The Color Purple by Alice Walker is one of the most defining novels in African American fiction. The story follows the life of Celie, an African American woman living in the South during the Jim Crow era. She writes in a series of letters to God, maintaining a voice of sincerity and belief in a higher power, despite the adversities she faces every day and her own inner doubts about herself – caused especially at the hands of the men around her. She falls in love with a woman, a controversial topic even today, and through Shug Avery she finds her sense of self-worth and her identity; eventually, she also finds her dear sister Nettie is still alive, and addresses her letters to Nettie.
The women spend a lot of time navigating men’s rules. Celie tiptoes around her stepfather and Albert; Sofia is let down by Harpo because she won’t conform; Shug defies all norms by leaving her children and pursuing her singing career and happiness; Nettie has to find a balance in the Olinka tribe as a woman who is not Samuel’s wife, and not the children’s mother.
Shug’s singing career garners her a lifestyle of her choice. Her song for Celie makes Celie feel like she is worth something for once. Squeak finds her own identity by singing. Nettie notes that women workers in Africa sing even after a hard day’s work. It is a way of life, a community, an identity, and a source of strength and kinship for many in the novel.
Shug tells Celie that God enjoys it when people enjoy themselves. She thinks it angers God if we walk by the color purple in a field and ignore it. It is a thing of beauty that he made for humans to enjoy, so we should. Similarly, indulging in the happiness of her relationship with Shug, Celie finds beauty and connects with the spirit of God.
The letters are a lifeline between Celie and the world around her, and between Celie and Nettie. It keeps their relationship alive. Celie finds purpose through writing her thoughts down on paper, to make sense of her life as it is. Nettie also finds purpose through updating Celie on her own well-being, along with educating Celie about Africa, the Olinka, and history.