A Comparison between the Film, The Color Purple, and Alice Walker’s Original Work

By Trudy A. Martinez

The film, The Color Purple, and Alice Walker’s original work begins with a suppressive tone. The utterance: “You better not never tell nobody but God. It’d kill your mammy” consummates the suppressive tone. This declaration serves to qualify the guilt and shame Celie feels. Walker’s qualification of Celie’s feelings is instant, whereas the film suffers. In Celie’s first letter, when she addresses God, she writes “I am.” Then she crosses out these words and proceeds with “I have always been a good girl.” Her feelings of shame and guilt surface by way of her indecisive expression of the language. Even though Celie is not responsible for what happens because she has no control over her situation, nevertheless, she feels guilty for what her daddy forces upon her. Fear and ignorance keep her quiet, enduring her dying mother’s screams and cusses. Conversely, the film does not bestow the same impact or even make clear Celie’s personal dilemma.

The beauty of the color of purple in the first sequence as two young girls are seen happily singing and playing in a field of tall purple flowers masks Celie’s dilemma. The scene merely emphasizes the closeness of two young sisters, leaving questions concerning Celie’s pregnant condition unanswered. Consequently, the subtleness of the opening sequence renders the incident of rape exposed by Celie’s first letter to God as inconsequential. When she is seen giving birth to the baby with her young sister assisting, her father grows impatient and scorns her for taking so long.

Treating Celie with impatience and regarding her as unworthy of consideration seriously hampers her progress as a person. The actions of the father and later Mr._______ repress Celie and turn into the main hindrance to her happiness. An impatient tone exercises power over her. Celia’s ignorance and fear renders her powerless against abuse. She grows into an acceptance of her fate because she is made to feel ignorant, ugly, inferior, and unworthy of consideration; and therefore, she became a prime candidate for male domination.

While Celie is kept under male dominance, she works hard to ensure Nettie’s independence. Nettie does not feel Celie is ignorant. Nettie teaches her sister everything she learns and Celie promises Nettie she will take care of her with God’s help. In the original work, education is the key to Nettie’s independence. Later, education becomes the key to Celie’s independence as well.

In the film however, education is not an issue until after Nettie comes to live with Celie and Mr.______. When a clue arises that Mr. _______ is about to make a move on Nettie, education becomes significant because Celie needs to be able to read and write to communicate with Nettie if they are forced to separate. Celie’s life is an education process in itself. As she meets new people, she learns from them.

Celie learns from Sofia love has strength and the capability of conquering the opposition. Sofia’s vitality exposes the weakness of Mr.______- She stands her ground against him and gives Harpo the courage to stand up for himself. Sofia’s non acceptance of male dominance serves to contrast Celie’s acceptance of her inferior slave-like position. Shug Avery, Albert’s mistress, helps Celie to gain the self-confidence she lacks by encouraging her to make difficult choices while Shug serves as a living example to her. Shug says what she wants and does what she wants without fear of reprisal because she insists on her own right to pleasure. Her reason for not marrying Albert, even though she loves him, is because “he be week”.
When Celie learns through Sofia and Shug that Albert is a weak person, she does not take action to eradicate her circumstances until she learns Mr.______ took away years of joy from her life by keeping her sister’s letters from her. This spiteful action leaves Celie with the courage to speak out and act on her own behalf. As she learns from life’s experiences, she allows herself to grow and educates herself to life itself. Ironically, after her stepfather’s death, Celie gains financial freedom as well as freedom from male dominance.

Freedom from male dominance in the original work is stressed through a learning process of both Albert and Celie, this is apparent through Albert’s acceptance of Celie as a person and his acceptance of learning the backwardness of his ways as they sit together “sewing, and talking, and smoking.” The film, on the other hand, did not portray this joint learning aspect. Instead, Mr.______ is seen in the field at a distance walking a mule, a symbol of stubbornness that depicts an unwillingness to change.