I’m not quite sure what I was expecting from Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, but I don’t think it was quite what I got.
The story starts out as a series of prayers written to God by a 14-year-old girl who has no one else to turn to. Abused at home and threatened with silence, Celie is unable to do anything but keep quiet and try to protect her sister from their father.
Over the course of the years, Celie finds herself married off to an older man with three children, unloved and unwanted and isolated from her sister, Nettie, the only person she believes ever loved her. Nettie herself escapes the nightmare of their childhood by joining up with a minister and his family and going on a missionary journey to Africa. Though kept separate for many years, the sisters finally reconnect through letters, holding on to the hope of being reunited in person one day.
The Color Purple is a very intense read. It deals with a lot of heavy subjects, including molestation and abuse. It provides a snapshot into the life of a woman who doesn’t know how to escape, doesn’t have the help to escape, and a society that more or less condones the actions a man might take against his wife and/or children. But it’s also a story about the slow empowerment of the same woman, as she realizes she can be more than who she always was.
Walker uses spelling and language fitting for her character, who was never able to finish school. It draws you deeper into the story, forgetting that you’re not quite sure how much time is passing. The combination of fitting style and letters makes the story personal, more so than if it were written in a traditional novel style, I think.
The Color Purple is definitely not a book for everyone. For many people, it may be extremely triggering. However, it’s still an excellent book, moving and evocative. You’re there with Celie, feeling her fear, her confusion, and a whole lot of anger at what she’s been through.