The Color Purple
By Alice Walker
Paperback, 295 pages
1982, Pocket Books
Celie grows up in the home of her abusive father and ailing mother, desperate to save her younger sister Nettie from the same fate. The girls move out after their mother’s death, but when Nettie leaves town, Celie finds herself married to a man she barely knows and tasked with raising his children from a previous marriage. Celie is resigned to her fate, simply hoping to hear from her sister, until her husband’s lover, Shug Avery, comes to stay during an illness. Rather than becoming rivals, the two women become friends and Celie finds a bravery in herself she never knew she possessed.
This isn’t an easy book to read, content-wise, but I read it in a handful of hours.
The Color Purple is another long-neglected classic that I meant to read years and years ago – I’m sorry I waited so long. The story, while brutal and depressing, does have heartwarming and beautiful moments and it was one that I enjoyed reading. If, like me, you’re unaware of the tone of this book, I’ll warn you that it holds nothing back, starting page one. Celie and her sister are sexually abused by their father, both before and after their mother’s death and Celie bears him two children. She is beaten and looked down on by her husband, harassed by his children and desperate to hear from a sister whose whereabouts she knows nothing of. Celie writes mental letters to God about her life, as that’s the only person she feels she can talk to about her life.
Celie’s life is rather grim, yet she does nothing to change it until she meets Shug Avery. You’d think caring for her husband’s long-time mistress would only harm Celie further, but I was happy to discover the two become friends. Despite her newfound friend, it takes Celie years to build the courage to take charge of her life and gain independence from the men who rule it.
It’s hard to read about how the women in this novel are treated by the men in their lives – supportive spouses or family members are hard to come by. Each woman has her own set of hardships and though the book is told through Celie’s eyes, I had enough sense of each character to want her to have her own happy ending.
But the story isn’t all sad. At its heart, this is a story of the love of two sisters and how they never stop thinking of one another despite the distance between them. Beneath the grisly details lie stories of love and friendship across generations of women struggling to remain true to themselves in a society that strives to keep them down. If you haven’t read it yet, I recommend it.