The critiques for The Color Purple question the truthfulness of the novel and the work’s ability to accurately portray Celie and the other black characters. I have a problem with these critiques, especially those of Trudier Harris and Eugenia Collier, which condemn works such as The Color Purple on the grounds that the work displays the black culture in a poor light. While the book does not portray profoundly educated or moral characters, one cannot say that it does not portray any truth at all. And even if it does not portray truth, does not Alice Walker have the liberty, as an author and therefore an artist or a creator, to write what she wants?
Trudier Harris writes early on in her critique “On The Color Purple, Stereotypes, and Silence” that the character of Celie is loosely based around Walker’s great grandmother, a positive role model for Walker in that the woman was able to overcome her hardships and move on in life. Harris recognizes that Walker writes the novel to “liberate” her ancestor from her horrible past: “In reparation to a woman who had suffered such pain, Walker has explained: ‘I liberated her from her own history…I wanted her to be happy’” (Harris 157). However, Harris critiques Walker’s depiction of Celie and her great grandmother, claiming that the depiction is a “clash between history and fiction” that causes problems within the novel. I do not understand why Walker’s portrayal of Celie has to be truthful at all, especially if Walker’s real intentions for writing the novel are to simply free her great grandmother from her history. She can accomplish her goal, “liberation” of this important figure in her life, without a completely accurate character description; Walker can portray her characters in any light that she finds agreeable to her own perception of what she wants her novel to say.
Eugenia Collier’s response to The Color Purple, from “The Black Person in Art: How should S/he Be Portrayed (Part II),” seems to be even more of a problem that Harris’ because it generalizes black writers and culture under one identity and criticizes those, like Alice Walker, who do not stick to the generalizations or the “good” stereotypes. She claims that “Freedom is sacred” (Gates 318) and then says that “The artist can create truthful (not opposite stereotypical) images which will reveal the reasons behind those things which appear to be negative, will reveal our history and our promise for the future, will show our heroes and heroines and unsung ordinary people who, in the adventure of being black, have not only endured but also triumphed” (Gates 320). Collier basically negates her first statement on freedom in categorizing what the black writer can and cannot say. In a way her view of the role of black literature further prevents black writers from achieving equality or from writing just as freely as white authors. Although Collier might want to see truth and characters that depict the black culture in a certain way, Walker and other writers may not want to write novels that satisfy Collier’s requirements. And these writers have the freedom to write as they choose, no matter what racial background they come from. If Walker wants to portray Celie and the other black characters in an unconventional and seemingly controversial light, she is allowed to do so.