The Color Purple As Celie’s Narrative
Narrative, according to Google is, “a spoken or written account of connected events; a story.” A Narrative in literary terms is a way in which the author communicates directly to the reader through a single narrator. The narrator or narrative point of view can be in first, second, third or alternating person. An author usually chooses the voice of the narrative carefully, as it sets the tone for the story. There are various voices but the focus here will be on the “epistolary voice” and “stream of consciousness” voice.
Stream of consciousness is a narrative method where the writer’s thoughts are put on paper without any filter in a flow, like a stream. The term is in a way self-explanatory. The term was initially coined by psychologist William James in his research, The Principles of Psychology.( 2018) He writes: “… it is nothing joined; it flows. A ‘river’ or a ‘stream’ is the metaphor by which it is most naturally described. In talking of it hereafter, let’s call it the stream of thought, consciousness, or subjective life.” ( James 1913). The epistolary is a narrative method where the narrative unfolds in the form of letters. Sometimes the epistolary also consists of diary entries, newspaper articles, emails, blogs, or the radio. The epistolary style adds realism to the story as it depicts the everyday workings of life. It also gives us a clear look at the minds of characters as their views are unfiltered in the form of letters. The nature of the epistolary genre makes it so plastic that it can adjust to fit the needs of communication in the communicants’ environment (Couldry & McCarth, 2004). This is explained by the fact that the epistolary genre is a direct descendent of oral communication – mediated, written dialog communication between people unable to engage in direct oral dialog (Vinogradov & Skvortsov, 2014).
The Color Purple, by Alice Walker, is an epistolary novel. Alice Walker’s stunning 1982 novel The Color Purple(New York: Washington Square Press, 1982) won a Pulitzer Prize in 1983 making the Georgia-born author and poet the first black woman ever to receive the award for fiction. The book is beautifully written, rich in humanity and humor, sorrow and irony, and laced with brilliantly conceived characters. Walker explores themes, many of which germinate in her earlier short stories and poetry, that illuminate the human condition: loss of innocence, search for faith, the nature of human suffering, and the triumph of the human spirit. Additionally, she examines some taboos in the relationships between men and women as well as between parents and children. The book treats the reader to a journey where the characters discover the beauty, truth, love, and the answer to the meaning of life. (Abrams 1985)
The novel is entirely in Celie’s perspective. The Color Purple is more of Celie’s narrative than Alice Walker. The use of the epistolary style provides the readers with Celie’s narrative alone, and through her a little bit of Nettie’s perspective as well. The framework of the novel is in Celie’s control and Nettie’s letters are there because Celie wills it so. The first line in the novel is the only line that isn’t a part of a letter by Celie or Nettie. It begins with a paternal injunction of silence(Abbandonato 1991), “ You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy.” (Walker 3). Celie’s journey begins after this through a series of letters to God as she can talk to no one about it. With time she continues writing letters to God as she has nobody to confide in. The letters have a raw innocence in them brought out by Celie’s dialect and unfiltered flow of thoughts.
A major aspect of these letters is the stream of consciousness that can be observed. Walker describes Celie’s encounter with a fight that occurred between Sofia and Harpo. The short and simple sentences help to portray Celie’s feelings of shock and surprise. The passage is constructed in a way that Celie was in the room watching the two fight, she notices ‘every plate look like it broke. The looking glass hang crooked, the curtains torn.’ (page 37). In the midst of all of this, Walker also inserts a rhetorical question, ‘What he do that for?’ (page 37) when Harpo attempts to slap Sofia. She acts innocent as if she had no idea of Harpo’s intentions. However, this small thought breaks through the imagery and brings the reader back to the realization that Celie is standing in the middle of this pickle. The passage also begins with many short and simple sentences, as if Celie could hardly get the words out fast enough. Through the use of this syntax, Celie’s stream of consciousness is also displayed as she quickly processes all the tiny details around the room. However, as the letter plays out, the sentences become elongated as she begins to comprehend more than just the scene. Her thoughts seem to become more coherent and the fact that her thoughts are longer seems to give off the idea that she has become more comfortable in the environment she is in (Themes/Rhetoric).
Celie initially, is an object, passive, with no voice or identity of her own. Writing these letters becomes her only form of outlet. However, because she is so unaccustomed to articulating her experience, her narrative is initially muddled despite her best efforts at transparency. (2013) Slowly Celie meets Shug Avery and Sofia and begins to form an identity of her own. They help her create a new identity for herself and this creates a strong, new narrative to the story. She begins a journey of self-discovery where she learns who she is by slowly shedding what society has told her she is. The Discovery of Nettie’s letters was a major leap in Celie’s journey of self-discovery.
This is about the time when the recipient of Celie’s letters becomes Nettie (along with God). She expresses her disbelief in God to Shug and Shug tries to stop her from the blasphemy. The change in recipient marks an important change in the novel as it depicts various changes that occur in Celie’s mind. It shows how far along she has come from the very first letter in the book. The last letter in the book is addressed to, ‘Dear God. Dear stars, dear trees, dear sky, dear peoples. Dear Everything. Dear God.” (Walker 259) In this final letter, she is finally reunited with Nettie and also meets her children Olivia and Adam. There is a family reunion on the 4th of July. In the last paragraph, Celie talks about how she feels “peculiar” around the children as they are grown now. She also thinks the children think of her, Harpo, Sofia, Nettie, and the others as old. But she says this is the happiest they have ever been. “ But I don’t think us feel old at all. And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt.” (Walker 261)
As dark as the beginning of the novel was, the end is that happy. It shows that there is hope for everyone. It shows the transformation in Celie throughout the novel.
- “Stream of Consciousness – Examples and Definition.” Literary Devices, 13 Jan. 2018, https://literarydevices.net/stream-of-consciousness/.
- James, William. “The Principles of Psychology.” 1913, doi:10.1037/11059-000.
- Abrams, Patricia Harris. “The Gift of Loneliness: Alice Walkers The Color Purple.” Language Arts Journal of Michigan, vol. 1, no. 2, Jan. 1985, doi:10.9707/2168-149x.1762.
- Abbandonato, Linda. “‘A View from ‘Elsewhere’ ‘: Subversive Sexuality and the Rewriting of the Heroine’s Story in The Color Purple.” PMLA, vol. 106, no. 5, 1991, pp. 1106–1115. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/462683.
- “Themes/Rhetoric.” The Color Purple, http://tratay362.weebly.com/themesrhetoric.html.
- “’The Color Purple’ – The Power of Narrative and Voice.” Danielakeogh, 5 Mar. 2013, https://danielakeogh.wordpress.com/2013/02/28/the-color-purple-the-power-of-narrative-and-voice/