Banned Books Awareness: “The Color Purple ” by Alice Walker


Written in 1982 by Alice Walker, The Color Purple tells the story of black life during the 1930s in the Southern United States from a female’s perspective. The Pulitzer Prize winning (1983) novel is told in the form of diary entries and correspondence letters over a 30-year period, following Celie Johnson as she struggles through life. What unfolds is a heart-wrenching story of neglect and abuse.

So how can a touching and heartfelt story, admired by millions, be at the mercy of the censor’s axe? The list of charges includes homosexuality, offensive language, and being sexually explicit.

Nearly every year since its publication it has made headlines for literary merit; yet those merits have been shadowed by challenges in schools and academic institutions in numbers I have rarely seen. Since beginning this Awareness series I have never found a book so widely challenged that I had to leave out incidents to discuss because there were just too many to choose from. Pick a year and pick a town and you’re sure to find a case. Here’s just a few.

In 1984 it was decided that an Oakland, California high school honors class was not intellectually mature enough to study the work due to its “sexual and social explicitness, and troubling ideas about race relations, man’s relationship to God, African history, and human sexuality.” A divided Oakland Board of Education finally gave its approval for the book’s use after 9 months of squabbling.

In 1985 it was rejected for purchase by a Hayward, California school’s trustee because of “rough language” and “explicit sex scenes.”

The book was also removed from the shelves of the Newport News, Virginia school library in 1986 because of its “profanity and sexual references”, and was made accessible only to students over 18, or who had written permission from a parent.

1989 public libraries in Saginaw, Michigan saw its removal; as did a summer youth program assignment in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

In the 1990’s it was challenged as optional reading in Ten Sleep, Wyoming schools; and disputed at the New Burn, North Carolina High School because the main character is raped by her stepfather; it was also permanently banned in the Souderton, Pennsylvania School District because it is, according to one administrator, “smut.”

Pomperaug High School in Southbury, Connecticut banned it in 1995 because sexually explicit passages “aren’t appropriate high school reading.” Later that year it was challenged and retained in a Junction City, Oregon high school after months of controversy. Although an alternative assignment was available at the time, the book was still challenged due to language, graphic sexual scenes, and the book’s “negative image of black men.”

Challenged, and eventually retained, at the St. Johns County Schools in St. Augustine, Florida, the Round Rock, Texas Independent High School, and the Northwest High Schools in High Point, North Carolina because it was seen as to explicit and violent.

The Jackson County, West Virginia school libraries removed it in 1997 along with sixteen other titles. The Shawnee School in Lima, Ohio had its turn in 1999 after several parents described its content as “vulgar and X-rated.”

You would think the new millennium would have seen the end to such Dark Age thinking, but in 2002, a Fairfax County, Virginia group called Parents Against Bad Books in Schools challenged it along with seventeen other titles. Burke County schools in Morgantown, North Carolina bowed to parental pressure in 2008 over concerns about the homosexuality, rape, and incest portrayed in the book.

Perhaps it’s due to guilt over a dark period in our nation’s development; or perhaps it’s the realization that despite all of our technological achievements, the sort of depravity depicted in the novel is still alive and well in 21st century society.

We have a shared duty, not just in the roles of writer and reader, but as an intelligent species, to maintain a level of integrity and accuracy with regards to academic pursuits. As Mark Twain once said, “The man who does not read books has no advantage over the man who can’t read them.”

How can silencing the intellectual discussion of rape, incest, violence, and racism be of any service to its victims? Placing these themes in the context of outside characters helps to convey a sense of understanding, and provide comfort in the knowledge that these experiences are not unique.

No one is claiming that it be used as a bedtime story for a 5-year-old, but unless you’ve raised your child in a bubble with the belief that a complex, multi-faceted world doesn’t exist beyond the end of the street, these are subjects that should and need to be dealt with; and by high school a student should have enough intellectual and psychological development to not only deal with it, but to analyze it with logic and reasoning for its artistic and social relevance. That’s all part of learning how to think, act, and live as an adult.

Sources: American Library Association,, Yahoo news

© 2011 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions

*NOTE FROM AUTHOR: Your comments and suggestions are always welcome and appreciated. Please feel free to chime in at the end of then article! I check and reply to all comments daily. Thanks you for your continued support.*

23 thoughts on “Banned Books Awareness: “The Color Purple ” by Alice Walker

  1. AAAAHHH! I found this site through my feed reader, and it's probably the most depressing thing on the internet. When my daughter asks me why books get banned, I'm going to tell her what my mom told me, "Probably because they're awesome".

    • OMG! Just finished this book and I loved It!!!!! But I can still understand why it was banned, there was on scene that did make me kinda uncomfortable, but other then that (and the constant use of f***, which didn’t bother me as much) it really wasn’t that bad, and while I dont think that a school should ban it from their library, I think that it would be a good idea to have parents sign a form saying that their child can read it, for teens under 18. Again LUV THE BOOK!!!! and to any highschoolers whose school banned this book from their library, haha MINE didn’t!!!! :)

      • Amanda: That’s just it, isn’t it? Sometimes things make us uncomfortable when they are forcing us to think or see things through someone else’s eyes. As far as parental permission, I have to admit that in the cases of school libraries it’s sometimes a willing compromise. No one should be able to dictate who can or who can’t handle a book’s contents.

