Why is it called ‘The Color Purple?’


Alice Walker’s renowned novel, The Color Purple, has left an enduring impact ever since its initial publication in 1982. With a fresh cinematic adaptation featuring Taraji P. Henson, a rekindled curiosity has emerged, delving into the underlying significance encapsulated within the book’s enigmatic title.

This isn’t the inaugural instance of The Color Purple gracing the silver screen; back in 1985, Steven Spielberg helmed an adaptation that, despite its brilliance, faced notable Oscars snubbery the subsequent year. Fast forward to 2023, where the latest rendition draws inspiration from the 2005 musical, casting Fantasia Barrino as Celie, reprising her role from her stint in the musical back in 2007.

Echoing the novel’s trajectory, the film(s) chronicles Celie’s journey, an African-American woman navigating the challenging landscape of the 1900s South. Celie’s early life is marred by harrowing experiences of sexual abuse, racial prejudice, and trauma. However, as the narrative unfolds, Celie undergoes a transformative arc, cultivating self-love, confidence, and independence. The Color Purple, though a challenging narrative, has faced censorship due to its raw portrayal of dark themes. Yet, amidst its controversial nature, many readers have found solace and inspiration within its pages over the years.


But what does the title, The Color Purple, really signify?

Towards the story’s denouement, Shug, a pivotal character, imparts wisdom to Celie, remarking on the significance of acknowledging the color purple in nature. This moment becomes the most explicit reference tying to the title within the novel itself.

In a 2016 Q&A session with Early Bird Books, Alice Walker shed light on the title’s significance and her personal connection to the color purple. Confirming the reference from the passage, she remarked, “It actually could be any color you don’t notice… It speaks to our blindness about the wonder of this place. This earth we live in.” Furthermore, she explained her choice of the color purple, emphasizing its perceived rarity juxtaposed with its omnipresence, lurking in the shadows of various elements.

Over the years, readers have woven diverse interpretations around the title. Early in the novel, Celie expresses her longing for a purple dress, symbolizing royalty. This imagery aligns with Celie’s evolution into a self-assured woman, subtly linking the color to her newfound strength. The 2023 film also hints at this significance, as Nettie tells Celie about their lineage tracing back to African queens, reinforcing the regal connotation of purple (check out the trailer for a glimpse).

Regardless of the defined intent behind the title, one of the captivating aspects of art lies in its subjective interpretation. If The Color Purple invoked a different meaning for you, your perception is entirely valid too!

Catch The Color Purple in theaters starting December 25, 2023.