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Explore the opinions of critics you have read and present your own view of the success of 'The Color Purple' as an epistolary novel.

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Introduction

Kate Salmon Bell Hooks views Celie's letter writing as unbelievable: ' one of the most fantastical happenings in 'The Color Purple'. Henderson, however, sees it as 'a meaning of structuring her (Celie's) identity'. Explore the opinions of critics you have read and present your own view of the success of 'The Color Purple' as an epistolary novel. The role of epistolary form is very important to the novel 'The Color Purple'. It conveys some of the key ideas of the author and gives the reader a more interesting insight into the main characters' minds. The epistolary novel was popular in the 18th century with writers like Richardson but it was an unusual choice for Walker at her time of writing. She may have chosen this style to link back to Richardson who used women as his central characters. Epistolary is quite different to the format that other authors write in and this is why it has caused controversy among critics. In this essay I will look at Bell Hooks argument against epistolary form and try to challenge it with my own personal perception and by using other critics as well as Henderson to support my ideas. Bell Hooks has definite strong arguments against the novel being in epistolary form. She believes that the use of epistolary makes the novel unrealistic. 'Celie's letter writing appears to be a simple matter-of-fact gesture when it is really one fantastical happenings in The Color Purple.' The first point to consider when discussing this argument is Celie. In the patriarchal society that she lives in she has many obstacles in her way: her gender, race and social status. ...read more.

Middle

Hooks is quite patronizing to Celie to say that she couldn't have done it. The book is not meant to be realistic but as the some of the great slave narratives were secretly written despite the circumstances. One of the key points of Celie's character is that she is a resourceful survivor. ' I maybe black, I maybe poor but I'm here.' Other critics such as Katz believe that some other disadvantages of the form were apparent from the outset. The characters speak to us and we therefore we get a small point of view of what is happening. Only the character's (writer's) point of view is portrayed and no other. Walker uses the novel's epistolary (letter-writing) form to emphasize the power of communication. Celie writes letters to God, and Nettie writes letters to Celie. Both sisters gain strength from their letter writing, but they are saved only when they receive responses to their letters. Therefore, although writing letters enables self-expression and confession, it requires a willing audience, which enables the sisters to be empowered. One moment that shows use the start of Celie's self expression is her sexual awakening. ' Then my pussy lips be black. Then inside look like a wet rose.' When Celie never responds to Nettie's letters, Nettie feels lost since Celie is her only audience. An example of this is when Nettie grows disillusioned with her missionary work because people will not listen to her and because the Olinka villagers are stubborn. Only after Nettie returns home to Celie, an audience guaranteed to listen, does she feel fulfilled and freed. This clearly shows how the purpose so letter writing enables the sisters to become close together and united. ...read more.

Conclusion

Overall I feel that this style creates an impact on the reader since we hear the story through Celie and Nettie's voices. We don't have to pass through the eyes of a narrator of any kind. We are reading letters that go through sisters that have confidence in each other. We therefore see the same things they do, only that we have a slight advantage over Nettie; we read Celie's letters to God. When Celie writes to Nettie and Nettie writes to Celie, they both think neither will answer. Celie and Nettie promise to write each other but Celie never receives any letters. I think that use of epistolary in The Color Purple is excellent as we go on an emotional journey with the character. I disagree with Bell Hooks, as there are many realistic points of view in the novel. She is quite narrow-minded and seems to look into the novel too much, picking out the slightest imperfection in the novel. I agree with Henderson, as it is a means of structuring her identity, as we are able to experience their thoughts, which we could not so as effectively with another literary form. We as the reader experience strong emotional feelings that enable us to understand the characters, themes and story line a lot more clearly. It has many techniques that other literary forms could not portray so well. The main thing that epistolary does is make the reader delve into the mind of the character and makes them experience the emotion of the characters from sadness at the beginning to joy towards the end. ' And us so happy. Matter of fact, I think this the youngest us ever felt.' ...read more.

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