The Color Purple: Spirituality and Religion

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Alice Walker states that ‘The Colour Purple' remains for her the "theological work examining the journey from the religious back to the spiritual". How successful is she in revealing her purpose to the reader?

In the preface to ‘the Colour Purple' Walker identifies her religious development as the inspiration for her novel and labels religion and spirituality as the principle themes in the book. There are a number of principle characters who complete this journey however in many instances the religious element of the novel is overshadowed by other prominent themes such as personal development, female relationships and racial issues. These must be taken into consideration when assessing Walker's success in delivering her theological message to her readers.

Religion is an extremely broad term, in the context of ‘The Colour Purple, Walker's idea of religion is church based Christianity in which God is presented through the bible as a white man. Although the church is placed in a black community, the teachings of the church are derived from the teachings of white people. Celie discovers throughout the novel that she, like Shug, can not find God in this kind of church that is based on patriarchal religion but searches for him elsewhere. Walker's personal concept of spirituality is pantheism, the idea that God is in all living things within nature including people. Celie learns from Shug and through her own development that God is within her and she benefits far more from her own spirituality than from the structured religion within the community.

Celie is not the only character to undergo a change in her religious outlook and complete the journey "from the religious to the spiritual". Nettie also is brought up as a devout believer in the Christian church however throughout her time in Africa and with the help of the Olinka people she discovers a new more "internal" form of religion similar to Celie's new found spirituality. The journey...
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