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“The Color Purple” by Alice Walker


Learning is the process that determines the further life of every single human being. The more knowledge you have, the stronger you are in all respects. Here, knowledge does not necessarily refer to the scholarly knowledge as such. It encompasses all the possible spheres of the life experience including strength to fight back against discrimination, understanding of the actual gender relations in the society, ability to realize one’s place in it and be confident about one’s goals. All this aspects are learnt by people, and The Color Purple by Alice Walker is one of the best literary examples of this learning (Bloom, 2000). Accordingly, this paper will focus on the learning of Celie, the protagonist of the story, and analyze it through the learning theories by Skinner and Bandura.

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To begin wit, it is necessary to take a brief look at the story itself. The book by Alice Walker is a life-story of a young African American girl from a broken family (Walker, 2003). Her childhood was marked by the loss of her physically and mentally ill mother, and by the fact that she was raped by her father. As a result, Celie grew up as a reserved person ready to obey to others and patiently stand their offences. However, her meeting with Shug, the mistress of Celie’s husband, turned her life upside down. It was Shug who showed Celie that her personality was worth much more than mere submission and life in the permanent fear of her husband. Also, Sophie, Celie’s sister-in-law, exemplified to her how one could fight against offenders and stand for one’s views (Walker, 2003). Thus, having spent some time with Sophie and Shug, Celie transforms into a confident and successful person owning her own business and realizing that life offers much more than she ever imagined (Bloom, 2000).

Having considered the process of Celie’s learning, it is necessary to analyze it with the help of two most influential learning theories – the ones by Skinner and by Bandura. Both theories represent the behaviorist direction of the social thought. However, Skinner’s view of learning as a basic process in the development of the human personality is considered to be the fundamental one. The essence of these theories lies in trying to explain the learning activities and abilities of the human beings through the concept of motivation (Skinner, 1953).

In other words, Skinner formulated his theory as a view that people learn certain behavioral patterns due to the outcome they expect to receive from their exercising these patterns (Skinner, 1954). Celie’s story demonstrates the usefulness of the theory by Skinner. Celie, as a person lacking confidence, needed some stimulus for her to start changing and learning the behaviors that could help her to succeed in life. Accordingly, communicating with Shug, Celie realized that the only possible behavioral pattern that could bring the necessary response from the environment was confident and determined pursuing of her goals. Thus, according to Skinner’s theory, Celie learnt how to defend herself using the above behaviors to receive the necessary response from the society, i. e. respect and the equal rights (Skinner, 1957).

In its turn, Bandura’s theory, although a part of the behaviorist school, operates with somewhat different notions. According to this theory, human beings learn a phenomenon when they see it being executed by others and either observe its usefulness or not (Bandura, 1986). Modeling is one of the central concepts of this theory as people view others exercise the behaviors or activities and attempt to fit the latter to themselves. Reciprocal determinism is also significant in Bandura’s theory as the idea that a person and the environment mutually motivate, or determine, each other’s development (Bandura, 1977).

Taking Celie’s experiences in learning into consideration, obvious parallels with Badura’s theory can be observed. The impact that made Celie think and act to learn and change her life was her communication with Shug and Sophie. Both women embodied freedom and strength necessary to fight for it. Shug taught Celie that she was a rightful member of the human society and brought her back to the active life. At the same time, the example of Sophie who fought back when her husband attempted to best her, inspired Celie to rebel against her husband and disclose the fact that he had hidden numerous letters her sister sent to her. Thus, Celie’s learning can be also viewed as the process of modeling and following the behavioral patterns observed. So, Bandura’s theory is also eligible for explaining Celie’s learning process (Bandura, 1973).


As a result, both theories have explanatory value when dealing with the learning process of Celie. The theory by Skinner considers one of the aspects that can be observed in Celie’s learning. Celie had to learn fro Shug and other people around her as she expected the necessary response from the environment. In other words, according to Skinner’s theory, the expected results of learning motivated Celie to learn. Further on, Bandura’s theory explains another side of the phenomenon – modeling as the leading factor of learning. Celie was inspired by Sophie and Shug in her learning process which helped her to develop into a successful personality at the end of the story.

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Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bandura, A. (1973). Aggression: A Social Learning Analysis. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Bandura, A. (1977). Social Learning Theory. New York: General Learning Press.

Skinner, B.F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior. New York: Macmillan.

Skinner, B.F. (1954). The science of learning and the art of teaching. Harvard Educational Review, 24(2), 86-97.

Skinner, B.F. (1957). Verbal Learning. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

Walker, A. (2003). The Color Purple. Harcourt.

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Bloom, H. (2000). Alice Walker’s the Color Purple. Chelsea House Publications.

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