The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
The Color Purple directed by Stephen Spielberg (1985)
I loved this book so much! The first time through I listened to the audiobook which is great. Then, a few days later I got it on kindle and read through it a second time! Even though there are heavy subjects, it wasn’t so heavy that I wanted to put off re-reading it. It is also written in a way that makes for an easy read. It is also fairly short, about 250-300 (depending on the edition) pages, yet there is so much packed in that it seems like it should have been longer!
This is the type of book I love-it spans decades and we follow multiple characters and how they change through the years. It is also very character driven, and I love the feminist message of it. We have men who have great character arcs, but we have so many amazing female characters and their bond helps lift each other up.
It also is a book that encourages you to think about God and in what ways do you feel connected to the divine. Walker wants you to challenge what you think you know, what you may have grown up being taught, and decide if you really do agree with those beliefs. At some point in everyone’s life you need to find your own way and sometimes what you were raised to believe does indeed hold up under scrutiny, but sometimes it doesn’t. In the end, you will be a happier person living a life you agree with.
And again, even though there are a lot of sad parts in this book, it is also about seeing the good and beautiful things in your life and appricating them.
Apparently, Quincy Jones approached Spielberg about directing this and Spielberg was hesitant. He felt that since he is a white man, he wouldn’t be the right person to tell a story that is about black women. However, Jones convinced him he should do it. I like Spielberg and have covered some of his other movies-Jurassic Park and Catch Me If You Can, both of which I love. The Color Purple isn’t a bad movie and overall, it is faithful to the book in some of the bigger plot elements. There was just something missing for me though.
The acting is great-I love Danny Glover (I talk about him and Oprah Winfrey who I also love, in my Beloved book vs movie episode) and Whoopi Goldberg is also amazing in her breakout role as Celie.
I think my biggest complaint it with the first 30 minutes or so. We spend way too much time with Celie and Nettie when they are young. That should have been like 10 minutes, then we get to them with the adults in the role.
Speaking of them as kids, I will go ahead and get to the differences from book to movie and from here on out there will be spoilers!
Celie and Nettie’s childhood
In book and movie, Celie has two children by the time she is 14, both of which were taken from her. Both children were the result of being raped by her father, and at age 14 her father gives her to Albert, a guy referred to as “Mister” to marry. (There are no last names given in the book and just have a blank space). Albert had wanted to marry Nettie, but Nettie is the prettier one of the two and so the dad would rather get rid of Celie.
Albert had been married but his wife was killed, and he had a previous lover named Shug Avery who is a traveling singer. He had children with Shug, but they are living with her parents now. (The part about her kids isn’t in the movie).
But Albert has four kids, the oldest is a boy named Harpo who she raises. Soon after being married to Albert, Nettie comes to stay with them. But before long, Albert tells her she needs to find her own place.
In the movie, Nettie is walking somewhere when Albert attacks her and tries to force himself on her but she is able to get away. After this is when he forces her to leave. In the book, Nettie is on her way to leave when Albert attacks her but she gets away. But when she is running away, Albert says she will never hear from Celie.
In both, one day while in town Celie sees a woman with a daughter who looks like Celie’s daughter. Celie follows the woman and asks about the baby (in the book that daughter is almost seven but, in the movie, it is more recent and she is still a baby) and the woman’s husband. Her husband is the reverend and she says she calls the baby Olivia, which is what Celie had named her before her dad took the baby.
In the book, when Albert says Nettie has to go, Celie tells her to go to the reverend house and that the wife is a good person with money who will help her. This isn’t in the movie.
In both, Nettie had told Celie that only death would stop her from writing, yet Celie never hears from her.
Sofia and Celie
Harpo wants to marry a headstrong woman named Sofia and she moves onto their land. Sofia does what she wants, and Celie overhears Harpo complaining to his dad that Sofia doesn’t do what he tells her. Celie always does what Albert tells her, but that is because he beats her.
Celie tells Harpo he should beat Sofia and that way she will be submissive to him.
In both, Sofia fights back and Harpo is all beat up the next day. Sofia then confronts Celie because Harpo told her that Celie told him he should hit her. Celie says she didn’t like Sofia’s pride and the way she pitied Celie because she is so submissive and that she was envious of Sofia. They then have a close moment after this they become friends. In the movie Sofia confronts Celie, but it doesn’t really turn into the touching moment that it was in the book.
