The Color Purple | Study Guide

Alice Walker

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The Color Purple | 10 Things You Didn't Know


Alice Walker's 1982 novel The Color Purple is a classic of American literature, feminist literature, and literature of the American South. It has been made into a critically acclaimed film and a Broadway musical, and though it is often challenged or banned, it is a mainstay in literature classes around the country.

The Color Purple uses a series of letters to tell the story of two sisters living in the deep South in the years before the Civil Rights Movement, detailing a life of abuse, years of suffering, and the redemptive powers of education and love.

1. The Color Purple is one of the most frequently challenged books in the United States.

The Color Purple was number 17 on the American Library Association's list of most frequently banned or challenged books in the first decade of the 21st century. It has been challenged in many states because of its "inappropriate language, graphic sexual scenes, and book's negative image of black men."

2. Walker said she felt "compassion" for people who tried to ban her book.

In an interview for Banned Books Week in 2012 the author claimed she "felt a lot of compassion for everyone" involved in an attempt in North Carolina schools to ban The Color Purple. She understood that some of the parents might have been spurred on by fear or misunderstanding. About censors she stated, "I will write what I think is right for me to write. They will oppose it."

3. Two of Walker's later books form a sort of trilogy with The Color Purple.

Walker published The Temple of My Familiar in 1989. The novel follows the lives of Celie and Shug from The Color Purple and introduces a host of other characters living in various times and places, all of whom serve to illustrate the black experience in the United States. In 1992 Walker published Possessing the Secret of Joy, which continues the story of Tashi, a character who appears in both earlier novels. Neither of the later books received the accolades given to The Color Purple.

4. An African American reviewer called the 1985 film "a Nazi conspiracy."

The movie version of The Color Purple was called by African American male reviewers "the most anti-Black family film of the modern film era" and "a Nazi conspiracy." In large part this is because the African American men in the book—and in the film—are portrayed as brutal and violent. While not all African American female critics applauded the movie, most had a far more positive reaction.

5. The film was nominated for 11 Academy Awards—and won none.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, The Color Purple was nominated for 11 Academy Awards in 1985, including Best Director and Best Picture, but won none. Most of the nominations, however, were for Supporting Actress. One of the actresses, Whoopi Goldberg, claimed that the Academy's Directors Branch was "a small bunch of people with small minds who chose to ignore the obvious."

6. Walker didn't like the film version of The Color Purple—at first.

Asked frequently about her opinion of the film version of her novel, Walker finally wrote a book explaining her feelings. In The Same River Twice (1996), Walker includes journal entries, her screenplay for the film, letters from detractors and fans, and other memorabilia that show how the making of the movie affected her. In an interview she stated, "I had a little hard time the very first time I saw the film ... And it grew on me, and by the time it opened in New York City, I loved it."

7. One Broadway production of The Color Purple was critically panned.

A musical based on The Color Purple opened on Broadway in December 2005. It was revived in 2015. The New York Times compared the two versions, saying, "That earlier 'Color Purple,' a box-office hit, was a big, gaudy, lumbering creature that felt oversold and overdressed." The review went on to say that the 2015 version was "a slim, fleet-footed beauty, simply attired and beguilingly modest. Don't be deceived, though, by its air of humility. There's a deep wealth of power within its restraint."

8. Walker is the first African American woman to win two major writing awards.

Published in 1982 The Color Purple went on to win both the Pulitzer Prize for Literature and the National Book Award the following year. Walker was the first African American woman to win both awards. In an interview she stated, "I was living in San Francisco, and I thought it was a joke. I had won the National Book Award, I think the week before, and then someone called and said that there was the Pulitzer, which I didn't know existed for fiction. And it was nice."

9. Walker and her husband were the first interracial married couple in Mississippi.

In the mid-1960s while campaigning for African American voting rights, Walker met Jewish civil rights activist Mel Leventhal. They fell in love and married in 1967. Laws against interracial marriage had just been struck down in Mississippi where they were living, making them the first legally married interracial couple in the state. They were harassed and received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

10. Walker points to one book as being the greatest influence in her writing career.

Walker was profoundly moved by Zora Neale Hurston's 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, saying, "it speaks to me as no novel, past or present, has ever done."

She first discovered Hurston through her novel Mules and Men—a collection of stories about African American folklore—while doing research for a short story on voodoo. This led her to Their Eyes Were Watching God, which she cites as being the biggest influence in her own writing. After reading the novel, she posed as Hurston's niece to track down where the author—who had died penniless—had been buried. Walker found Hurston's unmarked plot at the Garden of Heavenly Rest cemetery in Fort Pierce, Florida, where she then purchased a headstone for the author's grave.

Walker's recounting of her pilgrimage to Hurston's grave sparked interest in Hurston's novels, which up until that point had all gone out of print.

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