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The Color Purple | Symbols



Pants represent independence, individuality, and strength to Celie as she liberates herself from Mr. ___'s control. They help her to breach gender lines when she decides to wear them; they bring her economic freedom when she begins making them as a business. Just as the idiom "wearing the pants in the family" is used to describe someone who is in control, pants help to define and shape Celie's control over her own life.


The letters are the only escape Celie has in her oppressed life. She writes to God because, as a captive, she is desperate to find an audience or a witness for her pain. Even when she questions whether God is listening, she continues to write to Him as a way to think through her situation. Her letters to Nettie reflect the joy Celie feels that her beloved sister is alive and is leading a life of her choice. Nettie is an actual person with whom Celie can share the harsh realities of her life and her most intimate thoughts. The letters are proof that her sister, if not God, is listening.


Although at first God is the only audience to Celie's misery, He becomes her cathartic listening post. Even after Celie loses faith in God and addresses her letters to Nettie, she still closes them with "Amen," until she restores her faith and returns to "Dear God." Shug's spirituality, based on an appreciation of all of God's wonders, combines with Albert's Why questions to lead the characters to deeper understandings of God's love.


The color purple represents all of the seen and unseen wonders in the world. After Shug explains to Celie that God only wants to be admired for all of the beauty and magnificence He created, she says, "I think it [angers] God if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don't notice it." The author uses purple to represent both the physical grandeur of the world and also the impressive internal and external traits that define each individual.

Needles and Razors

To Celie, needles are a means to create something worthwhile by uniting items that on their own are insignificant. Because they take parts and give them meaning by making a whole, they are a positive force in her life. Needles are used to sew pants, which lead to Celie's success as a seamstress and a business entrepreneur.

Razors, in contrast, represent destruction. When Celie is blinded by her hatred for Mr. ___ because of his abuse, subjugation, and most importantly, because of his purposeful theft of Nettie's letters, she almost kills him with his own razor. The razor becomes the means to rid her life of her oppressor, but the act of violence for which she considers using it would eliminate all the strides she has made toward independence.

Questions for Symbols

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