by Alice Walker
I thought I had read this many years ago, but rereading it recently seemed like reading it for the first time. Maybe I’m remembering the movie and thinking I had read the book before.
In any case, I’m glad I picked it up and read it recently. The Color Purple, so titled because the color purple, according to one of the novel’s characters, is representative of the beauty in the world in the midst of horrible circumstances, is the story of Celie, a black woman living in rural Georgia in the early part of the twentieth century. The story spans several decades; it opens when Celie is fourteen and describes her rape and impregnation by her father. The opening scene and subsequent scenes depicting repeated rapes and another impregnation at the hands of her father called to mind Sapphire’s novel Push.
After giving birth to two children by her father and believing them both to have been drowned by him, Celie is sold by her father to a local farmer – a man much older than Celie whose wife has recently died. He is looking for a mother for his children. However, as it turns out, he is an abusive, lazy man who beats Celie, treats her like a servant, and allows his children to do the same. At some point shortly after Celie is married off to “Mister,” her younger sister Nettie runs away from their father and goes to Celie, but when Nettie refuses the advances of Celie’s husband, he kicks her out. Celie is heartbroken and spends the next several decades pining for her beloved sister.
Meanwhile, Mister’s mistress Shug shows up. Shug is a singer and lives by her own rules. Celie falls in love with her, and the two women begin an affair and a deep friendship that lasts many years.
This Pulitzer Prize winning novel addresses numerous issues, including racism, poverty, incest, domestic abuse, feminism, and homosexuality to name a few. It’s probably not surprising that it’s one of the most banned or challenged novels of all time. Despite its grim subject matter, the story manages to not be despairing. In fact, it’s beautifully told and full of hope. The characters come to life on the pages, and you can’t help but be deeply moved – and to cheer for Celie.