Plot structure

For a chronology of the events in The Color Purple with approximate dates, see The Color Purple: Synopses and commentaries > Textual help > A chronology of The Color Purple.

Conventional story-telling

The plot of The Color Purple is constructed quite conventionally, moving from a dramatic opening through a series of rising actions dealing with conflict and endeavour towards a conclusion which is a traditional ‘happy ending’.

Melodramatic elements

Some critics have suggested that the novel’s plot resembles that of a classic Victorian melodrama and there are certainly elements that suggest this might be so:

  • The story begins with the breakup of a family and ends with a family reunion
  • A young virgin is seduced and ‘ruined’ by a wicked stepfather who takes her illegitimate children away from her and withholds her family inheritance
  • Mother and children are separated and ‘lost’ to one another for many years, then reunited in happier circumstances than could ever have been imagined
  • Loving sisters are forced to part and are ‘lost’ to one another for years, then eventually restored to one another in spite of treachery and deceit on the part of a villainous man
  • Virtue is rewarded when sisters triumph over hardship and injustice, before being rewarded with an unexpected inheritance
  • Brute force is pitted against love and friendship; love and friendship triumph.

Use of coincidence and stereotype

In addition, much of the action of the novel depends on coincidence and stereotypical characterisation: 

  • Nettie is conveniently befriended by the adoptive parents of Celie’s children
  • Samuel happens to have been a good friend of Fonso (Pa), which is improbable given their respective characters and lifestyles, but means that Samuel knows the secret of the sisters’ parentage
  • Fonso is a stereotypically evil stepfather, a fraud and a cheat
  • Albert is dramatically changed into a reformed character at the end of the novel
  • Corinne dies repentant after all her false suspicions. Her timely passing allows Nettie to marry Samuel
  • The sisters inherit their rightful property just in time to give Celie a place to develop her Folkspants Unlimited company
  • When the missionary family returns to America shortly afterwards, they have a ready-made home waiting for them
  • The telegram with false news of Nettie’s death at sea is a useful means of ensuring that her homecoming is even more of a happy surprise for her sister Celie.
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