Wow. This. Book.
(Image credit: Waterstones, goo.gl/gd6vMT)
If there ever was a book that stole my heart, then it’s The Colour Purple by Alice Walker.
This is the story of a woman named Celie, who lives in the Deep South (these include states in the South of America, including Georgia, Louisiana, Alabama etc.) between the two world wars. The book hits you from the very first page with barefaced pain and tragedy. You’re exposed to the horrific sexual abuse that Celie faces from her own father at the age of 14. She bears two children, both snatched away from her by him. Later, she is the victim of being forced into a loveless marriage, still abused. She lives in a world where discrimination and segregation are the norms. Being a coloured woman, she has no say in this world. The only place she does is in the letters that she writes starting “Dear God…”, and then, with her beloved sister Nettie.
Soon, Shug Avery, a glamorous local celebrity singer meets Celie: she sparks a transformation in her that’s like nothing she has ever experienced before. She discovers with Celie that her husband (whom she refers to as Mr. _____) had been hiding Nettie’s letters from her. She suppresses her initial fury, consoled by Shug’s love and support. Reading these letters and learning from the courageous women around her, she finally awakens to find the truth about herself, and about God.
Reasons to read-joice about this book (the good things):
This book hits on so many important subjects that I love: spirituality, civil rights, especially women’s rights and the importance of your culture. Firstly, I loved Walker’s beautifully yet casually phrased insights into what it means to think of God, and most of these I feel I have experienced myself.
Here’s a snippet:
“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. People think pleasing God is all God cares about. But any fool living in the world can see it always trying to please us back.“
I’m also a person for incredible imagery and language (why do you think I called this blog Paradise Prose?) which Walker does so well. And having this spirituality woven into the book goes hand in hand with women realising their equal worth with anything else the Creator made. Every woman in the book has faced things which are still burning issues for their rights: rape, slavery, all forms of abuse, oppression, illiteracy. How they went through these gave me a moving insight into how much black women have suffered historically. Some things Walker explained, like how black people and white people hating on each other could be seen as a cycle of thousands of years where one side devastates the other and vice versa, surprised me as I had never seen it that way. However, I can vouch for the fact that I saw the truth in this perspective, especially from the world’s tragic history stemming from racial biases.
A few more quick points about what I loved – firstly, how Celie’s belief that suffering silently is the only way to survive in this society was changed by discovering that Nettie was still alive (she had earlier presumed her dead, as she had run away). I was cheering for her when she finally got the courage to stand up to her husband. And what a brazen, incredible show of courage that was, the sort that makes your heart rise with pride at Celie’s growth. None of that could be done without the other females in Celie’s community holding her hand all the way. I loved the format of writing letters to God, it suited the plot perfectly and kept me turning the pages. There was something wonderful about the way Celie and her sister Nettie’s discoveries have similarities despite them being separated for the majority of the novel – maybe Walker wanted to show how what they understand about themselves and God is universal. It has no barriers of colour, place, nationality…so forth.
For the nitpickers…
*deep breath* Okay, now to talk about the virtually non-existent things that some people might not like about the book. Slight spoiler alert.
Some people might think the story was too ‘fairytale-like’ at the end. However, I’m a fan of well-crafted happy endings when deserved. The sort of tragedy Celie’s been through deserved one. Also, I was wondering how Nettie survived if their ship was supposed to sink. It’s unlikely, but the ending could symbolise meeting in heaven – or have the message that heaven is created on Earth, in true and touching human moments.
Although I don’t know the details of why this book won the Pulitzer Prize, I absolutely love how it makes us understand what women have faced and why they deserve respect – that’s reason enough for me. Particularly, I was shocked by how she showed that even women don’t understand why their daughters should be educated and given respect. Even Celie advises her stepson, Harpo, to beat his wife. What a social sickness! I’ve grown up in so many cultures myself so the insight into the suffering of coloured people struck a chord with me too. This is a true must-read!
My rating for this book:
5 out 5 (surprise, surprise)
I’d love to hear your thoughts on The Colour Purple in the comments below 🙂
Keep reading and read-joicing!