    • Eva: HA HA That’s great. I agree with your mom on that one. 😛
      On a serious note, it is very depressing. I can’t tell you how many times while doing research for this column that I’ve banged my head on the desk in utter futility over some of the reasons these books get challenged.

  2. The last paragraph stated saying, “No one is claiming that it be used as a bedtime story for a 5-year-old, but unless you’ve raised your child in a bubble with the belief that a complex, multi-faceted world doesn’t exist beyond the end of the street, these are subjects that should and need to be dealt with; and by high school a student should have enough intellectual and psychological development to not only deal with it, but to analyze it with logic and reasoning for its artistic and social relevance. That’s all part of learning how to think, act, and live as an adult.”
    ^^^ I COULD NOT AGREE MORE! The truth was spoken. Great page and information.

  3. Wow, how more immature can these people get? They’re making their children ignorant to what’s going on around them. Even Anne Franke’s diary got banned for being too depressing. Oh I’m sorry, I’ll go ask Hitler to make her life happier and full of rainbows. No child should be stopped from reading an interesting book in school just because someone else isn’t comfortable with it. High school is where you learn to grow up anyway.

    • I agree so strongly with you Lake Richard! Banning a book just because someone was uncomfortable with it’s content, is ridiculous. At some point or another, everyone will have to learn to deal with the fact that these horrible things happened back then, so why not learn it through reading a book written by someone who lived through it? That by far, is the best way of learning if you cannot relive it yourself. High School, and even Middle School students these days, are experiencing a lot of violence and bullying inside their schools anyways, let alone what happens outside of school. So what good does banning a book that actually teaches history, and explains how our world got to be the way it is today, do? Nothing, but cause our children to grow ignorant.

  4. I have this movie and I have read the book it’s vary sad I cry everytime I see this movie..women back then should have not been going tthrough that.what got me was how she met her kids at the was beautiful…

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  7. I hope they do ban it because all the kids will read it then. When they read this wonderful book they will see how to be strong how to not treat a woman and what happens when you are hateful

    • There are those who note that censoring a book is the surest way to make it grow in popularity- and sales. John Grisham mirrored those thoughts in an interview over one of his books joining the ranks of America’s Most Banned.

  8. I have read the book for the first time for my A.P English class. I feel people over react when it comes to the content in the book. I feel that you definitely need to be mature but, in my opinion how is Walker suppose to show you the struggles of an African American woman in the south without being specific. I feel if Alice would have not put in the “explicit content” the book would not have been as good. This book was probably one of the best i read.

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  10. Unfortunately, my 8th grader is REQUIRED to read this – – despite the fact that she began crying after reading the first page – – with the rape of Celie by her father and the use of the word “pussy”. Yes, I said it. Wanted to see if the website would “censor” it. And if so….then how can it be okay for a middle school. Sorry – – – Her teacher did not provide a permission slip and although my daugther walked out, her male teacher informed her that she needed to participate, answer various questions, etc.
    Having a meeting with him and the principal – – – and getting district involved if the teacher refuses to provide an alternative assignment. I’m not generally this strict or rigid, but this is NOT the type of literature that should be used in middle school. They don’t even want to discuss what boy they think is cute; do you really think they can have an intellectual conversation about rape and violence against women without leaving the classroom feeling a little victimized themselves?
    I’m okay with high schoolers reading it with parental permission. But NOT middle schoolers.

    • I hope your daughter is okay and it is unfortunate that she was upset. You have every right to protect your daughter from harm in any form.
      It seems as though the situation could have been handled better and you are well within your reasons to request a different assignment; the teacher could have been more understanding of the situation.
      First, what is your school district’s policy on such material? If no permission slip was provided, it may be that one is not required. It mustn’t be automatically assumed that it was done out of carelessness or malice.
      If your daughter isn’t ready for such subjects, that is fine- you know her better than I would. However, I would only object if you felt that no one would be allowed to read it, or similar works, and make that parenting and teaching choice for others, whom are well within their rights to read and learn at their own pace.
      I would be very interested to know what school district this involves and I think both I and other readers would be interested in developments. So often we hear about these incidents after the fact.
      Let us know how the meeting goes.
      I want to thank you for sharing your comments and a very personal situation. I hope your daughter isn’t embarrassed by any of it and that it hasn’t turned her away from reading in general. Sometimes it’s good to know what your personal boundaries are. I remember many classroom assignments at that age that helped inform me of what I liked/didn’t like and what I was comfortable with. Of course, there were the few that were so boring I couldn’t stand it! I’m sure you remember those, too! haha! :)
      If you would also please tell us what is the name of the class, what the assignment was, and what alternatives are suggested it would help to understand.
      I, personally, look forward to hearing back from you.


