Alice Walker's The Color Purple

By Harold Bloom | Go to book overview

TAMAR KATZ


"Show Me How to Do Like You": Didacticism and Epistolary
Form in The Color Purple

Show me how to do like you
Show me how to do it.

STEVIE WONDER

Beginning with its epigraph, Alice Walker marks off The Color Purple's territory and purpose: it is a novel that intends to teach its readers, and it is also a novel about how that instruction might take place. The Color Purple's central character, Celie, serves as an example of the ideal learning process. Poor, oppressed, miserable, she learns to shed the yoke of patriarchal oppression in its many forms—in marriage, in love, in economics, in religion. As readers we are, in a sense, to learn from Celie how it is done by seeing it done.

The Color Purple is an epistolary novel: a series of letters from Celie to God, Nettie to Celie, Celie to Nettie, and finally Celie to God, the stars, trees, sky, peoples, Everything. Through its epistolary structure The Color Purple establishes two juxtaposed structures of instruction—direct address, or persuasion, and indirect: the use of the example or the document. The relation between these two structures inside the boundaries of the novel echoes and reenacts the inherently destabilized project of the novel as a whole, indeed of any overtly didactic fiction. The Color Purple must adopt a

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From Alice Walker, edited by Harold Bloom. © 1988 Tamar Katz.

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