Review: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

Thursday, July 29, 2010


This is a book that needs no introduction. In fact, I had no idea either what the book was about before starting it. I don't recall ever reading the synopsis, which I now read for the first time. The Color Purple is a book of letters. Celia is a black woman who is so ashamed of her life that she cannot even talk of it to God. So she writes to God instead. She starts writing at age 14, and chronicles her life for the next 20 years. Raped and abused by her father, she wants to prevent her sister Nettie from the same fate. Eventually she gets married to "Mr. _____" (whose surname is never revealed). This man beats her, which she yields to, believing that it is proper for a man to beat his wife. In fact, she is so submissive, she doesn't ever protest.

Then she meets Shug, an attractive, independent black woman who has always been attracted to Celie's husband. Through Shug, Celie learns to express herself more and discovers her creative self. In Shug, she finds the friend, confidant, and soulmate that she never had. She also discovers that her husband has been concealing letters from her sister, who is in Africa on missionary work.

The Color Purple was a powerful read for me. I especially appreciated the authentic accent in which the story is narrated. Every chapter is a letter - mostly written by Celie to God. But once she discovers Nettie's letters, we get to read those as well. Nettie was the more educated of the two. Alice Walker has done a remarkable job in contrasting between the education level of the two sisters through the letters the sisters wrote.

I found that I could not put the book down. Celie's every letter was thought-provoking and complete in itself. Her innocence is haunting when she remarks about the way her husband treats her and how his children from his previous marriage don't respect her. And then when she meets Shug, her desire to be close to her is overwhelming. Shug, however, does not share Celie's enthusiasm. She trashes Celie's looks as ugly and refuses any help from her.

The two women slowly open up to each other. In finding their opposites in each other, they also find their complement. I was very enamored by the relationship between Celie and Shug. The Color Purple has other very interesting characters as well. Sofia, another independent woman, was the dominating person, both in stature and personality. She and her husband, Harpo, were very much in love and respected each other, until Harpo began to believe it a man's right that the woman obey him, failing which he has the permission to beat her. Through Nettie's letters, we get a glimpse into an African way of life, particularly the Olinkan tribe. I found these letters by Nettie very moving. Her happiness at meeting the native Africans is mixed with her disappointment that they don't exactly openly welcome her and her companions although historically they share the same origins.

One thing that I was aghast at is the casual relationship between the men and women, married or not. Although Celie and "Mr. _____" are married, Celie never minds him rekindling his love and attraction towards Shug. After Sofia leaves Harpo, he is quick to bring home another girl. One of Shug's husbands doesn't hide his interest in another girl. Reading about that felt worse than reading about polygamy, in a very weird sense.

In a nutshell, this book was a gripping read. The short-letter format worked very well in delivering a punch through not too many words. The voices of the writers are genuine and poignant. At the same time, it isn't depressing - rather it has so much of the positive human spirit on display. There are triumphs and disappointments, successes and failures, prejudices and retorts - a holistic read!

    

Check out this book published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich @ Goodreads, BetterWorldBooks, Amazon, B&N.

I borrowed this book from the library to read for The Color Purple Readalong.

10 comments:

Hannah Stoneham said...

I read this quite a few years ago but remember its power well - it has really stayed with me, far longer than most books and so I so enjoyed reading your excellent review - what a fantastic book this is!

thanks for sharing

Hannah

Becky (Page Turners) said...

Sounds amazing. It obviously deals with very important issues in the same way that to kill a mockingbird did. I have another book by Alice walker on my shelf and this review has motivated me to pick it up soon

bermudaonion said...

It's been years since I read this book, but I loved it too. Have you seen the movie yet? It's great too.

JessiKay89 said...

I bought a copy of this recently, but I've been avoiding because I know that while it's a powerful read, I know it will be a bit darker than I've been used to.

BookQuoter said...

This has been on my TBR forever. Thanks for the reminder.

Emidy said...

I can't believe I haven't read this book yet! It's such a well-known classic, and I'm so glad you liked it. I'll have to give it a try soon.

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I loved Celie. Her innocence and her belief in her sister was so touching and I loved the way that she was able to transcend her relationships. Shug ended up being such a powerful and transformative relationship for her in spite of their beginnings. I was so touched by this book. Great review.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Sounds powerful and heart breaking. Great review!

Nadia said...

Such a powerful and thought-provoking book! So glad you enjoyed it, Aths! The movie version of the book is wonderful, too!

Heather J. said...

Thanks for reading along with us! I too was really moved by this book. It was so overwhelmingly POSITIVE despite the often depressing subject matter. I'm glad you enjoyed it as much as I did. :)