Rhetoric in Alice Walker’s “The Color Purple” Essay (Book Review)
Updated: Nov 2nd, 2020
Alice Walker convincingly uses her step-grandmother’s and her own experiences of living in the African-American community to show her readers the ills of the society, which is still rife with violence, racism, and gender discrimination. The Color Purple is concerned with the issue of self-expression of African-American women and how it is influenced by suffocating social norms imposed on them and discrimination that was endemic in the rural South (Udoette, 2014). Walker effectively employs the rhetorical appeals of pathos and ethos, making her attempt to convince her audience that the patriarchal system of oppression has to be dismantled extremely successfully.
This paper aims to present a rhetorical analysis of The Color Purple. It will include the author’s use of rhetorical tools such as ethos, logos, and pathos. Moreover, the paper will explore the organization of the novel, its style, arrangement, and Walker’s purpose for writing it.
The Color Purple is an epistolary novel written by a Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, Alice Walker, in 1982 (Stanisoara, 2016). The book beautifully depicts the realities of life of African-American women living in the southern United States in an era of internalized racism. The author is driven by the desire to combine “the struggle for Black citizens’ civil rights and the struggle for women’s rights in African-American community and family” (Udoette, 2014, p. 74). Being an important member of the Civil Rights Movement, Walker tries to draw attention to second class citizenship in the United States by bringing the Civil Rights perspective into her book. The writer is especially concerned with African-American women’s self-expression and how it is affected by violence, racism, and gender discrimination in the rural South (Udoette, 2014).
Walker is a black female writer who is interested in battling the cultural stereotypes of black women. By giving a voice to female consciousness in The Color Purple, the writer tries to make women more visible, thereby promoting a dialogue that can serve as an avenue for resolving some of the most important gender issues. According to Udoette (2014), Walker’s desire to improve the female experience initiated a writing approach that “seeks to foster unity, peace, and progress in the black community in America” (p. 76). The writer rejects the demands of a society marked by indifference to problems of black women.
The book delivers its messages through letters written by two characters—Celie and Nettie. The characters are two young African-American sisters. It can be argued that Walker’s purpose for writing her novel is to bring a personal perspective to sexual oppression. She does so with the help of the book’s narrator—Celie, whose ignorance in the world’s affairs underscores her tendency to think in personal rather than political categories (Shilpa & Banerji, 2012). Taking into consideration the fact that The Color Purple comes on the heels of the Civil Rights Movement, it can be argued that she holds an assumption that her audience is familiar with the social and political milieu of the era. Moreover, Walker’s potential readers have to be mature enough to understand the pain and hardships experienced by the main character of the novel.
By exploring the theme of personal liberation from a post-slavery framework of thought in American society, Walker appeals to the values that are shared by her audience. These values are encapsulated in the desire to transform the current society into one that would be characterized by equal opportunities for all its members regardless of their gender and race. Particularly, she aims to create a consciousness-raising movement to reclaim the suppressed rights of black women.
It can be argued that the purpose of Walker’s appeals to her audience is to instill a sense of pride and confidence in them. The writer skillfully uses rhetorical appeals of pathos and logos in her novel, thereby creating an effective argument for the liberation movement. The novel is fiction; therefore, Walker cannot use ethos to convince her readers of her credibility. However, the writer relies on her personal experience to serve as logical evidence supporting her argument (Clarke, n.d.). Considering that Walker was born in 1994 and grew up in a similar time and circumstances that her characters did, it can be said that she is perfectly eligible to share experiences of black women with her readers (Clarke, n.d.). On this basis, her assertion that “a girl is nothing to herself” (Talif & Sedehi, 2014, p. 427) sounds even more convincing.
Moreover, the main character of The Color Purple is based on the writer’s step-grandmother. Thus her mannerisms and modes of thinking are convincing and authentic. Interestingly enough, this authenticity was not recognized by an editor of a Black women’s magazine who argued that “Black people don’t talk like that” (Clarke, n.d.). Nonetheless, the realistic nature of African-American women in the novel helped its reader better relate to the black community’s struggles in the early 1900s.
