Newest Review: ... Shug, who comments that: "I think it pisses God off when you walk by the colour purple in a field and don't notice it." She fin... more
The Colour Purple: A story of empowerment and beauty
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
Member Name: lights84
The Color Purple - Alice Walker
Advantages: Beautiful, feel-good
Disadvantages: Heavy themes including child abuse and general violence
The Colour Purple is a one of the most beautiful and touching books I have read in some time. Alice Walker tells us the story of Celie, a black girl living in the rural American South (specifically, Georgia) who is at the bottom of the social heap in every way. Her father Pa is abusive towards her as a child. She has to take care of Pa's other children and she has one love in her life, her sister Nettie, but they are separated when Celie is forced to marry. Later she is forced to marry an abusive husband, Albert, who she calls Mister. A lot of the unkindness towards Celie comes from the general view that she is ugly- Albert tells her this often: "Look at you. You're black, you're poor, you're ugly, you're a woman, you're nothing at all!"
Celie eventually experiences kindness from Shug Avery, a talented singer and Albert's occasional mistress. When Shug is on the scene, a huge change comes over Albert, and Celie comes to love her in place of her missing sister. Shug is a beautiful and independent woman who knows how to handle Celie's childish husband. She also knows how to love herself, and although they are stark opposites in nature to begin with, their relationship strengthens as the book progresses.
The title of the book comes from Shug, who comments that: "I think it pisses God off when you walk by the colour purple in a field and don't notice it." She finds the colour purple so beautiful that it represents her entire philosophy of life. She talks to Celie openly about this, and she refers to this beauty as 'God', although Celie is dubious of the idea of God as part of the book is written as letters from her to God, yet her life has not improved ("What God do for me? I ast."). Shug teaches Celie to celebrate life through love and appreciation of beautiful things: "Here's the thing, say Shug. The thing I believe. God is inside you and inside everybody else. You come into the world with God... God love all them feelings. That's some of the best stuff God did. And when you know God loves 'em you enjoys 'em a lot more. You can just relax, go with everything that's going, and praise God by liking what you like."
Sofia is another strong black woman in the book, though not in the same way that Shug is. She is a different kind of woman entirely- dark skinned, foul-mouthed, with a heavy temper and a strong fist that she is not afraid to use. She has a large family, however her husband Harpo is constantly being bated by his father (Pa) to put her in her place. Sofia says, "I loves Harpo, God knows I do. But I'll kill him dead 'fo I let him beat me." Her life has been a hard one too- "All my life I had to fight. I had to fight my daddy. I had to fight my uncles. I had to fight my brothers. A girl child ain't safe in a family of men"- and life becomes harder for her in the book. Walker makes a poignant point about power and independence in A Colour Purple, specifically for black women living in the American South, in the following exchange:
Albert: "Sofia and Shug not like men, he say, but they not like women either."
Celie: "You mean they not like you or me."
Albert: "They hold they own... And it's different."
Celie's empowerment comes from her opening to love and self-acceptance, including sexual experiences, which perhaps help her to overcome the abuse she experienced as a child. Again, this comes from Shug's teachings:
Shug: "You never enjoy it at all? she ast, puzzle. Not even with your children daddy?"
Celie: "Never, I say."
Shug: "Why Miss Celie, she say, you still a virgin."
Above all, though, Celie is strengthened by the realisation that she has found her own independence and made peace with herself, or with God. We see this happen when she finally stands up to Albert, and also in the changes his characters goes through after that.
This is a moving and feel-good book, though it does cover some heavy issues. Celie's journey is one of growth and self-discovery, of finding one's own voice and also of overcoming patterns of destructive behaviour that are usually passed down through generations of families. We realise that Celie has broken this cycle when Albert stands up to his own abusive and sexist father.
I thought the end of the novel was incredibly satisfying, and I felt good after reading it. Although tragic events occur throughout the book, in the end Celie is empowered and speaks her mind in order to say exactly what needs to be said. The reader feels a kind of justice at this. Even Sofia is empowered by Celie at this point: "I know what it like, Ms. Celie, to wanna go somewhere and cain't. I know what it like to wanna sing... and have it beat outch'ya. I want to thank you, Miss Celie, 'fo everything you done for me."
I found the book easy to read, though it is written is the dialect of the American South, so some readers might potentially struggle with that. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes depth in a novel and also beauty. Walker has a beautiful writing style and a sense of place really stood out to me as I read the book. If you like books with happy endings but also with depth, then this is the perfect read.
Summary: This 1980s classic is a very satisfying read. 5 stars!