1. 2."Alice in Spielbergland"and "Steven in Walkerland": Reassessing Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and its Film Adaptation

2."Alice in Spielbergland"and "Steven in Walkerland": Reassessing Alice Walker’s The Color Purple and its Film Adaptation

Raphaël LAMBÉRT 津田塾大学(非)


Although Alice Walker’s 1982 Pulitzer Prize winner The Color Purple has become a milestone in contemporary American literature, it has spurred fierce debates. Controversies developed further in 1986 when famed Hollywood director Steven Spielberg adapted The Color Purple to film. As expected, Spielberg’s adaptation of The Color Purple was severely criticized, either because, like the book, it was perceived as insulting to African American men, or because it modified, toned down, or left aside key elements of the novel such as Shug and Celie’s homosexual relationship. Although Spielberg may have come short of recreating Walker’s story in all its complexity, he nonetheless did justice to the novel and even improved on some of its qualities? most particularly the notion of enchantment so central to The Color Purple.

With The Color Purple, Alice Walker joined a family of writers who use the fairy tale tradition to express the need for the reformation of social characters. Walker embraced this tradition to convey her “womanist” (black feminist) views and to suggest an alternative to the social status quo. Through the character Celie, who epitomizes the suffering of black women victimized by domestic violence and a cruel, white-dominated society, Walker creates a world in reverse where poor, molested black women can triumph. What motivated Spielberg, however, is not the fabulous destiny of a pitiable black girl relayed with feminist undertones, but the well-known, much admired tale of the self-made (wo)man that punctuates Walker’s novel.

This reflection endeavors to show that behind Walker’s progressive, militant, and sometimes subversive discourse, lies a conservative view of the world informed by essential American values such as Capitalism and the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. The celebration of such values is not reprehensible per se, but The Color Purple suggests that if Celie could make it, her community should have been able to do likewise. This logic implies that African Americans alone are accountable for their endemic problems and this is why, this reflection argues, The Color Purple tends to border on historical revisionism: it seems to exculpate America for the sordid conditions of living into which a significant part of the African American community is still thrust.