You know how there are times when somebody asks you “what’s the book about?” and you confidently open your mouth only to find yourself faltering and then wondering, slack-jawed, “What is the book about!” The Color Purple is a little like that for me. Written by Alice Walker the book won a Pulitzer prize in 1983. And if that doesn’t prepare you for a brilliant story, read the book.
Written in the form of an epistolary novel (i.e., in the form of diary entries), it tells the story of 14 year-old Celie in her own words. Raped by the man she called father and then married or traded, whichever word you prefer, to a man who wanted her younger sister; a man who had several children of his own; a man who was in love with another woman entirely, it traces the story of Celie – who, through most of the story is merely somebody to whom things happen, and the people who mattered to her most (one way or another), through Southern USA and Africa.
The Color Purple is a violent story as you might have figured by now. But it isn’t a story that inspires violence, if you know what I mean. Through the novel, physical and even sexual mistreatment are taken very matter-of-factly in Celie’s myopic world. So much so that after a while it almost doesn’t make you cringe any more. In Celie’s monotone world women are chattel with all the feelings and thoughts of inanimate things, and men can treat them as they please … ‘if you want your woman to obey you and fetch and carry for you, you must beat her’ seems to be he mantra.
It’s a story of spirits broken and bruised, and of spirits resurrected. But more than that it’s in knowing that if you hit your woman she’s liable to hit you right back … sooner or later … one way or another. It could be a punch in your face like Sofia or something a lot more subtle though slightly more life-altering like Celie … something known as getting your own back.
The book ends with redemption, of sorts, and a lingering feeling that … nothing is stronger or hurts more than love, while indifference is the most effective armour; for Celie, it was her love for Nettie and Shug. And for me … a sense that sometimes in the places you least suspect, there hides a force of nature.
Perhaps, not the easiest book in the world to read I’d give the Color Purple a 4.5, just for the profound, humbling and many-layered lessons it leaves in its wake.