Typically when we think of literature about the lives of African Americans, we immediately begin to associate it with the all-to-prevalent themes of distress, prejudice, slavery, and inferiority. However in this book “The Color Purple”, Alice Walker manages to warp this common misrepresentation by showing readers a life of one family outside of these parameters. Although much of the book contains bitterness and tension between the members, throughout the book, Walker weaves a unique storytelling method to show the power of forgiveness, hope, love, and happiness.
The story begins on a wretched note with the main character, Celie, pleading to God for help after multiple traumatizing accounts of her father raping her. Within the first brief chapters, Walker establishes the main plot of the novel through short letters written by Celie to God. With a bed-ridden dying mother, younger siblings, and a sexually predatory father, Celie must learn to take responsibility and protect her younger sister Nettie. But on top of the already horrific events that happen to Celie, her life takes a dive for the worst when her father marries her off to an abusive man that strips away every piece of her humanity. Without knowing the whereabouts of her sister, Celie learns to forge scraps of a life by beginning to write letters to her sister Nettie. As the years move forward, Celie is introduced to multiple strong and independent African American woman including Sophia and Shug Avery who teach Celie the importance of self acceptance and bold actions. With their help, Celie begins to build a life for herself by standing up against the brutality of her husband and pursuing personal endeavors. While these events are underway, Walker creates a parallel plot line for the events of Nettie’s life through detailed letters written by Nettie to Celie. While Celie discovers herself, Nettie explores the world by running away from home and finding herself a host family. By escaping, Nettie is able to indulge in a world very different from before filled with religion and new cultures. Nettie and her host family take an almost decade long missionary trip to an indigenous village in rural Africa. The sisters continue to write sentimental letters to one another, updating each other on the current ups and downs of their life, ambitions, and longing to see one another. This ongoing 20 year separation is brought to an end when Walker beautifully merges these two very different plot lines together when the sisters reunite for the first time at the very end.
“The Color Purple” is definitely not a “fluffy” read. The book covers extensive ground on strong sexual themes and hardships. In addition, Walker adds a flavorful twist to the book by breaking away from the norm and writing traditional chapters in the form of letters between two characters. While many readers may enjoy this style of writing, there is sharp contrast between the voices of the two main characters that many may not like; Celie’s voice is completely filled with colloquialism and slang and Nettie’s voice is very collected and formal. However for readers who are willing to endure these scenes, I definitely believe this book is worth the read.
Despite some of the intense heartbreak and sorrow, I slowly began developing an appreciation towards this book as I continued reading. I loved how Alice Walker used her writing style to create a piece in which empowered African American women. All too often, in literature, we see African Americans as oppressed and African American women of even less significance. But in this story, Walker shows African American women as the strongest characters building each other up, taking control of their lives, and following their ambitions. They are seen as leaders who are able to make independent decisions and empower one another through sisterhood. On another level, Walker teaches her audience the importance of self-acceptance and forgiveness: two topics many people have trouble dealing with today. Through her characters, Walker is vicariously able to demonstrate how we must be able to forgive others for their actions and learn to love our own securities to keep moving forward. I know that many readers will appreciate Walker’s ability to gracefully transform a character from the inside out- carving out a tenacious, self-appreciative, and independent character from one that is unstable and insecure.
After reading this book to me, the color purple is a symbol of hope for all of us.
Raisa Zahir is a junior at Novi High School who is heavily involved in public speaking such as Debate and Forensics. She enjoys volunteering and spending time with friends and family. Raisa hopes to one day work in the medical field as a doctor.