How Is The Epistolary Form Used in The Color Purple by Alice Walker
“Voice is all about your originality and having the courage to express it.” – Rachelle GardnerThrough the use of Epistolary, Black English and Standard American English, Alice Walker distinguishes unique voices between the two writers in the Color Purple.Epistolary is define as a novel composed primarily of letters. Letter writing is a type of novel writing used more consistently by women. The letters allow authors to express feelings and share reflections. From the Journal of Graduate School of Social Sciences, an article describes “epistolary as a powerful genre for women writers interested in using novel to examine modern society.”
Alice Walker had the aim of exposing almost everything, especially the status, emotions, sexuality and role, of women in their societies through the epistolary technique in their works. Epistolary adds a level a realness that omniscient narrators cannot fully express. The realness that is created in The Color Purple connects the reader and writer intimately. When an author uses epistolary, he/she has the ability to create key distinctions between the characters.In The Color Purple, Alice Walker has a pair of sisters telling their life’s story; Celie is writing her confessions to God and Nettie is writing to her sister. Each sister has their own writing style because they have completely different levels of education. The Color Purple is the process of Celie’s writing herself into being and consciousness.The expressive style for Celie’s letters, which draw heavily upon dialect features of Black English.
Celie writes using a style of English called Black English because she did not receive a good education and had a horrible home life. BE can be defined as a nonstandard form of English spoken by uneducated people during the 1900’s. Celie begins writing because in her environment she has no voice. Celie’s lack of voice gives purpose to the letters which eventually allows her to re-gains a kind of existence and identity. In her earliest letters she wrote to God the naiveté resembles a small child. The letters are short and contain graphic descriptions of Celie’s sexual experiences at the hands of her stepfather. The naiveté is easily seen in how she writes about her experience; it is short, dramatic with blunt detail. Celie’s narrating voice does not change in the novel however how she expresses her thoughts have become more sophisticated. Her letters go from short and choppy to a more elegant paragraph style . Her conjugation of verbs are jumbled. The plural forms of nouns have irregular endings. Celie use several double negatives and her pronouns are non-standard. The words on the pages match the phonetic spelling of speech. Her writing has its own lexicon, grammar (inflections, syntax and rules) and phonology.In contrast to Celie’s naive writing, Nettie has a more mature educated style of writing due to her time spent working with missionaries. Nettie’s letters capture the style and tone of missionary magazines of the early twentieth century, being careful, earnest and scholarly in tone. Celie’s grammar is different from the Standard English that her sister Nettie uses. Netties writing is more educated, has lengthy paragraphs, and uses latinate vocabulary. She sticks to the rigid faculty of Standard American English.Standard American English is a version of the English language used in professional communication in the United States and taught in American schools.
In Celie’s letters, “Walker makes extensive use of idioms and vocabulary that are particularly found in the rural South of the United States.”Walker creates a contrast between African-American vernacular language and the rigid linguistic style of Standard English and ironically both styles are written by black characters. The difference can be seen in Celie’s flexibility of language, supposedly an inferior form of speech whereas Nettie sticks the more rigid codes of Standard American English. Alice Walker uses epistolary to grow Celie through the book and also uses it to create contrast between Celie and Nettie. Through the eyes of Celie, Walker presents such a realistic picture of the conditions of the black that no-one can even think of any kind of exaggeration.
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