The Color Purple by Alice Walker is one of the greatest gems of African American Literature. Set in early twentieth-century Georgia, Alice Walker in her The Color Purple very intricately dissects the strands of patriarchy, race, violence, sexuality, religion, resilience and privilege among many other important issues. Among all the books that could be reviewed on African American Literature, The Color Purple by Alice Walker tops the chart for a Book Review.
In a Gist: The Color Purple
What greets you in the first few pages is rape, physical violence, mental violence, trauma, and a threat of life, reputation and attempt to rape. The novel starts with a dominating “You better not never tell anybody but God. It’d kill your mammy.” forcing Celie in one line to Torture, Guilt, Silence and a life full of trauma.
But, Celie somehow manages to save her sister Nettie from unfavourable circumstances. Nettie still has a long individual journey to go on. Celie transforms from a small girl to turn into a woman, eventually becoming a mother very soon after, none of it by her choice though.
The Color Purple is her journey of seeing the world, exploring and analysing it on her own terms and ways, learning to vocalise her feelings and eventually, slowly but steadily getting better at knowing herself and the world, a world that in the first place didn’t allow Celie much freedom.
Celie is an uneducated, unexposed rural woman who makes it in the world by nothing else but by the sheer force of her resilience. As Celie evolves through exposure, she forms her own opinion of God and as the novel progresses so does Nettie.
Religion is not just a theme that runs throughout the novel. It is also Alice Walker’s commentary on the questions that faced religion as it was conceived at that time. For instance, a character tells Celie that, “It is the pictures in the bible that fool you. The pictures that illustrate the words. All of the people are white and so you just think all the people from the bible were white too. But really white people lived somewhere else during those times.”
Apart from Religion, Systematic Racism is another strand that is weaved throughout the story. A woman is put into jail for years simply for a petty offence. An entire race of people is just assumed to be criminals and treated less than a human being. If you really want to know how this happened, you need to pick up the book and read it.
Through the character of Celie, Walker also explores sexuality in a very psychological and yet human way. Celie never gets physically attracted to any man because they beat her and only ever destroy her world but she fantasises about Shug Avery.
In Shug, Celie sees a woman who has the freedom to do what she wants and it is through her she realises that there is another way of looking at the world too. It is Shug who changes her opinion about god and love. For instance, see this statement said to Celie, “have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They come to church to share God, not find God.”
Another important theme that runs through the novel is the Importance of Sisterhood. Celie would not have been able to be enlightened, if I may, had it not been for the fact that she lived in the company of amazing women. Women, who even though going through the same things that she was, still had a voice, feelings, emotions and vocalised them. All the women gave her the strength to be who she was. Alice Walker in her The Color Purple not only depicts an amazing story and characters but she also indirectly, creates an accurate document of history for people to remember the sufferings that were faced by African Americans.
Style and Language
The Color Purple is an epistolary novel which means it is written in the form of letters. Celie addresses these letters to god, her sister and finally to the entire universe. The tone is conversational and an almost diary entry like.
The language of the novel is the vernacular of the rural African American Women of the time but Alice Walker very cleverly plays a game with words throughout the novel. She uses the quality and quantity of Celie’s words as a way to tell the reader of the self-awareness that Celie is reaching. The more exposed Walker’s Celie gets of the world and of her own self, the better expressions she uses. Her journey to communicate her point across at the end of the novel is more than delight and joy. It feels like a Personal Victory.
A Well Known Saga
Celie’s story even though is one story but it is a story of millions of women in early twentieth-century rural America. Everything that happens to Celie has happened to millions of African American women and reading the story will reduce you to a bubble of tears. But, it also gives you an innate strength.
A quality that is unique to Celie and women around her in the novel and in the outer world, especially Black Women is that they don’t crib about loss. Celie picks up what she has and rebuilds, working hard again like a phoenix rising from ashes. Alice Walker has in The Color Purple brilliantly documented thousands of lives lived and forgotten.
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