The Epistolary Structure of The Color Purple

By Elizabeth Cali

One of the signature characteristics of Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple is that Walker writes it as an epistolary novel, or a novel structured as a series of letters.

The main character Celie’s story, develops through a series of letters, opening with many letters from Celie to God, and later unfolding through letters exchanged between Celie and her sister, Nettie. It is the novel’s employment of the epistolary structure that brings about one of the book’s many key achievements: it foregrounds and emphasizes the interior and psychological experiences of a black woman character and the intimate exchanges between black women.

The letters provide insight into Celie’s thoughts, preoccupations, realizations, and desires, constructing the nuance of her character through her thoughts as well as her acts.