I am drawn to the ambiguity of the title, “The Color Purple.” Portrayals of physical abuse against women pervade the text, so I was trying to make connections with this particular theme. However, I found that there are at least three different uses of the color purple: an expression of confidence, a mark of violence, and a symbol of underappreciated beauty.
The details about clothing in the novel are, to an extent, congruent to the confidence and freedom that the wearer has. The scene in which Celie buys clothes with Kate, Mr. ____’s sister, Celie states, “[Kate] go with me in the store. I think what color Shug Avery would wear. She like a queen to me so I say to Kate, Somethin purple, maybe little red in it too. But us look and look and no purple. Plenty red but she say, Naw, he won’t want to pay for red. Too happy lookin’. We got choice brown, maroon or navy blue. I say blue” (21). The limited choices of color parallel the limitations that society set up against some women in the novel. Celie compares Shug Avery to royalty in “like a queen” which emphasizes the difference in the two women’s characters. The difference in their character at the very beginning marks the starting point of Celie’s character development.
Purple as a mark of violence is presented in the passage in which Celie describes Sofia after the police beat her. Celie states, “When I see Sofia I don’t know why she still alive. They crack her skull, they crack her ribs. They tear her nose loose on one side. They blind her in one eye. She swole from head to foot. Her tongue the size of my arm, it stick out tween her teef like a piece of rubber. She can’t talk. And she just about the color of a eggplant” (88). The diction thread of damage in “crack,” “tear,” “blind,” and “swole,” evokes discomfort and sympathy for Sofia’s pain. To follow the image of the color purple, I wanted to know how a bruise forms. Drawing from a Wikipedia source, it states, “A bruise (layman's term), also called a contusion (medical term), is a [mass of blood] tissue in which capillaries and sometimes venules are damaged by trauma, allowing blood to seep or hemorrhage into the surrounding interstitial tissues” (Wikipedia). Purple is the color that presents proof.
While “The Color Purple” may represent the issue of violence against women, there are also other ways that purple is used in the novel so far. When Shug and Celie talk about God, Shug says, “God love everything you love—and a mess of stuff you don’t. But more than anything else, God love admiration…I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it” (197). This passage relates to the idea that God is found in nature. Shug’s view of God differs from that of Celie’s. At this point of the novel, Celie stops writing to God and starts writing to Nettie. This shift in Celie’s audience signifies her spiritual growth and a different understanding of God. The passage inspires gratitude and reminds the reader that there is beauty amid what seems ordinary that ought to be noticed. Celie’s kindness parallels the idea of “the [unnoticed] color purple in a field somewhere”.