Harpo stops trying to force Sofia to do what he says but eventually in both, Sofia leaves him. He later turns their place into a juke joint called Harpo’s Place
Celie had seen pictures of Shug and was immediately smitten with her look and style. Then there is talk at church of her being very sick and people don’t like her because of her free ways and say it’s her own fault. Albert though goes to get her and brings her home and Celie ends up nursing her back to health. Shug end up singing at Harpo’s and Celie falls in love with Shug.
When Shug says she is leaving, Celie tells Shug that Albert beats her when Shug isn’t around, and so Shug tells Albert that is hurting someone she loves and this gets Albert to stop. In the book we later hear how Albert was confused and uncomfortable with Shug and Celie being so close and had preferred when Shug was at odds with the woman he was with.
Shug returns a while later, and has a husband named Grady. One night Shug is asking Celie about sex and Celie says how she has never enjoyed it. In the book there is more to this conversation but Shug tells her it is possible to enjoy and it should be enjoyed. In both, Shug and Celie have sex and while they had already loved each other, their love takes on a new level after this.
Sofia and Squeak
One night at Harpo’s, Sofia shows up and she and Harpo start dancing when Harpo’s new girlfriend, Squeak, tells him he can’t dance with her. Sofia hits Squeak and starts this whole fight.
Later, in both book and movie, the mayor’s wife sees Sofia and her children in town and asks if Sofia would like to be her maid and Sofia says hell no. The mayor hits Sofia, and Sofia hits him back causing her to be put in jail. In the book, Celie and Harpo and them go see her in jail and she is looking terrible and they say she won’t last long. They decide to have Squeak talk to the guy in charge and convince him that Sofia’s punishment should be her working for the mayor’s wife and to release her from jail. In the movie, this switch wasn’t the idea of Celie and them but rather what the mayor wanted.
In both, she is kept at the mayor’s house 24/7 and goes years without seeing her own family. In the book, as horrible as it is to work for the mayor’s wife, this is still better than being in jail where she most likely would have died.
In the movie there is a part when Celie see’s Sofia in town with the mayor’s wife and seeing Celie helps Sofia. This wasn’t in the book, rather in the book Nettie writes about seeing a woman with the mayor’s wife and trying to talk to her but how the woman (Sofia) kind of shut down and didn’t want to be talked to because she was so down.
In both, with Shug’s help, Celie learns that Albert has been holding onto all of Nettie’s letters to Celie. They are able to get all of these letters and by reading through them she learns that Nettie is in Africa with the reverend-Samuel, and his wife-Corrine, the the two children who are Celie’s, Olivia and Adam.
We get much more detail about her time in Africa which I loved. In the movie we don’t see too much which is what I expected.
In the book there comes a point when Corrine suspects the children are Nettie’s and that Samuel is the father. Nettie swears she isn’t the mother, but rather her sister is and tells Corrine the story.
Corrine dies soon later, and a while after, Nettie and Samuel fall in love. I thought their romance was a very beautiful part of the story but it is left out of the movie. The movie alludes to Celie and Shug’s romance, but overall the positive relationship they really focused on was Nettie and Celie.
In the movie we hear in voice over that the man Celie and Nettie thought was their dad really wasn’t, but that is all. In the book we learn the full story about Celie and Nettie’s biological dad being killed when they were very young and this new guy shows up and marries the mom who is kind of mentally off since the death of her husband. This new guy gets Celie pregnant, and both times he takes the babies to a guy he used to know who is now a reverend (Samuel) and since Samuel and Corrine can’t get pregnant, he takes the babies no questions asked.
In both, after the death of the man they had thought was their dad, Celie gets the property. In the book we also have a scene where she goes to see him before he dies.
Also, in both, when Celie realizes that Albert had been keeping Nettie from her, she has a razor and Shug can see she wants to kill Albert. She instead keeps Celie busy by telling her she should make pants.
In the movie this happens, but Shug runs from a distance to stop Celie from killing Albert, and this scene in intermixed with the skin scarring scenes the Olinka do in Africa. The scarring of the face was an important part of the book, but the way the movie cut these two scenes together I thought was weird and I didn’t like it. It also leaves out the significance of the ceremony in relation to the characters in the book.
Celie in Memphis
At one point after finding out Albert kept the letters from her, when Shug says it is time for her to go back to Memphis, Celie and Squeak (who wants to be called her real name, Mary Agnes) say they are going with her. There is an argument at the table because Albert is angry about her leaving. At one point he says something like what will people say? We then read, “Shug say, Albert. Try to think like you got some sense. Why any woman give a shit what people think is a mystery to me. Well, say Grady, trying to bring light. A woman can’t git a man if peoples talk. Shug look at me and us giggle. Then us laugh sure nuff. Then Squeak start to laugh. Then Sofia. All us laugh and laugh. Shug say, Ain’t they something? Us say um hum, and slap the table, wipe the water from our eyes.”