In The Color Purple, Walker sets the stage by presenting her readers with Celie’s letter to God. The writer skillfully employs pathos to make her audience feel the angst of the novel’s protagonist that was caused by a traumatic experience of rape. The character cannot come to terms with repetitive abuse from her step-father, Albert. Therefore, she confides in God her secret, which cannot be revealed to anyone because of her abuser, who once said to her, “you better not never tell anybody but God. It’d kill your mammy” (Walker, 2003, p. 3). The Walker manages to appall her readers by closely familiarizing them with two-pronged violence that causes physical and emotional damage. Albert constantly inflicts emotional suffering on Celie by not treating her as a human being and showing complete disregard for her feelings.
He tries to emotionally separate the girl from her right to pain and indignation by telling her to “get used to it” (Walker, 2003, p. 3). Unfortunately, Celie, who is only a fourteen-year-old girl, “don’t never git used to it” (Walker, 2003, p. 3). Adding to Walker’s ethos appeals, she makes the girl’s abuser a person she considers to be her father, which shows that she is not afraid to use heavy ammo of persuasion in an attempt to convince her readers. The ending of the novel reveals a worthy example of a skillful application of pathos. Nettie’s return reunites Celie’s family, allowing her to write to God that even though she is fairly old, “I think this the youngest us ever felt” (Walker, 2003, p. 295). It allows the reader to make a vicarious journey through the character’s life to better understand her journey’s pain and importance. Sofia’s struggles caused by her volatile relationships with her husband and patriarchal society, in general, provide another layer to Walker’s appeal to emotions.
Walker uses letter writing as a method of conveying her characters’ desire to escape their oppressive environments. There are three types of letters in the epistolary novel: Celie’s letters to her sister and God, and Nettie’s letters to Celie (Talif & Sedehi, 2014). Even though appeals to logos are scarce in the novel, the work’s organization might help the readers follow through its plot.
In terms of invention, Walker uses the best means of persuasion in her arsenal. The writer goes through a long-lasting germination process before crafting witty sentences. A case in point is the simple and elegant string of words describing Celie’s fear of man, in which she states, “I don’t even look at mens. That’s the truth. I look at women, tho, cause I’m not scared of them” (Walker, 2003, p. 8). Walker painstakingly finds new ways to persuade her audience and familiarize it with the horrible experience of marginalization. Therefore, it can be said that her rhetorical approach to writing conforms with the invention as a traditional canon of rhetoric.
Walker adheres to the canon of style in her writing. She employs a confessional and unrestrained tone to voice her character’s concerns and desires. Such use of style turns writing into a collection of unedited thoughts of young African-American girls who seek to escape oppression in its numerous forms. The writer follows five virtues of style; however, she adds her spin to correctness.
Instead of writing according to the English language rules, Walker opts for Ebonics to provide her readers with more authentic experience. It can be argued that by introducing grammatical mistakes into her writing, she strives for establishing credibility or ethos. Walker utilizes her narrative to dispel presumed biases against the African-American community. By placing her characters in choking situations, she evokes a strong emotional response that develops and evolves as the novel progresses.
In terms of delivery, Walkers opts for historical fiction. Being written in epistolary form, the novel results from frank conversations of women isolated by the society and norms imposed on them. Even though the writer delivers her message in the forms of letters, which, arguably, helps her show limitations of African-American women’s lives, it is non-rigid. In words of Robbins, “the subject is always in process; she is not fixed, but always developing because she is always on trial, being tested against the various contexts in which she has her being” (as cited in Talif & Sedehi, 2014, p. 430).
Alice Walker relies on her step-grandmother’s and her own experiences of living in the African-American community to convince her readers of society’s ills, which is still rife with violence, racism, and gender discrimination. The writer skillfully employs the rhetorical appeals of pathos and ethos, making her attempt to convince her audience that the patriarchal system of oppression has to be dismantled extremely successfully. The use of Ebonics is especially effective in making Walker’s audience to think in personal rather than political categories.
Clarke, P. M. (n.d.). The Color Purple by Alice Walker: Rationale. Web.
Shilpa, S., & Banerji, N. (2012). The shadowed identity: A study of Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. Academic Research International, 2(2), 724-729.
Stanisoara, C. M. (2016). Alice Walker’s colors of identity. Journal of Literature and Art Studies, 6(9), 989-995.
Talif, R., & Sedehi, K. T. (2014). Characters in process in The Color Purple. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 118(1), 425-432.
Udoette, M. S. (2014). Female consciousness in Alice Walker’s the Color Purple. International Journal on Studies in English Language and Literature, 2(1), 74-80.
Walker, A. (2003). The Color Purple. New York, NY: Mariner Books.
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