract (the assertion that Celie is unintelligent, though she demonstrates constant intelligence in planning for her safety and that of her sister). Ask the students to recall their own experience with a revelation: when in their lives has the truth set them free?

2. What is the effect of not knowing Albert’s last name? In early novels, it was not uncommon for authors to use a blank in place of a character’s name, to create the illusion that the character was someone the reader might know—someone whose identity had to be kept secret. What does it mean that Celie must call her husband Mr. ____? When does she at last begin calling him by his first name?

3. Why does Albert tell Harpo to begin beating his wife, Sofia? Why is it so important to Harpo that his wife have no will of her own? Is his relationship with Squeak (Mary Agnes) fulfilling? What do these scenes tell us about the nature of abusive cycles? Is cruelty something that is taught—something that is unnatural? In your opinion, what does it take for someone (male or female) to deserve true respect?

4. Just as Celie grew up being told she was inferior, Shug Avery was always told she was evil. What are your impressions of Shug, from the photo Celie sees early on, to the end of the novel, when Celie and Albert have united in their devotion to Shug? What does Shug teach Celie about being loved, and about finding one’s true self? What price does Sofia pay for being her true self?

5. What does it take for Celie to finally reach her boiling point and reject oppression?

6. What is Celie’s opinion of Grady and his haze of addiction?

7. Why is it difficult for Shug to commit to the people who love her? In what ways does Shug bring both pleasure and heartache to them?

8. Nettie’s life with Corrine and Samuel gives her the first semblance of a healthy family life she has ever known, but Corrine’s jealousy taints this. Only the memory of that crucial early scene, when Celie lays eyes on her daughter at the store, absolves Nettie just before Corrine dies. The Color Purple brims with these intricate turns of plot. List the seemingly minor scenes that turn out to be pivotal in the lives of the characters.
(Questions issued by publisher.)

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