She also has a part where she says he curses Albert and what he has done to her will come back on him. This part in the movie was kind of cheesy where Celie almost uses the force on him while she speaks.
Celie is living in Memphis and starts a business making pants for men and women. In the book, when she gets the house, she returns home to fix things up and when she comes back to Memphis, Shug tells her she met a 19-year-old and needs 6 months to travel around and have one last fling with him. Celie is broken hearted but knows she can’t do anything to stop Shug who is pushing 60.
She ends up being gone longer than six months and, in the book, we read, “I wish I could be traveling with her, but thank God she able to do it. Sometimes I feel mad at her… But then I think, Shug got a right to live too. She got a right to look over the world in whatever company she choose. Just cause I love her don’t take away none of her rights.” At a later part she is talking about Shug returning and she writes, “If she come, I be happy. If she don’t, I be content. And then I figure this the lesson I was suppose to learn.”
I love both of those sections. Learning that just because you love someone doesn’t give you the right to control them, and how she shouldn’t rely solely on someone to make her happy, or content. Having a person you love in life can make life better for sure, but you should also be able to find your own inner happiness and love even if they aren’t there.
All of this is not in the movie with Shug leaving with this guy.
Celie and Albert
With Shug off with this new young guy in the book, Celie goes to her new home and sets up her pants business. She starts spending time with Albert and he tells her how he had been interested in sewing when he was a boy but his mom told him boys don’t sew. Celie tells Albert about what Nettie says life is like in Africa and how gender rules are dumb basically and she and Albert and sew and talk.
This isn’t in the movie at all, and I wish it was because it was so sweet to see the two of them form this platonic friendship and they both learn to love and appreciate each other. Albert had also been a pretty bad guy up until Celie leaves him. He is a mess for a while, but then with Harpo’s help, he starts cleaning up himself and starts doing the work around the place. (Harpo helping his dad is also what made Sofia want to get back with Harpo. She comes up to the house one morning and sees them sleeping with Harpo holding Albert). Celie is shocked to hear about this change in Albert and while she is in town for different events, they end up interacting again and begin to be friends.
She also tells him that men are like frogs to her and she just isn’t attracted to any man. He later carves her a purple frog (purple being her favorite color) which was such a cute moment.
Celie also talks about how Harpo and Sofia are always trying to set her up with a man and Albert will come help get her out of the situation, “They know I love Shug but they think womens love just by accident, anybody handy likely to do. Everytime I go to Harpo’s some little policy salesman git all up in my face. Mr. _____ have to come to the rescue. He tell the man, This lady my wife. The man vanish out the door. Us sit, have a cold drink. Talk about our days together with Shug.”
Sofia and the mayor’s daughter
Sofia continues working for the mayor and his wife and hardly gets to see her family. Eventually, when the mayor and his wife are old it is then the daughter whom she basically raised still wants her around. This isn’t in the movie at all, but we see at one point the daughter has her own child and she is trying to get Sofia to say she loves the baby when Sofia tells her she doesn’t love the baby. The daughter is hurt by hearing that Sofia resents having to care for the baby and her and about what that white baby boy will become. She tells the daughter “I got my own troubles…and when Reynolds Stanley grow up, he’s gon be one of them.”
The daughter confronts her parents and asks how Sofia came to work for them, a story she hadn’t known.
After this, the daughter starts working for Sofia by helping with Sofia’s daughter (or maybe it is Sqeak’s daughter who is staying with Sofia…I can’t remember now) who is sick.
Giving people a chance to change
Something I loved in the book is that we get to see these people for decades, and we see how they change and grow. Celie obviously has a huge, positive change. But she also gives Albert the grace to change. She leaves him and stands up for herself, but when she hears how he is changed she doesn’t dismiss him but gives him a chance and we see that he really has become a better person. She didn’t hold grudges against him, even though she had every right to, but is forgiving and they are able to have this respect and newfound love for each other.
We see this too with Sofia and the daughter of the mayor’s wife. Sofia told the daughter the truth, and when the daughter then wanted to show Sofia she would make a change in her life, Sofia lets her and again, gives her the grace to show that change.
In the end of book and movie, Nettie, Samuel, and Celie’s children along with a woman from Africa, Tashi, who is married to Adam, return home. In the movie, Albert helped get them back whereas in the movie he didn’t really do anything aside from send Celie Nettie’s letters.