      Oh, by the way, this particular website would never censor any words, so your testing the water was safe. 😉 I only put on my Moderator hat when this website gets spam or comments become too nasty and degrade to personal insults. Using “pussy” is fine. Hey, it was in the book, so it must be allowed in discussions about the book. :)

      • Thank you, R. Wolf.
        To answer your questions, this is a charter school but it operates under the guidelines of Los Angeles Unified School District. The district is aware and they too, want to know how the meeting turns out – – having that tomorrow (Saturday) with the teacher and principal. The back story was that in December this same teacher showed “12 Years a Slave” – rated R, without obtaining parental consent. That is in direct contradiction to the district’s policies. (My daughter once again decided to leave the class on her own, in the middle of the rape scene). I reached out to him and the principal, thinking that perhaps I had missed the permission slip. I was told that the slip that went home (on the day my daughter was absent) was an “opting out” slip. So essentially, if you didn’t want your child to see the movie, then sign the slip. Huh? A lot of parents were not happy about that one.

        When school began again in mid-January, there was testing, etc. going on so there was no reading assignment. Then one day I got a call from my daughter saying that she walked out (again!) in the first part of the showing of “The Color Purple” (I believe rated PG-13) – – which again the district says you must get parental permission. I sent the teacher/principal another email advising that I was not happy, couldn’t believe this happened again, etc. Even though I sent them a copy of the district’s policy bulletin about needing parental permission for movies PG-13 and above, they didn’t agree. (We will also be discussing this at our meeting and the district is aware of these violations).

        Fast forward to a week ago and my daughter receiving a copy of The Color Purple for the class reading assignment. When asked previously about what the next book would be, she was told they would be reading Shakespeare.

        I have lived in a variety of locations and have other children who have attended schools (including in this same district) where, depending on the nature and content of the reading materials, a teacher would send home a letter explaining that the upcoming book may have some content or language, etc. that may be offensive or harsh. That letter would explain the book, why it was chosen and then give the parent the option of agreeing or requesting the teacher provide an alternative assignment. That was all that I was asking for: an alternative assignment. I have not been given an answer as to why that has not been done.

        The District has advised me to get a copy of the school’s charter petition, which I have (180 pages) and read through it to find out what exactly they are not living up to. I got the petition last night but only made it through the first 25 pages. I did find that this school claims that they will offer “differentiated instruction based upon the needs of their students.” Of course I have to do more research on exactly what they mean by “differentiated”, but there are also claims of “meeting the individual needs of students”, “use of appropriate curricula”, etc. Lot of buzz words that may or may not help me.

        I just don’t get it. I didn’t think it was that big of a deal. My 14-year old daughter is offended by the text and SHE doesn’t feel it is appropriate for herself. The teacher and principal didn’t believe that. They thought (or think) that my husband and I are objecting and saying that we don’t want our child to read this. I mean, I might have said that …. I would have had a discussion with my husband and daughter about the content and we would have decided if it was okay. But in this case, SHE is the one saying no. The principal actually called her in the office yesterday to ask (drill?) her about that and my daughter, again tearing up, had to re-explain how she did not like the words in the book and how they made her feel. She showed the principal the text and asked her to read it. The principal did and then (according to my daughter), with eye brows raised said “oh…I see how that would be offensive.” Geez!

        The principal then instructed my daughter to not return to that class. Okay…I guess, but she is still not being provided with alternative assignments! (By the way, just fyi, happened to get her report card in mail yesterday: Four “As”, including in this class and two “B’s).

        Will keep you posted!!!

  11. I appreciate the return.
    I can clearly see the situation now and it helps immensely; I can appreciate where you are coming from. She’s obviously a smart girl who knows what she can tolerate at her age. Congratulate her on such an amazing report card for me!
    Despite my (obvious) stance against censorship as a means to an end, I can completely agree with certain concessions- such as permission slips, which are a parent’s way of monitoring what their child views without impeding on the rights of others to do the same. It’s unfortunate that it was mishandled in this situation.
    What is the class name and focus? I’m curious as to why material has focused on the Civil War and the decades following it.
    Hopefully all involved remain calm and respectful at tomorrow’s meeting and yes, please keep me informed. I have many close friends whom are teachers and many friends with children your daughter’s age, so I can truly appreciate the delicate tightrope all sides are dancing on. I just hope no one loses their grip.
    For the record, there were some scenes in 12 Years a Slave that made ME wince- and I consider myself fairly innocuous when it comes to those themes. Still, it was a powerful movie, as was The Color Purple. It truly is a masterpiece of American literature and one that I feel important for people to read when they are ready.
    Keep up the good work. With such strong and supportive parents it’s no wonder she has the grades she does.

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  14. why do they have to be 18 and over to watch the color purple people should be able to watch that movie without being 18 because some kids should watch this learn how to stay away from older man thats not safe to be around or they not suppose to be around because they could get sexual harassed or anything .

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