The Color Purple and Shug

Throughout history writers have used color to symbolize something without actually having to put words to how they feel. Black is symbolic for the unknown or evil, white is for goodness and purity, and red symbolizes passion. Alice Walker uses the color purple the same way, she wants the color to represent something and since she doesn’t come right out and say what the color purple denotes, it’s left up to the reader to decide what purple symbolizes and why it’s important. For Celie the color purple signifies Shug, and Shug is God to Celie.

Instead of an innocent childhood that every child deserves, Celie lived a hell I can’t even begin to imagine, sexually abused by her stepfather, a man who should have protected her, forced to give up her children and sold off into marriage where she continued to suffer from physical, sexual and emotional abuse. God is very important to Celie and it’s easy to understand why, God is the only one who can save her from the life she had on Earth. But as the story evolves it becomes pretty clear that God can do nothing for her, Shug is the only one who can save Celie.

Celie first sees a picture of Shug when Mr.___ drops it out of his wallet and on to the floor. From the beginning Celie is infatuated by Shug, “And now when I dream, I dream of Shug Avery. She be dress to kill, whirling and laughing.” Indeed, the first reference to the color purple comes when Mr.___ sends Celie, with his sister, to buy some new clothes. Celie tries to think what Shug would wear, “She like a queen to me so I say to Kate, something purple.” But the store has no purple, Celie settles for something blue instead.

When Shug gets sick, purportedly from venereal disease, Mr.__ brings her to his home to live with Celie and him. Now you would think this would upset Celie, her husband bringing home the woman he actually loves, but Celie is just fine with it. She cooks for her, cleans for her and does anything she can to make sure Shug feels at home. Celie does all this in spite of the fact Shug is very mean towards her, Shug laughs at Celie and calls her ugly. Shug in time warms to Celie; they become good friends and eventually lovers. Shug is able to save Celie because she can stand up to Mr.__, she tells Mr.__ to quit beating Celie and he does. Shug also takes Celie away from Mr.__, takes her up to Memphis where she finds her talent, sewing pants. But Shug in time breaks Celie’s heart and runs off with a man. Eventually Celie makes it back home, she finds out the house she grew up in became hers after her stepfather’s death. In the second to last chapter Shug comes back to live with Celie, and we find out everything in Celie’s room, except the floor, is purple and red. The purple is symbolic for Shug, the red: Celie’s passion for her.

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One Response

  1. Robert – I thought you had an interesting analysis of the colors. I always found it interesting to try and figure out what colors represent in certain novels and I think you did a good job explaining the purple and red in “The Color Purple” by Alice Walker. Your writing style is clear and understandable to your audience.

    Michael - August 9th, 2004 at 11:39 am