Shug also comes back in the book and we hear how she reconnected with one of her children whom she had given to her parents to raise. Her parents hadn’t approved of Shug’s life and so she hadn’t been around them before they died but she says reconnecting with one of her children gave her a new love and appreciation for her parents. In the movie, Shug’s dad is the local reverend and we see them have this moment in the end of the movie where they hug but that wasn’t in the book at all.
Evolving faith/the title
The book starts with Celie writing letters to God, but once she knows Nettie is alive, she starts writing to her instead of God. In the book we hear about the Christian missionaries’ beliefs, as well as the religion of the Olinka who have a Roofleaf they honor. And Celie starts the book with the standard idea of God, but both Celie and Nettie change how they see God as the book goes on. They see God as something that can be found all around us and is in the beauty of nature and human kindness. There is a line where Shug is talking to Celie about God saying,
“Listen, God love everything you love – and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God love admiration.
You saying God vain? I ast.
Naw, she say. Not vain, just wanting to share a good thing. I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.
What it do when it pissed off? I ast.
Oh, it make something else. People think pleasing God is all God care about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.”
I love that in a book with so much sadness and heavy topics, there is also so much beauty. And despite bad things that happen, the belief that God wants to please us and when we don’t notice the things meant to please us, God tries again to get our attention with something else beautiful.
I love the idea of God being nature as well. In the forward written by Walker in 2006 she says of her ancestors, “They would have realized that, in essence, the one God/Goddess that proved sturdy enough to be in Africa with them, on the slave ship, and also with them in Mississippi and New York, was Nature.”
She also talks about Celie’s suffering as being critical to her spiritual awakening and she says, “More than thirty years later, it still puzzles me that The Color Purple is so infrequently discussed as a book about God. About “God” versus “the God image.” After all, the protagonist Celie’s first words are “Dear God.” Everything that happens during her life, spanning decades, is in relation to her growth in understanding this force. I remember attempting to explain the necessity of her trials and tribulations to a skeptical fan. We grow in our understanding of what “God/Goddess” means and is by the intensity of our suffering, and what we are able to make of it, I said. As far as I can tell, I added… And though we may be confused, even traumatized, as Celie is, by their historical, social, and psychological configuration, if we persevere we may, like her, eventually settle into amazement: that by some unfathomable kindness we have received just the right keys we need to unlock the deepest, darkest dungeons of our emotional and spiritual bondage, and to experience our much longed for liberation and peace.”
At a later point in the book Nettie writes, “God is different to us now, after all these years in Africa. More spirit than ever before, and more internal. Most people think he has to look like something or someone—a roofleaf or Christ—but we don’t. And not being tied to what God looks like, frees us.”
I also love how we get this second story in the book about what is happening with Nettie. The stories shared from her time in Africa were so interesting and also very sad. But when she sees the African coast for the first time, Nettie writes, “Did I mention my first sight of the African coast? Something struck in me, in my soul, Celie, like a large bell, and I just vibrated. Corrine and Samuel felt the same. And we kneeled down right on deck and gave thanks to God for letting us see the land for which our mothers and fathers cried—and lived and died—to see again.”
They also talk about how the tribe had sold some of their people into slavery, but the tribe doesn’t address it or if they do they don’t think it is a big deal. Later, when Samuel is talking to Nettie about what a waste it was to be missionaries in Africa we read, “The Africans never asked us to come, you know. There’s no use blaming them if we feel unwelcome. It’s worse than unwelcome, said Samuel. The Africans don’t even see us. They don’t even recognize us as the brothers and sisters they sold. Oh, Samuel, I said. Don’t. But you know, he had started to cry. Oh Nettie, he said. That’s the heart of it, don’t you see. We love them. We try every way we can to show that love. But they reject us. They never even listen to how we’ve suffered. And if they listen they say stupid things. Why don’t you speak our language? they ask. Why can’t you remember the old ways? Why aren’t you happy in America, if everyone there drives motorcars?
Book vs Movie
As I said at the start of this, I loved this book so much! The movie, however, was not nearly as powerful. Too much time was spent showing Nettie and Celie when they were together as girls. I get they do this so that you feel the impact of her letters being kept away and the impact of their reunion at the end all the more. But it felt too obviously manipulative. Despite some great performances, there was just something lacking in this movie. I gave it three stars so it’s not like I hated it. But I don’t plan to ever watch it again.
I am so excited for the musical version and hope it will be even better than the 80’s movie. I don’t know what the play is like, if it is more based on the book or the movie, but I am hoping they take from the book more.
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