The Color Purple: Religious and philosophical context


Alice Walker has identified her own religious development as a major influence on The Color Purple and has described the novel as a theological work which traces a journey, undertaken by a number of principal characters, from conventional religious belief to a more universal spiritual awareness.

In context, Walker’s presentation of religion in the novel is a church-based, patriarchal Christianity, practised within black communities in America’s rural south and also in Africa. The teachings of the church in both countries are derived from the teachings of white people, even though, in the African context, they are delivered by black missionaries. God is perceived, in both locations, as male and white and a father-figure with absolute authority and power.

More on Christian patriarchy: Christian patriarchy is the belief that God has ordained a specific family order which must be followed. The husband leads, the wife submits and the children obey. This is regarded as the natural order ordained by God. Men and women have different roles to play, the man as protector and provider, the woman as carer and home maker. Women must submit to male authority, daughters obeying their fathers and wives obeying their husbands. Male leadership in the home carries over into the church, where only men are permitted to be leaders or elders. The belief is that both church and family prosper when God’s created roles are fulfilled.     
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