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The Color Purple

  The publication of The Color Purple transformed Alice Walker from an indu- bitably serious black writer whose fiction belonged to a tradition of gritty, if occasionally "magical," realism into a popular novelist, with all the perquisites and drawbacks attendant on that position. Unlike either The Third Life of Grange Copland (1970) or Meridian (1976), The Color Purple gained imme- diate and widespread public acceptance, winning both the Pulitzer Prize and the American Book Award for 1982-83. At the same time, however, it generated immediate and widespread critical unease over what appeared to be manifest flaws in its composition. Robert Towers, writing in the New York Review of Books, concluded that on the evidence of The Color Purple "Alice Walker still has a lot to learn about plotting and structuring what is clearly 6 intended to be a realistic novel." His opinion was shared by many reviewers, who pointed out variously that in the last third of the book the narrator-protagonist Celie and her friends are propelled toward a fairytale happy ending with more velocity than credibility; that the letters from Nettie, with their disconcertingly literate depictions of life in an African village, intrude into the middle of the main action with little apparent motivation or warrant; and that the device of the letters to God is especially unrealistic inasmuch as it foregoes the concretizing details that traditionally have given the epistolatory form its peculiar verisimilitude: the secret writing-place,the cache, the ruses to enable posting letters, and especially the letters received in return.

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